Jesse Eisenberg interview: On anxiety, Now You See Me 2, and dealing with Batman v Superman critics

'Those two movies, the first Now You See Me and now this, are the only time I’m ever relaxed in my life'

Gill Pringle
Thursday 23 June 2016 14:30 BST

Jesse Eisenberg stars in three major films this year – but he won’t see a single one of them.

“You know me?” he says, acknowledging the fact we have met many times before. “I don’t see anything that I’m in so I won’t see any of them.” His role as Lex Luthor in recent box-office hit Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice proved his critics wrong while his performance in Woody Allen’s Café Society, debuted at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, met with critical delight.

But it’s reprising his role as a magician in Now You See Me 2 that gives him the most pleasure. "Those two movies, the first Now You See Me and now this, are the only time I’m ever relaxed in my life,” says the hyper-energised actor who looks far from relaxed when The Independent meets him in Las Vegas at this year’s CinemaCon, an annual event where US cinema-operators honour their biggest box-office stars.

Anointed as “Male Star of the Year”, Eisenberg finds himself thrust into an unwelcome spotlight, still preparing his speech when we meet an hour before he must take the stage and accept his award.

“I enjoy Now You See Me because my character is a performer. I’m also a performer obviously – but this guy is the most confident performer, he’s worked hard establishing this incredible skill-set and doesn’t apologise for it. He has confidence probably in excess and in a lot of ways I’m kind of the opposite."

“I perform on stage for a living, as my main job, and I have total stage fright and anxiety so reprising this character in Now You See Me 2, is really the only time I’m totally at ease. When you’re playing a character for a long time, several hours a day, for an extended period of time, over the course of a few months you end up subconsciously taking on the experience of that character. If you make the face of somebody confident for 12 hours a day, over the course of a few months, you end up tricking yourself into thinking that you have all those feelings and so, for me, this is the only time when I can actually lower my medication,” quips the 32-year-old actor who talks at dizzying warp-speed.

Raised in a Jewish family, guilt is in his DNA, which makes for interesting family dinners. “Everyone’s just kind of apologising and passing food. I feel guilty about owning a T-shirt, so being in movies is kind of like the iceberg. It takes very little for me to find something to feel bad about.”

As a child, he struggled with anxiety, his parents suggesting drama as an outlet. He took to the stage like the proverbial fish. Starring as Oliver in a theatre production of the musical Oliver! aged seven, he was an understudy on Broadway at 12, making his TV debut on US series Get Real by 16, simultaneously writing screenplays which would be optioned by major film studios.

While most celebrities complain how success translates to a loss of anonymity, Eisenberg is contrary. “I didn’t like my anonymity just as much as I don’t like being recognised on the street. Both are uncomfortable and embarrassing although the perks are better with fame.”

Best known for his Oscar-nominated performance as Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network in 2010, he had already established a strong screen presence, working continuously over the previous five years, starring in Zombieland, The Squid and the Whale and The Hunting Party among other largely independent films as well as writing humorous essays for The New Yorker, penning a collection of short stories and writing three critically acclaimed plays, staged in London, New York and Los Angeles.

Apple TV+ logo

Watch Apple TV+ free for 7 days

New subscribers only. £8.99/mo. after free trial. Plan auto-renews until cancelled

Try for free
Apple TV+ logo

Watch Apple TV+ free for 7 days

New subscribers only. £8.99/mo. after free trial. Plan auto-renews until cancelled

Try for free

The criticism he received after first being cast in Batman v Superman was certainly hard to digest. “I try and stay in the bubble. There’s really no way to respond to people criticizing you for a role you haven’t yet screwed up. It’s certainly odd.”

After he departs, he will later assume the CinemaCon stage, nodding humbly before a captive audience who has chosen to honour him thus. Clutching a microphone, he proceeds to confess to a misspent youth, faking his way into movie theatres in his hometown.

“When I was about 18, I got my Screen Actors Guild card and, for some reason, I decided to tell my local Regal Cinemas box office that this SAG card allowed me two free movie tickets to any movie. I saw a movie, like every other day, at this Regal Cinema, illegally using my SAG card,” he confesses to a transfixed audience, proceeding to list all 26 movies that he illegally viewed. “Swordfish, Dr Doolittle 2, America’s Sweethearts, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Serendipity, Training Day, Shallow Hal, Gosford Park... "

His hilarious confession guarantees his place as the darling of the evening. He totally nails it, although he’d prefer performing as anyone but himself.

“It’s much easier for me to play a character with some kind of eccentricity or strange behaviour,” he says. “Those roles are most comfortable to play because you just lose your consciousness. If you’re playing a character who is very similar to you, you are hyper-aware and second-guessing every aspect of that performance because it seems so close to you. But in a part that’s so different to me, I can just lose myself in the character and I don’t feel any of my usual self-awareness.”

Unsurprisingly, this self-avowed neurotic New Yorker grew up in awe of Woody Allen, finally achieving a long-held dream when Allen cast him in To Rome With Love four years ago.

Working again with Allen in Café Society, he strives not to emulate his idol. “I try to avoid that kind of thing because no-one can do it as well as him and it seems to be a mistake to not take on the role in its own way. But, that said, the dialogue is written by him [Allen] and it has a specific cadence and he’s directing you so, between takes, his speech patterns and mannerisms are the things that are most present for me. I’ve liked him so much since I was younger so probably I have two competing interests, and I’m not sure which one won out.”

‘Now You See Me 2’ is released on 4 July

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in