It only seemed like a matter of time before Jesse Eisenberg would fall under Woody Allen’s radar. The New York-born 28-year-old Oscar-nominee has, over the course of his short career, proved himself to be one of the best actors of his generation at conveying a charming neurosis commonly associated with Allen’s leading men, in films like “The Squid and the Whale,” “Adventureland” and “30 Minutes or Less.”
Because of that, many were no doubt surprised last summer when Allen’s first comedy with Eisenberg, “To Rome With Love,” opened and featured the actor as the youthful incarnation of the ever-suave Alec Baldwin, a personality that couldn’t be further removed from Allen. In the ensemble romantic comedy, Eisenberg plays Jack, a confident young architect who’s visited by his older self (Baldwin), while on a stint in Rome with his girlfriend (Greta Gerwig).
With “To Rome With Love” landing on DVD and Blu-ray today, Eisenberg called up Indiewire to reflect on working with Allen, his all-time favorite filmmaker.
Now that you’ve had over a year to reflect on the experience of working with Woody, does it all seem surreal?
Yeah, that’s an interesting way to put. Also, because it was so brief. The last several movies I’ve done have taken months. That one was like three weeks or something, because there were a few story lines. It kind of felt like a period between other things that was surreal.
What most concerned you about working with someone like Woody? You’ve worked under a slew of great filmmakers over the course of your short career, but acting for Woody must have been extremely nerve racking.
You know, he was very open minded about the actors being casual. He’s not commanding in any way. He just wants the actors to appear casual and realistic, and so that being said, he let us kind of fill up the space with our own lines and our thoughts. So it was a really low key environment in terms of the set.
Of course it was not so low key because we were all so excited just to work with him. Every time he gave us notes, it was like the tablets coming down, because everything he said was right on and interesting. You took every word of his as sacred.
Did you have to audition for the role, or did he just call you in knowing you were perfect for this part?
They just called me to come and I read the script in his office. So I just read the script in his office, and they asked me if I wanted to do it there and I said yes. I mean I would have said yes regardless. I liked the script, but I would have said yes just to have been on set with him.
As a fan of Woody’s, how do you stay grounded after being asked to be a part of one of his films?
He’s made my favorite movies. I kind of stopped watching movies a long time ago, and I would keep watching his secretly. He’s really the only person I liked for the breadth of their careers and that I can follow. So it was a little strange, because at the same time, I aggressively avoid things that I’m in. So it was a little strange in that way, because this film bore into to the column of things that I’m in. I was trying to avoid it. I don’t like seeing the movie or the pictures from the movie. I don’t like looking at my stuff. I was disappointed in a way, because I knew I’d have to avoid it [laughs].
So you still haven’t seen it?
No. But yeah, I feel like that’s disrespectful. But I get paranoid watching something I’m in. I’m probably not alone in this; I think a lot of people feel the same way with their own stuff. But I really would like to see it in the future, because I want to see everything that he’s made.You’ve really missed out on some pretty great films this past decade.
Aw, that’s very sweet.
Never seen “The Social Network”?
We had a thing and I looked at the floor.
I want to know whether your relationship with Woody evolved over the course of your short time together?
A little bit, then I got to like have dinner with him a few times after the movie was over. But I only got to know him a little bit. When I was with him, I wasn’t trying to get him to like me. That would be a stressful experience, trying to get Woody to think I was funny. I just liked being in the same room as him, because it’s so interesting to hear the way he talks, to hear how he thinks. But I wasn’t trying to make a friend. Someone like him has already made his friends.
Have you two kept in touch since wrapping?
I saw him a few times for press things, but he’s so busy. I’m less so, but also doing things — but no. Oh wait, yeah he invited he to see his play on Broadway.
How confident does working with someone of Woody’s caliber make you, with regards to your abilities as a performer?
No, I generally feel like I’m the only judge of what I’m doing. So if I’m doing something that’s not surrounded by people like that and I feel good about it, I still feel good. And conversely, if I’m doing something and I feel terrible, I still feel terrible even when surrounded by someone like that.
I haven’t tried to work with people like that just for that reason. I still look at the script and criticize it.
What are the recurring insecurities you feel on a day-to-day basis when on set?
In a movie, you’re trying to portray some kind of reality to a fake situation and bring some real emotional experience to it. If I don’t achieve some kind of real emotional response, I get frazzled and I feel like it’s not going well. So I guess that’s the main concern.