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Jesse Eisenberg: "I'm not a psychopath"

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Jesse Eisenberg on blowing things up, his love for Richard Ayoade and playing Lex Luthor

In Night Moves you play an eco-warrior who blows up a hydroelectric-dam. Have you ever protested anything for real?

I used to protest on behalf of my Burmese friends at the United Nations. It was for the release of their Nobel Peace Prize winner [Aung San Suu Kyi] who had been under house arrest for years. I went to two, and on the third I must have had the date wrong. I asked the guard outside: “Do you know when the Burmese protest is?” and he cursed at me. I stopped after that.

How much research did you do for your Night Moves role?

I learned about various activist organisations in the US who do things you would consider destructive. I also worked and lived on the farm my character lives on, so I would have an understanding of his lifestyle. This character feels marginalised by society.

You have an odd relationship with fellow activist Dakota Fanning. Is there an attraction between the characters?

I know what you mean – when I first read the script I asked the exact same question, and the writers said no. My character is disgusted by her. She’s this rich girl whose father is paying for the operation. I hate her. She’s in it for her own fun. She’s constantly questioning and knows facts, but [my character] thinks all that stuff is annoyingly irrelevant.

You’ve said you’re influenced by each role, feeling great as the confident magician in Now You See Me, but less so as the The Double’s self-doubting Simon. How did that work here?

Night Moves was strange because the character is righteous, but conflicted. We had a short schedule, so it was hard to indulge and take home those feelings. The Double was this long, emotionally rigorous process, and I went home with it every day. But I’m young so I can afford to feel these things. Maybe when I get older and have family I’ll do quieter parts.

Do you find it difficult playing emotionally-involved characters?

Of course. You’re manipulating real emotions in a fictitious setting and it’s very unnerving. Especially for a character like Simon who’s about to weep at any moment. It’s wonderful because it’s my creative expression, but it can be dangerous because your body doesn’t know it’s fictional. It just knows you’re crying [laughs].

How do you switch off?

You talk to your family at night. Get away from things. I’m also not a psychopath, so I know it’s fake. But sometimes it can be confusing.

What was the biggest difficulty in playing two versions of yourself in The Double?

I approached the character as one person who has been torn in two. One guy can hardly finish a sentence, whereas the other guy finishes a sentence very quickly – whatever is lacking in one, the other has in abundance. Instead of thinking these are both 100 per cent fully realised characters, I thought of one having 30 per cent assurance and the other having 70 per cent. They were a physical manifestation of a split psyche.

The Double’s director, Richard Ayoade, said about you: “There’s nothing I can say other than irritating hyperbole. He is a very good actor and very clever.” We take it you guys got on?

Oh, he’s phenomenal. He’s able to make something very funny, very sad and very weird. It’s hard to do. Richard creates this world where you can’t really tell who this person is, and over the course of the movie you’re invested in his story, but taking a side entrance into the building. It’s just so unusual.

What’s he like to work with?

He’s endlessly patient. I’ve never really seen it before, frankly. He would have all these wonderful ideas, but he would make them feel like they were yours.

You seem uncomfortable talking about yourself in interviews – has that got any easier?

No, it becomes increasingly harder because I try not to say anything personal about myself that I don’t want to say. But maybe if that gets out in an article then I forget it comes out, or it doesn’t occur to me it comes out, and I meet you and you reference it I think, “Oh goodness, is this what people think?” It’s so strange. We also don’t walk around with objective mythical opinions of ourselves. I don’t think about myself a certain way, so it seems strange to have that projected back on me. If it doesn’t make you uncomfortable you have to be pretty dumb or a psychopath.

Moving forward, you’re playing Lex Luthor in the upcoming Batman v Superman film. Are you nervous about the bald head?

Unfortunately I’m not at liberty to say anything.

OK. The internet exploded when your casting was announced – did you check the reaction?

I was told there would be a reaction, but the great thing about the internet is you have to go looking. Of course I don’t look for anything like that, because people are there to say mean things. If somebody wants to say something nice they’ll do it in person or forget about it. You learn very early on to not look. Unless you’re some kind of masochist.

Night Moves is at select cinemas from 29 August, and The Double is out now on Blu-ray and DVD

(Image: Rex Features)

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