Jesse Eisenberg talks about his role as a charismatic showman in Now You See Me, opening on June 7
Jesse Eisenberg, who was hilarious as the neurotic Columbus in Zombieland and nailed the character with his ferociously cold and intelligent portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg in David Fincher’s The Social Network, now portrays Atlas, a master illusionist in the heist movie Now You See Me. The 29-year-old talks about his role and working with Woody Harrelson, his co-star from Zombieland in this email interview.
Can you tell us about your role?
My character, Atlas, is ‘on’ all the time. He is cocky and self-assured, always performing. But really, he’s playing his idea of a magician and hiding behind that persona. Atlas needs to always be in control, which is one of the reasons he’s able to do these incredible illusions. He thinks he’s the best, and has that attitude. He’s frustrated that he has to collaborate with other magicians. It’s fun to play, and to bring some humour to it.
How did you come to be attached to the project?
They sent it to me, and I thought it was a great script. The character they sent it to me for was this fun, charismatic showman. I was doing a play at the time in New York where I was playing a character who was terrified all the time, so I didn’t get to experience any of the fun of performing in the show because my character never had any fun. So I was able to go right from that play to this movie and experience all the joy of performing for real, and they put together an incredible ensemble. I think I was the first one to come on board, so every time they’d tell me who else was signing onto the movie, it just became an increasingly wonderful project.
What kind of training did you undergo for your role?
I learned as much as I could over the four weeks of rehearsal and the months of shooting. I would plan out what tricks I needed to know and for what time. I worked with a few different magic consultants; the main one is David Kwong, he's great. He taught me a lot about magic, the sleight of hand and the performing of it. I was able to use my imagination because I perform a lot on stage in New York City, so I know what it's like to be in front of people and command an audience.
What was your most memorable moment during shooting?
In the first scene of the movie, I’m asking a group of people on the street corner who’ve just come from a bar to choose a card.
I flip through a whole deck and I ask them to choose a card, and then the card appears on the side of a tower, like a 50-story tower nearby, the card that they randomly selected.
How was it working with Woody Harrelson?
I love working with him, everybody does. He is one of these very unique actors that is as comfortable in a movie like this where there’s a lot of effects and where it’s fact-paced. As well as movies like an independent movie that is shot in 20 days or something.
So that’s really helpful for me on set because this is one of my first bigger movies at this scale, and so to have him there and to see how he paces himself throughout a day, and see how he is aware of the camera angles, knowing to not necessarily expend all of your energy when the shot is nowhere near your body, that’s helpful to see. On a personal level, I like him so much, and we have similar tastes in drama and in comedy, so it’s very helpful to work with somebody where you have a similar aesthetic.
How different is Atlas from Zuckerberg?
The nature of my character, Atlas, is that he’s teamed up with these other great magicians, and initially it feels like a competition with them.
How different was it working with Fincher and Louis Leterrier?
Louis has made enormous movies in the past. I wasn’t sure how interested a director like him would be in working with actors, but he had so many ideas about my character and so many references to actor-driven movies. It was eye-opening for me to learn that you could do that in this kind of big, visually arresting movie.
What is next in the pipeline?
We completed Richard Ayoade’s The Double last year.