If you’ve caught the trailers for “Now You See Me,” Summit Entertainment’s May 31 release caper-thriller starring Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Morgan Freeman, Mark Ruffalo, Michael Caine and Isla Fisher, you’ve gotten a taste of the thrillingly in-control magician Eisenberg portrays. Surprisingly, the hot 29-year-old star tells us that he hoped to overcome a case of stage fright by playing such a cool character.
“What happened for me was that I was doing a play that I’d written in downtown New York and I was having a lot of stage fright. I was very nervous about the show and about performing on stage every night,” recalls Eisenberg, referring to his The Revisionist with Vanessa Redgrave earlier this year. “And then I read this script and the character they wanted me to play was the most confident performer in the world. So I thought that was exactly what I needed to do to get over my fear of performing. I thought this was such a fun character.”
The Oscar-nominated (“The Social Network”) actor says that when he spoke to director Louis Leterrier about the feature, “He told me his vision for the acting and I thought, ‘Hm, he’s right on.’ He wanted to take it seriously. So even though there is a very complicated plot in the movie, all the acting was treated very realistically. It was kind of a perfect opportunity to do something like this.”
And sure enough, he learned to love performing onstage as his character. “When you force yourself to love doing it, you find that you do,” he says.
Seriously? You can force yourself to love doing something?
“Well, as an actor, I should think so. Once I commit to enjoying something, I typically enjoy it,” answers Eisenberg. “You know, because you try to.” He pauses, thinks, says, “mm” — a typical Eisenberg conversational pattern that lets one know he’s not just fluffing off his answer, then he resumes. “You make a decision to enjoy it and then you find little things about it that are enjoyable. You find ways to enjoy it, like changing your interactions with the audience or with the other performers to keep it fresh each time.”
And things obviously worked out well for The Revisionist — Eisenberg reveals that they’ll be doing the play again next year for “a wider audience,” his low-key way of saying his acclaimed play is on track for a Broadway run.
Eisenberg found mastering sleight of hand to be the most difficult part of the “Now You See Me” job, as did the other actors called upon to do professional-level magic tricks for the film in which they play a band of young prestidigitators who rob from the rich and give to their adoring audiences. “My character has to be perfectly proficient. He’s been practicing this for 20 years, eight hours a day. It was very difficult to do in the short amount of time we had.”
He says he never worried about any cheesiness creeping into their magician-filled story, as some others have talked about. “Not really — mm — because I don’t think I can do that. Not because I’m so great. It’s just I don’t know how to,” he says, of being cheesy. “I knew they planned to hire all these great actors who come from films. I guess I was the first one to sign on and the director told me who he would like to be in each of these roles and I was so excited by the prospect of each of these people doing it. And then, they did. It turned into a really wonderful ensemble.”
It also gave him the chance to reunite with his old “Zombieland” chum, Harrelson, who plays a rather scary hypnotist. “That was ideal,” Eisenberg says. “We have such a great working realtionship. It was kind of nice to explore a different dynamic in this film — more of a competitive dynamic than ‘Zombieland.’ We have such a great rapport, I hope we do more different things together.”
Eisenberg and some of his cast mates will be going city to city this week as they beat the promotional drums for “Now You See Me.” Ahead, he has a lineup of films including “The Double,” in which he plays a man who goes insane when he discovers his doppelganger — and the thriller “Night Moves.”
Asked whether he’s keeping up on his sleight of hand arts, Eisenberg says no. “I would like to; the problem is that after the movie ended I did another movie in England and had to immerse myself in that movie which was very different, so I kind of lost the skills I had been practicing for a few months. That’s the problem with the nature of the work I do.”
But for all that intense work on and off set, Eisenberg says his energy’s good. “I still have my knees,” he dead pans. “I’m trying to work as far as they’ll take me.”