Jesse Eisenberg Talks Learning Magic, Reuniting with Woody Harrelson, Why He Signed on to the Project, and More on the Set of NOW YOU SEE ME
Jesse Eisenberg has played a variation of characters, such as, Mark Zukerberg, a zombie hunter, an orthodox Jew, a pizza guy and several troubled kids. Now Eisenberg plays a magician in Now You See Me. I know he will deliver a great performance because every other role he played was a success.
Last year, on set, Eisenberg participated in a group interview. He talked about his purpose for being in the project, his reunin with Woody Harrelson, what it’s like to learn the tricks, script changes and how it is like working with Louis Leterrier.
Here are a few highlights from the interview:
- Eisenberg had to learn the fundamental principles of magic. It helped him play the role of a magician.
- It was debated whether or not the tricks should be revealed in the movie.
- Eisenberg learned that it takes a lot to be a magician. Especially lying.
- Letterier wanted to cast actors who were not typically in movies like this, he went for theater-types.
- Letterier tailored the roles to the actors once his cast started materializing.
- All of the characters are specialists of their field: Eisenberg is a performer, Isla Fisher is an escape artist, Woody Harrelson is a mentalist, and Dave Franco is a pickpocket of sorts
Question: David was just starting to talk about training you guys but he stopped when you came over so what kind of stuff have you been learning?
JESSE EISENBERG:Well there are a few things I have to do in the movie, so those are the things I really practiced a lot, but there are things that are just interesting to know about as a character/magician, and so I realized early on in the training that if you learn some of the basic principles you can apply those principles to many different tricks or illusions. And what my character does really well is take those principles and use them to create these totally innovative illusions. The first thing that you see in the movie… In the first scene of the movie he is with a group of people at a bar outside in Chicago at night, and he asks this girl, to pick any card from the deck. She takes a card, and then he has the card appear on the face of the Sears Tower. And it’s kind of explained, I’m not sure how much will make it in the movie, but it’s kind of explained how he does it. And it’s just so brilliant and innovative. It’s for no gain other then the enjoyment of the 20 people outside the bar.
So what made you want to get involved in the project?
EISENBERG:I thought it was a great script. There are so many elements to the script. The main thing for me as an actor is that it’s an interesting role to play as the character is one of the world’s greatest magicians. So in his personal life, off stage, he struggles to maintain control over everything. Because as a magician you’re in control of everything, you’ve preplanned every aspect of your behavior. In his personal life, though, he struggles to maintain that same kind of control. It’s an interesting character. The cast that they assembled was just fantastic, getting to work with Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine, Woody Harrelson again, and Isla Fisher, Dave Franco, Mark Ruffalo, Mélanie Laurent; this is the most amazing cast they could have put together. And the story was so interesting. I’m not sure how much you know about it, but it’s also like a mystery movie, where you’re trying to figure out how these magicians are doing these elaborate and very complicated tricks, and over the course of the movie you start to piece things together. I don’t normally read movies like this, I had no idea. It was a convincing mystery.
How you describe him beyond the magic? What kind of person is he?
EISENBERG:I think my character’s most in his element when he’s performing, and when he’s not performing I think he’s probably just waiting to perform. I read the script while I was doing a play in New York, and I was really able to relate it to my life. The ideal way to approach a character is to find something in yourself that relates in some way. And I really liked doing the play, but the off time was torturous because you’re just anticipating this significant thing that you have to do every night. So I assumed that’s probably what this character’s dealing with. He loves performing; he performs as much as he can. He doesn’t spend a night on a date, rather he goes out and performs for people, so that’s what you see in the first scene of the movie. That was the most exciting part of the character for me because I could immediately relate to that experience.
I haven’t done magic myself, but how much as far as revealing how tricks are done — because David [Kwong, a magician]’s involved, we haven’t talked to him yet — but if they give away tricks in the movie and how they do things, is that a little dangerous, are they a little nervous about that kind of stuff?
EISENBERG: Yeah, I was thinking that same thing. I don’t know…
You must have talked a lot of magicians while you were preparing for this.
