As the lead environmental terrorist in Night Moves, Jesse Eisenberg takes it very seriously.
John Ralske, MovieMaker Magazine (MM): This seems like a very different type of role for you, playing a character who is very internal, as opposed to the sort of neurotic, hyperverbal characters you’re best known for. Was it a challenge playing someone like Josh?
JE: The only challenging thing as an actor is to play a role that’s inconsistently drawn, or written in a way that feels more driven by plot concerns rather than character concerns, and this role was so wonderfully written. He’s enigmatic but totally understandable. He’s a guy who’s filled with such rage, and I think also a lot of confusion. He becomes increasingly dogmatic as he becomes less sure of himself, which is a very understandable and common and very human trajectory. It’s paradoxical but totally understandable.
MM: You seem to be very selective about the roles you play. How did you come to take this role in Night Moves? Were you familiar with Kelly Reichardt’s work beforehand?
JE: I knew of Kelly. I thought she was wonderful. I also thought that the script that she wrote with Jon Raymond was so emotionally true and provocative as a story. They really wanted to make a movie discussing a sort of modern and relevant social and political issue, but they were doing it through individuals. They were talking about the issues through characters, and as an actor, that’s what you look for, as opposed to some sort of didactic story that has less relevance to what the actual experience is.
MM: Kelly told me that you did a lot of research for the role. Can you talk about that process?
JE: My character knows a lot about environmental issues. It’s not explicitly stated in the movie, but I think the character probably grew up on the East Coast, more of a middle class, modern lifestyle, and then becomes increasingly politicized and moves out to the Pacific Northwest, lives on a farm, and by night, plans what he thinks is the only solution, which is to take serious action, in this case, blowing up this dam. So I had to know about what the character knows about. My character lives on a farm in a yurt, so I went out to Oregon and did that, just for a week. It gave me a sense of the kind of pace, how this character would live. I’m in New York; everything is fast and immediate, and when you live and work on a farm, everything takes ten times longer. To go out to the bathroom or the kitchen takes 10 minutes, so you end up slowing down a little bit. Your mind starts to slow down. So it was important for me to understand.
MM: Did you stay at the same farm where the film was shot?
JE: Yeah, I lived in the yurt where my character lives. By the time we were shooting there, I felt not only comfortable, but it almost felt like the crew had invaded my space. [chuckles]
MM: I really loved the interplay between the three main characters, who are all so vivid and unique, though they’re working together on this one act. Can you talk about working with Peter Sarsgaard and Dakota Fanning? How you developed this sort of broken rapport?
JE: They’re spectacular actors, but I will confess that I didn’t even look at them during the scenes, because my character is so disgusted with them for various reasons, that it was kind of helpful, just instinctively, to not look at them. So I can’t even say I got to see what they were doing, and I haven’t seen the movie so I don’t know. They’re probably wonderful. I’m sure they are. They were great to work with because they took the characters seriously and were fully inside the roles, so that made it immediately clear to me that I would hate them, that I wouldn’t look at them. The great actors are the ones who can invoke in you all of the things that your character feels, so that is what they did. Peter plays this guy who’s an army vet, who’s kind of irresponsible. He’s a jocky guy who’s interested in the showmanship of the act, and Dakota plays this girl who’s a rich girl from Connecticut whose father is bankrolling their operation unknowingly, so both characters are really irritating to my guy, who thinks of himself as a soldier in a war, and takes this very seriously, and they just don’t take it seriously in the same way.
MM: Do you look some type of balance in your career between taking roles in larger movies and doing independent films? Do you look at it that way, or are you just looking for interesting roles?
JE: The latter. I try to find something interesting that will provide me with something new or interesting to do over the course of filming it. But more than that, I have a pretty bad sense of what’s going to be a big movie. I did a movie a few years ago about a Hasidic drug dealer in New York [Holy Rollers], I thought, “This is the coolest concept. I’m sure it will be a big popular movie.” And it came out in two theaters, and it was made for a million dollars, so I figured pretty far off the pulse of what’s a popular and what’s not. So it’s really kind of difficult to choose, because a lot of times, you don’t have a sense of how things are perceived by a mass audience.
MM: But you do know that taking a role like Lex Luthor, it’s going to be something that a lot of people will see.
JE: Yeah, I know. It’s very clear that it’s a big movie, but with that, the role is so interesting. The role is a more interesting role than I’d normally read anyway, regardless of the size of the movie. It’s a fascinating character that I don’t often read. So it’s an outlier in that way.
All photographs courtesy of Cinedigm and Tipping Point Productions, LLC.