Wit and Wisdom from Jesse Eisenberg
Way back almost five years ago — how is that possible? Where does the time go? — I went to hear Jesse Eisenberg speak at Politics and Prose, as part of his book tour for Bream Gives Me Hiccups. The star of The Social Network came across as smart and engaging — in turn self deprecating, funny, or earnest. And it turns out I wrote down some of the things that made me laugh or think, so here they are.
On his hoarse voice
I will apologise first — just because that’s how I like to enter a room.
On media exposure
My goal is to not get famous enough that anybody is going to make a movie about me. I could have written a much better book, but… It’s also why I didn’t win the Academy Award that year. I thought, I’ll come in second.
On the catharsis of acting
I walk around in a state between rage and weeping and it’s inappropriate to go to a Starbucks that way because they won’t serve you. With acting, I can express my emotions.
On his writing process
I sit on a gold throne as an enigmatic mistress peels grapes, gradually revealing the grapes and herself.
On getting into the minds of his female characters when those enigmatic mistresses aren’t on hand
Women are more forthcoming with emotions, if men were more forthcoming with their emotions I would be normal. (Apologetically) I’m only perpetuating a horrible trend, not starting it. If you’re writing satire it can be helpful to comment on what people already think. (Panicking now and digging that hole even deeper.) I think women are better than men. (Sigh.) This is why I can’t run for president.
On writers’ anxiety
I begin with a base level anxiety that carries me through the process and peaks occasionally.
On whether he plots before he writes
At a certain point your characters take over which is a pretentious way of saying you hope your unconscious mind takes over. When I write my plays I never know where they’re gonna end — when I reverse engineer it it feels false.
On getting into character
I think of acting as a very visceral experience — you try to bring an emotional experience to it and hopefully that will take over until you answer all the analytical questions you have.
On why he likes to write in the first person
I can’t describe sunsets well, for example.What I can do well is describe inner monologue so I can do plays where people are not going to talk about the sunset ever unless they’re saying I hate the sunset because it makes my head itch and makes me think about my father.
On whether we’re in a new golden age of TV
I’m not in charge of enough of the industry to make a declarative comment on trends.
I think of Shakespeare as my mentor. And Jesus.
On working with Aaron Sorkin
My background is in theatre so I like long scenes. He writes *dialogue*. Aaron Sorkin is one of half a dozen they don’t meddle with.
On passion and creativity
The person who makes the thing can like it more than anybody — that should be the guiding principle of all creativity.
On what he wanted to be when he grew up
I wanted to play for the Phoenix Suns. And then I stopped growing. And I realised I should do something else.
On the experience of your work belonging to your readers or audience once it’s out in the world
You’re having this personal emotional experience… It becomes not yours anymore, but it seems like the right thing to do is not to think about that or you’ll end up writing things just to appease. You just have to try to stay away from being driven primarily by that stuff.
On making someone else the butt of a joke
I can’t think of any joke that’s funny enough to warrant hurting another person’s feelings.
On whether he will ever write creative non-fiction
I feel out of control when someone’s writing about me. I can’t foresee writing a memoir because I don’t want to reveal more about myself. And also I haven’t had an interesting life.
On which genre he prefers to write
It all feels similar — exploring characters, unusual behaviours. I try to write things that I haven’t read before, that I’d like to read.
On what drives him to act and write
I suppose I didn’t get enough attention at whatever age I should have gotten it or something happened in the womb or I drank from the wrong breast. Or something.
On the craziness of awards season
If you’re at all a little cynical you think this is a silly parade where people are using political tactics to describe art. But every industry has aspects that exist to self perpetuate it.
On reading his own reviews
I try not to read movie reviews. I hope that I’m the best judge of myself. Film criticism is an important dialogue for our culture.