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Jesse Eisenberg on What People Do After They Write Mean Things About You Online

Jesse Eisenberg had a very good 2009: While the critical reception for Adventureland was making him even more of an indie heartthrob, the commercial success of Zombieland was fashioning him as a potential legit box-office draw. His highest-profile project, The Social Network — a David Fincher–directed, Aaron Sorkin–scripted telling of the fraught origins of Facebook — is up next. For now, though, Eisenberg's plugging Holy Rollers, an indie drama in which he plays a Hasidic Brooklyn teen pulled into an Ecstasy-smuggling ring. Vulture chatted with Eisenberg at Avenue last week, where he was fidgety and remarkably polite; he even asked about us after we turned the tape recorder off. (By the way, we hope the direction of our coverage this week isn’t freaking out the Eisenberg family.)

How conscious are you of planning out your career path when you’re picking movies?
I tend to be pessimistic about everything: If things seem to be going good, I’m worried that it’s going to end; if things are bad, then I’m worried that it’s going to be permanent. It’s not a very comfortable attitude to have all the time. So I don’t think about a long-term trajectory, because it will just disappoint me.

Do you worry at all about being typecast?
No, I couldn’t care less about how I’m perceived by others because I’m not in control of that. I’m only in control to pursue something that I like, and then when I’m doing it, do it in the way that I feel most comfortable. If people perceive me a certain way or label me a certain way, then that’s for them to figure out. While they’re masturbating. Online. You know what I mean? Like, people write mean things about you online — then they masturbate.

Ha! I assume that means you don’t read the blogs or reviews?
Yeah, no, of course not, of course not. That kills you. I do plays, and the old mantra is you never read the reviews, especially in a play because it can affect the play. A good review can be even more dangerous, 'cause if someone writes, "He does this funny thing with a spoon," then the next night you’re trying to get the laugh with the spoon.

How much are you forced to pay attention to reviews?
I did a movie and I said to my agent, "I heard it’s good," and she said, "Well, we won’t know until we hear what AintItCoolNews.com says." And I’m sure that website’s good, but now it’s the arbiter of what the future of the movie is. I think it was for Adventureland, which is a smaller character story. It was strange to me that they were basing the early release patterns — and I don’t want to disparage the website because I don’t know the website — on this website.

Speaking of Adventureland, it feels like that’s quickly become a cult film.
That movie was, and it’s the case with a lot of movies discovered after its release, and a lot of it has to do with the movie company marketing in such a way that it destroys it. And then because it’s good people find it on their own and they recommend it to their friends. It’s unfortunate that they can’t do that off the bat, but that happens to a lot of movies: They’re made with good intentions and then are framed a certain way for an audience and it kills them.

You’ve played characters that are versions of your directors a few times. Would you be up for it again?
Yeah, if they’re good directors [laughs]. I’ve gotten so lucky to play parts that are written so thoughtfully. Nothing pains me more to, and I’ve done this a few times, act in movies where the characters are really one-dimensional. And I hate myself going on set; I feel like I’m not doing my job right.

I assume you won’t say which movies you’re referring to?
Yeah, no, because sometimes they even come out okay. But I still feel like they’re not fully well rounded. Luckily, when I’m playing the autobiographical movies that I’ve gotten to be in, they’re so well thought-out. You can tell right off the bat: [The characters] don’t act the same way in each scene; they’re not just used for the same joke in each scene.

Since The Social Network is referred to as ‘the Facebook movie’ pretty frequently, do you ever have to explain to people that it’s not an adaptation of the actual user experience of Facebook?
Once the publicity starts I’m sure there’ll be a campaign, and I’m sure it won’t fall on me as much as the movie company to explain that this is not a movie that teaches you how to use the website. Or a time-travel Facebook movie.

The pedigree is impressive, and I think some people were confused as to how Justin Timberlake, who isn’t a full-time actor …
[Laughs.] "Full-time actor." I don’t know any full-time actors.

Well, are you willing to go to bat for him and say this is the movie that’ll change people’s minds on his acting abilities?
I don’t know, that would be accepting the premise that there’s already this perception that’s negative. No, I always thought of him as great, and he held up to that of course. The part he’s playing is very interesting: It’s the guy who created Napster, and you have the added irony of Justin Timberlake playing the guy who basically brought down the music industry. So it’s inspired casting just beyond him being really great in the movie.

Are you a fan of his music? Did you ever ask him about his next album?
I listened to stuff that he’s done after we filmed and I really liked it a lot.

David Fincher has a reputation for being fairly hard-charging. Did he live up to that on set?
Well, I don’t know about hard-charging, but every day he asks for your best work, and that’s what you want to give. You end up doing scenes so many times, but I found that to be very rewarding. I’m always disappointed because the movies I’ve worked on mostly have been smaller films — you get one or two takes to do each scene, and you always leave getting the feeling that you could have done better. And on that movie, although I still got that feeling, you walk away thinking, Well, you had 40 takes to do the thing, so you probably couldn’t have done better.

Your public profile has risen in the last few years. Are you all right with the increased level of fame?
Nooo. … No, that’s the downside of getting to do the good things — that you have to be recognized on the streets. That’s the trade-off, that’s not the perk. If that’s the perk, then you’re probably going to be doing different kinds of movies.

Are you getting better at handling it?
There’s no way to handle it. I got stopped at the airport yesterday and I didn’t want to talk because I was running to the plane, and this guy had just gotten back from Afghanistan and he was a journalist in the Army, so then it was interesting to speak to him. I felt bad that I was so quiet initially, but it’s just because it’s such an unnatural meeting. So I ended up just asking him about his experiences, which is more interesting than me telling him about mine.

Last thing: They’re saying they’d shoot Zombieland 2 in 3-D. What’s your opinion on that?
I couldn’t care less. I just feel like it would take more time to set up. The director is really happy about that; he’s a technical guy. But, yeah, for me it just seems like I’ll sit around for longer before they start shooting.

Photo: Larry Busacca/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival