Now in theaters is director Nima Nourizadeh’s action comedy American Ultra. Written by Chronicle scribe Max Landis, the film revolves around a stoner (Jesse Eisenberg), who is in fact a sleeper agent, and his girlfriend (Kristen Stewart) who find their lives disrupted when a government operation descends upon their small town with the aim of wiping the stoner out. The film also stars Walton Goggins, Connie Britton, Bill Pullman, and Tony Hale. For more on the film, watch the trailer.
The day before we premiered a clip from the film (watch it here), I landed an exclusive phone interview with Jesse Eisenberg. During the wide-ranging conversation he talked about not being on social media, making American Ultra, why he works so well with Kristen Stewart, if he has plans to write and direct movies, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Now You See Me 2, Joachim Trier’s Louder than Bombs, and a lot more.
JESSE EISENBERG: Wait, do I have one?
You might not. I was making a joke, because your last tweets are from March 2009.
EISENBERG: No I’ve never done anything and I think that would be an imposter.
Oh I was just making a joke, I figured you did it back in ‘09 for a day.
EISENBERG: No not at all and I was worried that somebody was doing that with my name, but no I guess not.
Yeah, that was totally me just messing with you. So on Collider we are premiering a clip from American Ultra. So I heard you wanted to explain it, maybe talk about it or I was wrong about this?
EISENBERG: My character throughout the whole movie is trying to propose to Kristen’s character and can never find the right moment. And one of the scenes where he is trying to do it is in a grocery story and he’s trying to get to her and he has to fight off these 11 guys in the grocery story in order to finally reach her. Yeah, so the scene is in a Wal-Mart type store.
What’s really funny about us premiering this clip on Friday is the day I got to visit the set was the day you were filming this scene.
EISENBERG: Yes, that’s exactly right! So according to you, it’s possible – this is the only scene in the movie and it’s a really big trick.
Well that’s possible, but I have seen the movie twice now so I will attest that there are other scenes.
EISENBERG: Oh right. Very unlikely. Got it.
Just talk a lot about the physicality of the role. Because I think a lot of people aren’t used to seeing you doing these stunts, killing people, and blood. And it’s an interesting departure from what a lot of people see you in. So can you tell us a little about that.
EISENBERG: So while that specific aspect might be a little different, there’s a full movie and a full character that surrounds some of the more exciting action scenes. Kristen’s character and my character are a very sweet couple, kind-of-like laid back stoners in the middle of the country, not realizing that they are apart of this government plot. And when they come to take me out, I have to defend myself. So all of the action in the movie is warranted and done in a really interesting way.
Well I put on Twitter that I was going to talk to you and one of the funnier questions I got was “How much experience do you have with the finer points of Mike’s character?”
EISENBERG: I understand the implications and will deflect nonetheless. You know I am a human male living in this time. And I’m in the arts. So I’m around drawings which I’m assuming they are referring to.
Definitely it’s the drawing.
EISENBERG: Yeah, but he is a much better artist than I am though.
I like the way you answered that. Another thing people asked is, “Do you have any desire to write and direct?”
EISENBERG: Yes. I’ve done three plays in New York that are now playing elsewhere without me in it, but I’ve written those plays. One of them I have coming out in September called Bream Gives me Hiccups. So yeah I have that outlet, but I haven’t yet done a movie but, it’s been very self-satisfying writing plays.
Yeah, I think the people that were asking that question were specifically thinking about movies.
EISENBERG: Well I’ve felt a lot more fulfilled playwriting because you have a lot more control over the final product than writers do in movies with the process being so long and extensive and involving so many other people.
Sure. So I wanted to ask about Social Network. Now that that movie has become a touchstone piece of 21st century cinema, what is it like for you to look back on that film – with the collaboration with Fincher?
EISENBERG: Umm, it’s impossible for me to kind of perceive it in that way. I pretty much avoid reading anything about myself, so if they’re characterizing it that way, that’s nice – but I probably avoid reading about it. And it was a wonderful experience. I’ve had many wonderful experiences sometimes the wonderful experience I’ve had isn’t shared with the public, and I still remember them fondly but, no one else does.
A lot of people on Twitter, and I mean a lot, really wanted to know about your collaboration with Kristen and what it’s like for the two of you on set and what it’s like to work together.
EISENBERG: I think we have a similar sensibility and in our case I think it means we both prioritize the authenticity or emotional reality. And in those movies that we’ve done together so far, there’s this added element of knowing it could be funny. And so if it’s funny, then that’s okay and we can allow it to happen but the priority is emotional authenticity.
