Jesse Eisenberg on His "Mystifying" Acting Career and the "Power" of Isabelle Huppert

Actor Jesse Eisenberg is known as a jittery person who speaks with a nervous stammer punctuated by "um"s and "uh"s. That characteristic is in full effect when he apologizes for calling a New Times reporter eight minutes past the scheduled time. The Oscar nominee says that after five months of doing nothing, he's now promoting several projects at once — from the superhero flick Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice to the arthouse film Louder Than Bombs. The latter makes its South Florida premiere this week at the Coral Gables Art Cinema.

Eisenberg, who is also a humorist and author, admits, "I would prefer not having anything to do." He speaks via phone from New York City and says he was fond of Norwegian writer-director Joachim Trier before working together. Five years ago, he saw Trier's 2006 feature debut, Reprise, and thought the director had a "wonderful way with actors."

Louder Than Bombs is Trier's English-language debut. It follows a broken family coping with the sudden loss of its matriarch, war photographer Isabelle (played by actress Isabelle Huppert). After returning home, she is believed to have killed herself in a car crash. Widower Gene (Gabriel Byrne) is clueless about how to gain any respect from his youngest son, teenaged Conrad (Devin Druid), or how to deal with his deceased wife's piles of photos and film that a gallery has asked him to sort. Elder son Jonah (Eisenberg) comes to the rescue.

Eisenberg's character has serious unresolved issues, however, that make him far from a hero in this film. The actor dives deep into emotional and mental tumult in the face of a major loss. He says one of the reasons he took the role was because of how deeply the film's script explores these mental struggles.

"The character in this script was so unusual in that his behavior was emotionally realistic but totally illogical," Eisenberg says. "He tries to kind of reconcile and get closure from the death of his mother, but instead of weeping in the corner and crying out Oedipally, he abandons his wife and child. Which seems on the one hand totally illogical but on the other hand emotionally right."

In several ways, he says, he was able to get deeper into his character than usual. "It was because there was this very unusual, frankly, almost-heavy advantage. We had more time to film than you'd normally have in an indie because it was a European production. So I was given this opportunity to present this character in different ways, not just in the first way that you might think he behaves."

Another reason Eisenberg admits he took the role was to act alongside Huppert and Byrne. He says he loved working with both but has a lot to say about Huppert. "I think Isabelle Huppert is probably every young actress' role model because she's able to reconcile this great power with total vulnerability in this very compelling way."

It was easy to get into his character because of his personal admiration for her. "As an actor, not only playing her son, but playing her son with some kind of Oedipal conflict, it's very easy to be totally intrigued by her completely alluring presence."

Although he has been acting since he was a child, Eisenberg has a unique outsider's perspective of not just his costars but also his own acting career. He says he never watches the movies he's in, so he has little sense of himself as an actor. When he looks back on his career, he says, "Oh, I'm mystified... I'm always surprised when they ask me to play roles of any kind, especially a role as unusual as being a villain in a superhero movie. For me, I feel so thrilled, because again, I am not engaged in what I do because I don't watch myself. So I don't think of myself as a villain, but as an actor — there is no better role."

Critics have not necessarily been kind to Eisenberg for his version of Lex Luthor, but to him, criticism doesn't exist. Not only does he not watch the movies he acts in, but he also doesn't bother reading what's written about the films or his performances.

Of his role in Batman v Superman, he says, "I thought the script was phenomenal, I thought the director was phenomenal, and the other actors I got to work with were fantastic. So my kind of experience, especially evaluating it in any type of qualitative way, ends on-set."

Louder Than Bombs
Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Gabriel Byrne, Isabelle Huppert, and Devin Druid. Directed by Joachim Trier. Written by Joachim Trier and Eskil Vogt. 109 minutes. Rated R. Opens Friday, April 29, at Coral Gables Art Cinema, 260 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables; 786-385-9689; gablescinema.com.

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