Jesse Eisenberg felt the need to break out of some of the sad-sacks he’s been inhabiting for a while.
Think about it: The actor, 29, played the confused coming-of-age nephew of Campbell Scott in Rodger Dodger; a troubled son grappling with his parents’ divorce in The Squid and the Whale; and probably, most unforgettably, real-life Facebook founder, petulant tech geek/genius Marc Zuckerberg in The Social Network, for which Eisenberg received an Oscar nod.
It was time to change things up. In Now You See Me, out Friday, Eisenberg’s J. Daniel Atlas is a cunning magician, master thief and over the top showman. We talked from the Mandarin Oriental Miami Hotel :
Audiences are used to seeing you in hoodies and jeans. You get gussied up in this movie. How was that?
Anytime I do a movie I like to steal what my character wears. The wardrobe department usually has eight of the same outfit for a scene so I figure I’ll just take one. You know the title, Now You See Me? The other part of that is Now You Don’t. That’s my disappearing act [laughs].
What attracted you to this part?
They sent me the script while I was doing a play in New York in a small theater of like 200 people. I had a lot of stage fright every night so I thought that I should play a character who was like, the most confident performer in the entire world. Playing someone who loved to be on stage would force me to be confident. It gave me the opportunity to feel good about myself and not depressed. I’ve played a lot of characters who are self-hating and hate other people.
This movie is ensemble mania. You’re acting alongside names like Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman.
I was the first to sign on, and the director [ Louis Leterrier] told me about the incredible cast. There was one scene with Michael Caine on a plane, and my character was tricking him and being condescending. It was strange because you want to be polite and reverential to people who are so wonderful and who have been knighted by the queen. So they would call ‘cut’ and I would apologize. But he said, ‘What are you talking about? It’s part of the scene.’
How about the other costars?
When I was younger, Mark Ruffalo was one of my favorite actors. I kind of liked the things he was doing. He said to me, ‘You are like me when I was younger.’ I had been with Woody Harrelson in Zombieland. He kind of takes his roles very seriously, but at the same time bring his own sense of humor to it, and I like to do the same thing.
Who were your inspirations while doing research and bringing the role to life?
Today’s famous [acts] have very different styles. David Copperfield is very flashy. David Blaine is casual. Penn and Teller are sarcastic. All those together seemed right for my version. I understand a lot of the basic principles of magic now. I worked with real magicians and tricked them into telling me their secrets.
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