In the suspense thriller Night Moves, director Kelly Reichardt's follow up to the 2008 indie hit Wendy and Lucy and 2010's Meek's Cutoff (both of which starred Michelle Williams), Jesse Eisenberg plays a radical environmentalist opposite Dakota Fanning and Peter Sarsgaard, who are staging the protest of their lives against a hydroelectric dam. But what cause is worthy enough for Eisenberg himself to actually picket? The answer is—literally—full of drama.
Mr. Eisenberg, what is the best method to change the world, the pen or the sword?
Well, it all depends on what you feel comfortable with. We have had very extreme movements in the past. Great social change—I am speaking as an American—that have been occasionally violent or extreme, but that seemed totally justified. Conversely, we have had movements of great social change that have been very destructive.
Have you ever protested something?
I used to protest war in general as a concept, specific wars, future wars, past wars, and I never felt comfortable with it so all my political activity is relegated to writing humor about political stuff. My first play was a kind of satire on young liberals. That's the way I express myself politically because I always felt uncomfortable carrying a sign. Because you have to hold your hand up all day and the wood can splinter . . . So I really don't like protests.
Is there a cause today that would get you to go out on the streets to support it?
It seems petty, but I work in the theater. I write plays and I feel very impassioned about it and if they wanted to close a theater I might protest then. It sounds a bit selfish, but I guess every cause is selfish in a way.
I didn't realize you write so much. Does being an actor affect how you write?
I write plays that I act in and so I am kind of acting out the parts. Also my last play mainly featured a 75-year-old woman, so I was also acting her part out in my mind, although it was not for me to perform. And then I write for the New Yorker, but I mainly write either in dialogue or monologue form, so this is also kind of acting. I have written fiction and stuff and I am just not as good at it. I think in the way that people speak, and that is how I write.
What makes you say you are not as good at fiction?
I got a B in short story class. That was the only B I got in college so I just swore it off immediately.
Were you that serious about your grades?
It put my grade point average down, but no. I was just narcissistic and thought I should get a good grade. It was just ego. I was not that good in school, I just didn't want to get a B in short story class—that's absurd. It's a short story class!
Would you prefer to spend more time writing than acting?
No, if I just wrote plays I couldn't make a living. They take years to get produced and when they finally get produced you make very little money anyway. So it's important to act. I like acting for it's own sake, but I do have to think about my career, too. I'm doing many different things to prepare for the inevitable failure of one of them.
Well, I'm sure you won't be out of work for a while. The Social Network seems to have really solidified your career.
Maybe, but I felt like the biggest moment I have ever had was when I was 19. I got into this really good movie [The Squid and the Whale] and that changed everything for me because people saw me and they started to send me scripts. It was a good nuanced role and that was a great luxury to get as a young person, someone just starting out. Before that I had been auditioning since I was 14 for the worst things that you can imagine.
Read more of The Talks with Jesse Eisenberg.
• • •
Also on The Talks:
• • •