ARTEST HE ROOM
plays the same role again and again. Rather, he has his talent, his thing, and he tweaks it, subtly. An eyebrow here, a quickened sentence there. Like an edgier Michael Cera or a less confident Robert Downey Jr.
I tell him I’m about to wheel out one of his old quotes. ‘‘ One of my famous quotes,’’ he repeats drily. ‘‘ Which one?’’ One about how, unsettled at school, he started acting in plays during his teens so he could hide behind a character. ‘‘ You didn’t get the exact wording,’’ he says with a shrug, ‘‘ and I’ll send you the T-shirt. But yeah, I mean, acting gives you a prescribed set of behaviours, and that can be really comforting because the rest of the world is chaotic and unpredictable.’’
With fame, though, he has to strike a balance. There’s the ‘‘ rich emotional inner life’’ when not performing, then the times ‘‘ strangers are talking to you on the street’’. But he acknowledges: ‘‘ I guess it could be worse.’’
We talk about David Blaine. I tell him many Brits think the magician is an insufferably pretentious berk. ‘‘ I don’t think anybody thinks he’s anything other than really interesting,’’ comes the protest. But in London, he just sat in a box. ‘‘ We’re still excited by things like that here in America.’’ Sitting in a box? ‘‘ Especially sitting in a box.’’ We do a to-and-fro. ‘‘ Listen, we are a few hundred years old,’’ he finishes. ‘‘ We still have reverence.’’
A few weeks after we met, blogger Romina Puga released a short video of her interview with Eisenberg and I was reminded of our Blaine conversation. ‘‘ So, I was just humiliated by Jesse Eisenberg,’’ she wrote; he is sarcastic through- out. When asked to say Puga’s name as if calling to her in a crowded place, he does so quietly, saying, ‘‘ The thing is, I didn’t want to find you.’’ But then, on the David Letterman chat show about the same time, he is humble, as if his cockiness is directly related to how much he respects other people in the room.
He tells me he has ‘‘ trouble committing emotionally if I don’t think it’s the greatest thing in the world’’.
In 2011, he sued Lionsgate after the studio used his face — in the wake of The Social Network — to flog a horror film he appeared in for mere minutes. It was, the complaint read, ‘‘ false advertising’’.
Time’s up. The rain has stopped, and there’s a city — or a cinema — to see after lunch. He says of the horror film that there was a settlement, and that he ‘‘ gave all the money to a charity’’. That sort of action from him makes sense. He cares about what he does and how he is perceived on screen, and denies that the bigger films — such as his blue macaw in the cartoons Rio and Rio 2 — are just done to fund his plays. He voiced the parrot on his day off from The Revisionist because, he says with a smile, it was ‘‘ the most fun thing to do on a Monday . . . to go and improvise as this bird, which is such a sweet character’’.
We end on a joke of his about buying a ticket for The Great Gatsby in 2-D, which peters out as he heads into the bathroom.
Jesse Eisenberg at the opening night of his off-Broadway play left; below, from top, second left in with Joseph Mazzello in
in and with Anna Paquin in