Sometimes when I’ve spoken to actors one person likes to work a certain way and it’s that sort of balancing the way you like to work with the way other people like to work. Do you guys have a similar work ethic in the terms of – you both like to do 3 to 5 takes, you both like to prepare a certain way…
EISENBERG: I never really seemed to consider this. But no. She’s her toughest critic and as am I. So in addition to making each other better by virtue of us working hard together, I think also we make each other feel a little more confident about what we are doing. Because I can tell when she’s not feeling great about something and she can tell when I’m not feeling great about something. Or you know, when I stop eating if I get nervous.
Does that happen a lot?
EISENBERG: Yes. When we did Adventureland I used to forget to eat out of anxiety and she would bring me food. So she’s a real sweet women and I can tell when she’s not feeling great about something insfor where the movie is concerned and then I try to make her feel good about it. Because she’s good she’s very talented in her skill set.
And as I said to you during the junket, your guys’ chemistry in the movie is fantastic. It just is. I want to reemphasize that out because it’s so good.
EISENBERG: Oh that was so nice. That’s very nice to say.
One of my most anticipated movies of next year is Batman v Superman. I won’t ask you about the plot but I do want to know what did you think it was going to be like being part of the movie, prior to signing on, and what has it been like having done the movie and sort of – because there is a huge amount of interest in the film. What’s it been like for you?
EISENBERG: I’ve never been involved for something that is parsed to this degree. Whether it be something that someone says that has some tangential relation to the movie or the trailer images that are released. It was initially surprising and fortunately the movie is really wonderful. So when people are parsing what the individuals images maybe be, the takeaway is how interesting the movie looks and how wonderful it is. You know, the script is phenomenal. Written by Chris Terrio, who is just brilliant. And Zack Synder is just visually, masterful. And I think everything that’s been released and parsed within an in of its life has been received so well.
Man of Steel is one of my favorite movies of the last few years. I love the movies so much. And everything I keep hearing about Batman v Superman is that Zack has crafted something wonderful. For you, when you were on set making it. Did you get the feeling that you were making this big movie? Or has Zack created this environment that has made you feel insulated from that kind of big budget, big movie pressure?
EISENBERG: The latter. Absolutely. The way he shoots things – at least, insofar as my scenes were concerned – was very specifically and very simply a lot of my scenes are dialogue driven and it felt like I was on any other kind of intimate movie set. So watching that trailer for the first time, was when I really got a good sense of the overall movie, the look, and I thought it was really incredible.
The environment on the set is one of respect and intimacy and allows the actors to do what actors do well even in the context of this huge and larger scope. And the production.
So I have to ask, is there a certain wig you prefer in recent movies?
EISENBERG: Definitely the no hair is ideal. The easiest thing.
Well I’m familiar with the no hair, and I quite enjoy it.
EISENBERG: Yeah. You know how good that is. Of course. That’s the best. Easiest to care. Easiest to dry.
Believe me when I say I’m going to ask you so in depth about this movie when it comes out. And I won’t ask about it because when it comes out we will talk. But have you seen a rough cut? Have you seen anything?
EISENBERG: Oh no no. I think it’s probably still in the editing phase.
So now I have to ask about Now You See Me 2. Because the first one, I’ll be honest I’d thought it be a hit but it turned into this fucking huge movie. When did you realize this would be a really big movie?
EISENBERG: I don’t really keep very close tabs on the financial performances of movies but I was very aware that internationally it was a big hit. Which I was surprised by because there was a lot of quick dialogue and I thought that maybe that would be difficult to translate as a non-English speaking audience reading it. But people seem to love it in every country – and it was more popular in one country than another – anyways that was surprising and lucky because it allowed us to make another one, which we liked doing because it’s kind of a tight knit group. And we really enjoy each other, so I was excited that we got another opportunity to do it again.
What was it like making Louder than Bombs with Joachim Trier in his first English language movie?
EISENBERG: Oh it was great. It was an unusual movie because there was a Norwegian director, Norwegian writer and the cast was European – Isabelle Huppert and Gabriel Byrne – but it felt like this very American story about an American family, or at least a family in America dealing in an environment that felt particularly American.
But it’s a beautiful movie and he’s a wonderful director. He really infuses his movie with such strong emotions. It’s hard for me to characterize the Norwegian-European influence because in itself it’s this wonderfully crafted independent film.
For more with Jesse Eisenberg, here’s my video interview with him and Kristen Stewart.