After playing an angry genius nerd in The Social Network (and promoting his role as said angry genius nerd for eight months straight), Jesse Eisenberg was ready to stretch his wings and take on the lighter role of a charmingly dorky nerd bird in the animated Rio, out this week. In Rio, Eisenberg stars as Blu, a blue macaw plucked by smugglers from his jungle homeland and rescued by a kindly shut-in named Linda (voiced by Leslie Mann). Together they grow up to be codependent homebodies, until one day, a gregarious ornithologist whisks them off to Brazil so Blu can mate with the only female left in his species, a free-spirited lady blue macaw played by Anne Hathaway. Along the way they meet many other animals who talk like famous people (Tracy Morgan, Will.I.Am, and Jamie Foxx), and have many adventures, including hang gliding, which Eisenberg did himself for the second time in his life while promoting the movie in Rio de Janiero last week. Hear him talk all about it in his distinct, adorable, Eisenbergian way.
It’s really early — are you on L.A. time?
I am, yeah, yeah. I am just driving to an airport. Um, I, um … turn the GPS thing off.
Yeah, I sort of felt they were, I don’t know, pushing you around, making you do this interview so early.
Oh, no, um, no, no, no, no. This is the time I requested because I’m going to be on a plane in an hour and I don’t like to have any moment alone where I’m not discussing myself, so this is the perfect opportunity.
Because the ride would just not be right if you weren’t talking about yourself?
I’d have to call my mother and ask her to question me, yes.
So are they making you do a lot of promotional stuff for this?
Yeah, I mean it’s a bit strange because, um, the movie was so successful overseas that I received all these e-mails from every agent and my agency congratulating me — but I had absolutely nothing to do with it.
What do you mean — because it is a dubbed release?
Oh, so when they release it in another country, it’s for young people who are not going to be reading. You know, so they dubbed over the voices, so unlike a live-action movie where your image is in it and your acting is in it, you do a voice-over — you have nothing to do with the Bulgarian version.
Have you listened to the other voices? Have they tried to make them sound sort of slightly neurotic and New York–y?
More like Sofia-ey. I don’t know, whatever their big metropolis is.
You did get to go to Rio out of this, right?
Yeah, that was great.
What did you get to do while you were there?
Um, most notably, I hang glided, but I also like to, you know, travel around and see different areas. Uh, we went to this town that was affected by mud slides and helped, brought stuff to the Red Cross there. I like to see different parts if it’s possible and do something that is a little more interesting than the general stuff. I didn’t mean to throw in the Red Cross thing, I just, you know, that was a highlight.
Did all of the actors sit in the same room to record voice-overs?
No. I met almost the entire cast for the first time in Rio at the premiere. They recorded it in different rooms, oftentimes in different cities. I was filming in Michigan for a lot of it, so they actually even flew the director and, um, the producer and recording engineer to Grand Rapids, Michigan. And I imagine they did the same thing with other actors. It’s such a kind of patchwork process that it’s not like getting together and having fun in a room. I mean, it’s not like all the actors get together and just kind of perform the whole movie like a radio play; it’s a belabored and slow process.
Do you see any connection between Mark Zuckerberg and Blu?
A very tenuous connection. Blu is kind of living a very isolated and comfortable life and, you know, in the Social Network, he’s very isolated but not as comfortable with that and is really struggling internally against that desire to be that isolated. Um, uh, from there, there’s really no connection.
Did you have to study birds to get into character?
Um, not to get into character, because the character is in a way more human than bird, just by virtue of it being a movie character that’s supposed to be acceptable to an audience of humans. But I was interested in the story of my bird. One of the reasons I wanted to do the movie is because I’ve become sort of friendly with animal life and to do a movie that promotes, um, the preservation of endangered species, the protection of the environment, was a wonderful opportunity and it does it in a way that is not, uh, condescending; it does it in a way that is definitely not explicitly political or crass. And it does it in a way that’s fun.
You sing in the movie.
Uh, I sing like one lyric, so um …
Who knew you could sing — you can!
Oh yeah, I mean, when I was younger I did Broadway musicals. My voice changed; I started studying Shakespeare. But, yeah, I do sing.
You’re known for loving cats. Did your cats start treating you differently once you started playing Blu?
Uh, yeah, they said they were too sick to go to the premiere and I suspect there might be discomfort with their owner being their biological enemy.
So in terms of what’s next, are you definitely going to do the Woody Allen movie?
Um, oh I’m not sure, how did you … is that a released thing?
It’s a rumored thing.
I, I, I don’t know. I’m not sure of the details. I mean, I’m sure you’re aware of how he works. It’s a very unique process, so I’m doing a movie in June that I’m preparing for … and I didn’t realize, yeah, his movies are very secretive so I’m not aware, I’m not sure of the process.
I can just imagine the two of you on set though.
Um, that’s very nice. I mean, yeah, it goes without saying, you know, yeah, how great, you know.
There will be a sort of overload of neuroses if you two get in the same room?
I’ve discovered that I feel much more confident when I’m working on something than when I’m not. That’s when I feel like I think I’ll be okay. On set.