Venice star Jesse Eisenberg on fame, film and politics

Venice Film Festival

Jesse Eisenberg, most famous for his Oscar-nominated portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg in "The Social Network", sat down with FRANCE 24 in Venice to talk about his new film "Night Moves", the high point of the festival thus far.


Jesse Eisenberg may be best known for playing Mark Zuckerberg in “the Facebook movie” (David Fincher’s “The Social Network”).

But even before that game-changing part, for which he earned an Oscar nomination, the small-framed, curly-haired, hyper-articulate actor had already built up an impressive body of work in films like “Roger Dodger”, “The Squid and the Whale”, “Holy Rollers” and “Adventureland”.

Eisenberg’s latest role is in “Night Moves”, Kelly Reichardt’s unsettling, superbly crafted thriller about radical environmentalists plotting to bomb a hydraulic dam in Oregon.

Jesse Eisenberg with costar Dakota Fanning (left) and director Kelly Reichardt (centre) on the Venice red carpet.
Jesse Eisenberg with costar Dakota Fanning (left) and director Kelly Reichardt (centre) on the Venice red carpet.

It is easily the best film to have screened at the 70th Venice Film Festival so far.

FRANCE 24 sat down with the actor at the famed Excelsior Hotel for a chat about his (riveting) performance, his career, and his feelings about fame, politics, the Internet and more.

The interview revealed him to be uncommonly soft-spoken, curious -- he asked nearly as many questions as he fielded -- and careful in choosing his words. But once Eisenberg gets going, those words tumble out at rapid-fire speed, and there are flashes of warmth, deadpan wit and the kind of confidence that comes with knowing you’re a performer in high demand.

Here are some highlights.

F24: You often play chatty, neurotic characters, but in “Night Games”, you have relatively little dialogue and essentially have to convey who this guy is in silence. How much of a challenge was that?

JE: It was definitely a different way to play a character. It was important for me to understand why [the character, Josh] is quiet, and once I did, it was comfortable. He’s quiet because he represses all these intense feelings of righteousness and justice and anger. Instead of sharing them with other people in a healthy way, which would relieve him of some of the intensity, he constantly just buries it. And it ends up manifesting itself in a dangerous way, because you can’t bottle that up permanently.

When I read the script, I found him really enigmatic, really mysterious, and I didn’t understand what was driving him. So I asked [director] Kelly [Reichardt] a lot of questions. And she didn’t always have the answer, which tells me the character doesn’t really know himself in some ways. He feels alienated from the life he grew up with, and he feels alienated from the life he’s currently living.

F24: Josh is politically engaged, to say the least. Is that something you personally can relate to?

JE: I always felt uncomfortable at protests or doing loud things. But I write plays, and my first play was about politically dogmatic people. It’s kind of a satire on young liberals and the extreme lengths they go to prove their liberal credentials. As for environmentalism, I’m only an environmentalist by accident. I live in New York, so I bike, and the closest grocery store to me sells organic produce. I also shop with a book bag because I ride a bike, and it’s hard to carry the paper or plastic bags.

F24: You’ve worked with two of the biggest names in US cinema, Woody Allen and David Fincher. How did working with Kelly Reichardt compare?

JE: Kelly is as decisive as they come. The only downside to doing a movie like “Night Games” is you have less time to shoot. I like doing a lot of takes and trying different things with a character, and unfortunately, on a smaller-budget movie like this you don’t get a lot of time to shoot. Maybe it’s a good thing, because when you shoot quickly you can get a kind of momentum going. In any case, Kelly is as assured behind the camera as anybody I’ve worked with, including [Allen and Fincher].

F24: Speaking of the camera, how do you feel watching yourself onscreen?

JE: I don’t watch the movies I’m in – ever. Sometimes I keep pictures, but that’s it. I used to watch my movies, because I didn’t want to be rude to the people making them, but I stopped a few years ago. I think it’s pretty common among actors. It’s like listening to your own voice, but multiplied by a million. My goal for myself is to feel the thing the character is feeling in the moment, and if I felt it, then it’s a success. If I didn’t feel it, then I failed. If I watch a scene that I didn’t feel when I shot it, but they put a cool song in underneath so it looks emotional, I still feel like I failed. So I don’t know what I would learn from watching myself. I don’t think actors ever actually learn from watching themselves.

F24: Are there specific directors you want to work with?

JE: I think the most important thing for an actor is reading the script and trying to figure out if you can play that character well. The last thing on my mind is if the director made good movies previously. It’s not my job to know if that director’s last movie was any good -- it’s my job to know if I can play the role. But I have agents who know the directors’ work, so I’m not in a total bubble.

F24: You’ve become a household name since playing Mark Zuckerberg in “The Social Network”. How do you feel about your fame?

JE: I felt self-conscious going out in the street prior to ever even being in a movie. That’s just me. I Googled myself once when I was 19 after doing my first movie. I was so excited. It was a small, independent, New York movie called “Roger Dodger”, and I didn’t think anyone would criticise it. Who would have a bad thing to say about that kind of film? But somebody wrote the meanest thing I’ve ever read. I closed the computer, and never Googled myself again.


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