Jesse Eisenberg on Zombieland, the Movie’s Big Cameo, and Facebook

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Photo: Courtesy of Columbia

Jesse Eisenberg, headliner of indie films like Adventureland and The Squid and the Whale, is not your typical zombie-movie star — in fact, he's never even seen a zombie movie. So it's a good thing, then, that Zombieland, out today, isn't your typical zombie movie. Vulture spoke with Eisenberg yesterday about the film, its big surprise guest, and his upcoming role in David Fincher's Facebook movie, The Social Network.

Zombieland is being called a zombie movie for people who don't like zombie movies.
I have the exact same thing. I'm not so much not a fan, it's just I'm not aware of them. I haven't seen any of these movies that people have been asking us about in terms of comparison to Zombieland. It's the same reason I didn't read the script for two weeks at my house. [Woody Harrleson and I] had the same reaction to the script, which was, "Why would I ever want to be in something called this?" But from page one, the humor is more clever and the references are more highbrow and the characters are more realistic than most independent dramas I was reading at the time.

You mentioned the title. Director Ruben Fleischer has said that he tried to have it changed. He believes a girlfriend on a date would refuse based on the name alone.
Yeah, but as much as the title might be a liability, it's an asset in terms of the business side. It seems like so many more people will see a movie called Zombieland than will be turned off to it. [Fleischer] wanted to call it Columbus, which is my character's name. No one would go to that movie. But how many 15-year-old boys are going to want to go see something called Zombieland, regardless if their girlfriends want to go? How many people even have girlfriends who are going to see movies filled with dead zombies?

A scene that gets a lot of laughs is when your character's having his big moment and is driving off on the motorcycle but, instead, just crashes into a bush.
When we were filming that, I thought it was the most clichéd thing. And yet, I've watched the movie four times with audiences, and every time people just flip for it. And I just thought it's so obvious, but somehow it works well.

Well, yeah, they did do it in Pee Wee's Big Adventure.
I know! Every time I watch it people laugh as if it's the most original thing. I'm shocked! It's great.

There's an extended cameo by a famous actor that's a real surprise. What was it like having him on set?
It was good. It was different, certainly, because we four cast members had been working together as a family for six weeks up until that point and we all thought we were the funniest people in the world because we were improvising with each other. And then he came in and blew us out of the water. So it was a weird tone on set to have somebody we all acknowledge as the best at what we've been trying to do for six weeks. Even if you hate the movie, you can't not like that scene.

You've said before that you don't like watching your own movies. Have you enjoyed the reaction at the screenings so far?
You can't hear the movie half the time because the reaction is so overwhelming. The other movies I've been in I don't like to watch because they're quiet movies, and they're more uncomfortable to watch because the actors, personally, have less surrounding them that protects them. This is such a fun movie and there's so much around me, I'm less self-conscious watching it. I actually feel like they should never make independent movies again, because this is what people actually want to go see. It makes me realize why people go see fun movies every weekend and not depressing movies that I've been in.

At one point, your character in Zombieland mentions that his favorite part about the zombie apocalypse is the lack of Facebook status updates. Which is funny, since you're playing Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network ...
[Laughs] Oh, yeah. I think it was one of the writers, Rhett [Reese], the thing he hates the most in the world are Facebook status updates. I didn't know what they were when I read the script, but he did explain them to me and it seems like a very annoying thing. Yeah, [The Social Network] is a movie not so much about Facebook, but the creation of Facebook and the friendships that broke apart.