From his breakout role in the compelling divorce drama The Squid and the Whale to his charismatic turn as an enterprising illusionist in Now You See Me to his Academy Award-nominated role as Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network, Jesse Eisenberg has proven to be one of Hollywood’s most versatile young actors. His two new features follow what might be one of his more fun, perhaps less challenging roles — in the horror comedy blockbuster sequel Zombieland: Double Tap — but both are just as entertaining, and they see Eisenberg stretching himself in new ways.
While many major movies have seen their releases delayed, just as many have forgone theater runs altogether, going straight to video on demand at a time when we all really need them. Eisenberg’s latest should top your list of must-sees.
In the Black Mirror-esque psychological sci-fi film Vivarium, he plays a husband and young home buyer who gets trapped inside of a strange model home and its surrounding community. The dark alternate universe is one he and his wife cannot escape, and yes, the premise might hit a little too close to home (pun intended) right now, but it is none the less an intriguing watch thanks to the lead performances. In Resistance, he plays the legendary mime Marcel Marceau, who was revered as a performer but was also a World War II hero as the Holocaust survivor helped save hundreds of Jewish children orphaned by the Nazis.
Eisenberg, who was in L.A. with his wife and child when the coronavirus restrictions were implemented, but has since returned to his home in the Midwest, answered a few questions for L.A. Weekly about his current video on demand theatrical double tap.
L.A. WEEKLY: First of all, how are you coping with the home quarantine situation? What are you doing to keep busy and inspired?
JESSE EISENBERG: My family and I are self-isolating in an RV as we make our way back to our home in Indiana.We are going there to help out the domestic violence shelter my mother-in-law ran, which is experiencing a shortage of volunteers and resources.
It is a tough time right now. But you have a couple of really cool movies that just came out, which should provide some cinematic escape. First let us ask about Vivarium. It’s very Twilight Zone/Black Mirror-like. What attracted you to it?
I thought Vivarium was a brilliant, fever-dream of a movie. It’s the kind of nightmare you might have the day before you buy a house or get married or have a child and I thought it was just so artfully done. I also loved that it was abstract in the way great surrealist movies are abstract — they use symbols to evoke feelings rather than literal messages. It kind of seemed like the Black Mirror episode that Man Ray or Luis Bunuel would have directed.
What’s your take on your character in Vivarium? Is he an everyman or something more psychologically questionable?
I feel like you balance both with that role. My character begins as a man who loves nature, loves getting his hands dirty — he’s a tree surgeon for a living. But when he moves to Yonder, this hellscape of a suburb, the life starts to drain out of him and he turns into this horrible, angry, brooding guy. He grows into a terrible father and husband and all of his worst impulses manifest in dangerous ways.
And in regard to Resistance…. Wow. There is such a mystique surrounding mimes. Were you apprehensive about playing this role?
I grew up as the son of a birthday party clown. My mother painted her face like Marcel Marceau and performed for children at birthday parties, in schools and hospitals so this kind of work with children was very familiar to me. I also lost family in southern Poland during the war, very close to Marceau’s family. This movie is about the most famous mine, but it’s not a movie about mime — it’s an amazing story of an artist who becomes a reluctant hero under the most extreme circumstances.
Marcel Marceau was such a talented, fascinating character. What did you bring to this characterization and what were the challenges there?
My main challenge with this movie, obviously, was learning mime. I didn’t have to be as good as Marceau in his prime, but I had to be 1,000 times better than I initially was. I studied for about six months with this amazing choreographer Lorin Eric Salm, who studied with Marceau in Paris and has become a chronicler of his life. It was an amazing experience, learning about the history of mime while learning to perform.
Since you’re best known for playing Mark Zuckerberg you obviously aren’t afraid to tackle playing real people. But does it make it harder or easier than playing a fictional character?
Playing real people has some wonderful advantages. There’s usually a trove of information, videos, recordings, etc. But in the kind of movies I’ve done, there is less an expectation of an exact impression and more an attempt to get the essence of the person.
We just saw Zombieland 2 on VOD and enjoyed it a lot. Do you think apocalyptic films are good to watch right now?
I hope Zombieland is making people laugh during this time, despite some overlaps with the current crisis.