Jesse Eisenberg (The Squid and the Whale) is everywhere. He stars with Richard Gere in The Hunting Party, about journalists who are staking out a Serbian war criminal, and he has the lead in Lucy Thurber’s play Scarcity. Next month, shooting starts on Adventureland, Greg Mottola’s follow-up to Superbad. He talked with Boris Kachka about typecasting, politics, and getting mugged.
In The Hunting Party, you’re once again playing the wimpy, neurotic Ivy League type.
I loved the movie, but I was nervous. My friend and I were watching The Italian Job or something, and I said, “If this character says ‘according to my calculations,’ give me $10.” And fifteen minutes later he said it. And I thought, If we had computers in The Hunting Party, I would probably have had to say that.
That’s definitely not you in Scarcity. You play this tough, working-class kid, and in your first scene, you’re bruised up from a fistfight.
Actually, the day before [the preview] I’d been jumped on the street. My face was all cut up. It was on the East Side highway bike path at 1:30 a.m.
What were you doing biking at that hour?
I’m in a play! My schedule’s a little late. I can be out late after dark, go home, and have a cookie.
So were you pissed off? And did that help with your role?
It helped with my makeup. But I felt bad for those kids going to jail. The guy I was with, who also got beat up—he’s a teacher in a prison, and there’s a big chance he’ll end up teaching them. They have the worst backgrounds, and it’s more than understandable that they would knock some kids off a bike.
Have you been talking politics with Richard Gere?
I’ve been to Tibet. People get annoyed by celebrities having political stances, but his is more acceptable.
Do you agree on a lot of issues?
He comes from a humanitarian place—he’s not hanging out with Hugo Chávez. My girlfriend is a Chávista. But what, I’m going to go on Conan O’Brien’s show to promote a horror movie and give my opinion? I would sound so stupid.
Well, you’re still in college, at the New School. What are you studying?
“Democracy and Cultural Pluralism.” It sounds kind of pretentious.
No, it’s just the New School. More important, did you get to party with Gere?
A few times during the movie, I’d be secretly called to a smaller room where Richard was and treated to amazing food I didn’t know existed. I assume there’s an even smaller room where the real Richard Gere is, with even stranger food or drugs. Hey, could I just mention, I started a Website? OneUpMe.com. Every day I post a metaphor. Today it’s “She was like a black hole, she sucked the light out of life.” And then people try to one-up me [on the second half of the sentence].
Sounds like the idea of a guy who says “according to my calculations.”
That’s why I took my name off the Website.
The Atlantic Theater. In Previews. Opens September 20.