Jesse Eisenberg On The Return Of Lex Luthor: “I’d Be Shocked If I Wound Up In A DC Movie – But It Would Be A Pleasant Shock”

Speaking to an enthusiastic crowd at the 28th Sarajevo Film Festival after screenings of his directorial debut When You Finish Saving the World, Jesse Eisenberg covered a lot of bases, from his introduction to acting as an anxious teenager to his dislike of the sitcom Friends (“My sister loves it, and we get into arguments all the time,” he said. “Because no one talks that way, and there’s not a group of six people that are all that good-looking and all that funny”). Eisenberg also expressed dismay at the response to his portrayal of Lex Luthor in the 2016 blockbuster Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. “I felt very personal about it,” he said. “The writer, Chris Terrio, is a very serious writer, and he’s a very emotional person. He thought a lot about my character, and I thought a lot about my character too. I talked with my acting coach about the character a lot, about his backstory with his father and his emotional life—and then people hate me.”

Speaking to Deadline afterwards, Eisenberg clarified that he would not rule out a return to the DC or even Marvel world if called upon. “I’d be shocked if I wound up in a DC movie, but it would be a pleasant shock,” he said. “Listen, I’m not a comic book fan. To me, it was not playing a role that I’d envisioned since childhood. To me, it was a chance to play this great character that this great writer wrote, and I loved doing that. So, to play it is a joy, and to not play it isn’t something that I’m going to be ashamed to tell my kids about, because that is not an important genre in my life, even though I loved doing that movie.” So he would still do a superhero movie? “Yeah. Because as an actor, you do all kinds of different things, and sometimes great roles show up in really commercial things and sometimes terrible roles show up in independent films.”

For the time being, however, Eisenberg is keeping his diary clear, as he prepares to shoot his next film, A Real Pain, in Poland. “The story is about two cousins who have grown apart,” he explained, “and they go on a heritage-slash-Holocaust tour after the death of their grandmother. It’s about their lives and their little struggles, as opposed to the bigger struggles that they’re facing, and trying to juxtapose how we think about modern pain versus how we think about the pain of our ancestors. Our ancestors were killed, and our struggles are so minor, comparatively. The movie kind of asks the question, ‘Are [those minor struggles] also valid?’”

The writer-director’s co-star in the film will be Succession star Kieran Culkin. “I always thought of him for the role,” said Eisenberg. “I actually haven’t seen Succession, but my little sister, who I send everything I write to, had. When she read the script, she said, ‘You have to give it to Kieran.’ I was like, ‘Oh, my God, I’d love to, he’s just phenomenal.’ He does Kenneth Lonergan plays in New York, and I have real love for those plays.”

Eisenberg not having seen Succession isn’t entirely surprising, given that he doesn’t even see his own movies. But it’s perhaps a little remarkable that he doesn’t keep tabs on Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, whose portrayal brought him an Oscar nomination for 2010’s The Social Network. “I guess I don’t, because I don’t have a Facebook page,” he mused. “The stories are typically meaningless to me. I notice sometimes when a story comes out about Facebook in the news, but I think people just worried that their data is being mined or sold. I feel a little chuffed that I never got a Facebook page.”

Despite the many plaudits for David Fincher’s film, Eisenberg doesn’t get much recognition from the public for it. “When I go to the airport,” he said, “people have seen me in Now You See Me. As great a movie as it is, The Social Network is still a drama. It’s not a popcorn kind of movie. Even though it’s considered one of the greatest movies [of recent times], it’s just not a movie that people shout at me about from across the room. People shout at me from across the room because I was in a movie about magic.”

Fans off the Now You See Me franchise will be pleased to know that a third is very likely on the way. “They’ve been trying,” he said. “but I think it will happen sooner rather than later. It’s such a beloved franchise. I only know this because I’m in it, but you feel it. I don’t know why that is, because my finger’s not really on the pulse of culture, but I feel, as a person involved with it, that it’s something that people really love, and I know that the people who produced the movie feel that too.”

All this recent activity will presumably make up not just for the disappointment of Batman V Superman but also for the crushing rejection that happened during the pandemic, when his work was turned down by satirical website The Onion. “I got very, very close,” he said. “They give you a probationary period, so you submit 10 ideas a week for a number of weeks. I got very close twice, and then, ultimately, I didn’t make it. It’s very competitive.” How hard did it hit? “Listen, I’ve had every advantage in my life because of being in movies. This experience proved to be completely useless during this time. They don’t have bylines—no one knows who writes these things—so for me to be a famous actor is completely meaningless. In a way, it was a humbling experience, because you kind of learn, ‘Oh, this is the way the world would react to me were I not in movies.’ Which is to say that I’d probably get rejected multiple times.”

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