EISENBERG:Yeah, I guess there were some debates over whether or not to reveal certain tricks in the movie, but the most important thing is what these magicians are doing is so singular and unique that it’s not revealing too much. Morgan Freeman plays a “Magic Debunker,” so he makes and sells DVDs of him revealing the great magic tricks. And he’s seen by the movie as not a noble character. So the magic debunking is not seen as noble in the movie’s eyes. The stuff that he reveals is really these tricks that no one else is doing. In the first magic show we do we rob a bank in Paris and it rains money on the audience, and we’re not revealing any kind of long-standing thing because that never has happened. So we’re probably in the clear.
Maybe someone really will do it then after…
EISENBERG: Yeah, exactly.
Now that you know a few magic tricks, would you ever use that in a bar to pick up a woman?
EISENBERG:I feel very guilty doing magic because you’re deceiving somebody. When I am with David Kwong and he does magic, people love it and they don’t want to know. But I am, I guess, too early in the process to realize that they don’t want to know and just feel immediately guilty that I tricked them and tell them how it’s done and David gets upset and the night ends pretty early. But one of the things about being a magician is you have to overcome the feeling of discomfort that comes with lying, you have to get over that feeling, which is a strange quality. Especially if you’re like David, who’s a nice, regular guy; he’s not interested in being duplicitous or anything. You have to get over that, because the truth is people seem to like being lied to in that safe context.
You guys are filming this over 60 days; it seems like a very ambitious film for a 60-day shoot. Can you talk a little bit about what it’s been like trying to get it all done?
EISENBERG:It’s not been so taxing for me because the movie goes back and forth between the magicians and the FBI chasing them, so by design we have a lot of time off. But the crew has been working. The hours are incredible. Luckily the tone is set at the top by Louis [Leterrier] and Bobby Cohen, who is producing it and Louis is directing it, and they run a very nice set. Everybody feels included, everybody feels happy to be there. That’s not always the case, so the long hours are mitigated by that nice environment.
How is Louis as a director? Do you feel he has strength as far as the action? What do you feel are some of his strengths?
EISENBERG:He’s like the tallest kid I ever met. He just has so much fun doing the scenes. You know just by watching him work that the scene is going to be fun to watch because he has such a great time with it, such a great time filming it. When I first met him I was the first actor that they approached, so when he told me who he wanted to put in the movie I realized right away he also really loves actors. I mean, to assemble a cast like this for a movie that has such a complicated plot, and has such amazing effects, and such a cool storyline, it doesn’t necessarily require the actors that they’ve assembled. So it’s a really amazing thing that he fought for actors who do independent movies and theater to be in a movie that probably could survive on its own based on the cool premise.
You’re basically describing the film as an action thriller with character actors. So is this the new changing face of leading men right now, where all of a sudden you are the leading man in an action movie as opposed to a Stallone type?
Oh, I see. I don’t know about major trends in movies, but I know they wanted to cast actors who were not typically in movies that were paced at this speed. It’s been really fun for us, everybody really likes doing it. Woody Harrelson’s in it and he seems to do all kinds of movies so I don’t think he’s out of his element or anything. But it’s been fun. The job for me is the same anywhere. I mean, this movie probably edits more quickly than an independent movie or something, but my job doesn’t really change that much.
Have you gotten to see anything edited together? It’s early for that, but doing a trick and then seeing it all put together?
EISENBERG:The way our characters are introduced is the four magicians are introduced doing their magic, so I’m doing that trick I said at the Sears Tower. And then Isla is doing a — she’s an escapologist, so she escapes from shackles underwater — and I saw her scene cut together, in which she’s thrown into a tank of piranhas handcuffed and she has to get out of the handcuffs before they attack her. And it was incredible. When you’re on set you don’t realize the way something is going to look since you’re on the other side of the camera, but I saw that scene edited together and it’s astounding.
Often when you sign on a project the script looks a certain way and then you get on set and things change. How has it changed, or not changed, since you signing on to what we’re watching right now?
EISENBERG:It’s changed a lot since I initially signed on to it because I think I was the first actor to come on to it. And so once they started assembling this cast, they started to tailor the roles a little more specifically to the actors involved. That was the big first change. And then once we were no longer shooting in Atlantic City, they changed it to New Orleans, and we shot most of the movie in New Orleans, so that changed a lot, too. But the overall storyline is the same and the mystery of the movie remains the same, and that’s the most important element.