In "Now You See Me," Eisenberg plays J. Daniel Reid, a wise-cracking smartass illusionist who knows his way around a deck of cards. Indie favourite Jesse Eisenberg hit the big time in 2010's "The Social Network," garnering Golden Globe and Oscar nominations for his portrayal of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. Since then, he's been a bit under-the-radar, and has resurfaced for a role no one would expect him to play.
In "Now You See Me," Eisenberg plays J. Daniel Reid, a wise-cracking smartass illusionist who knows his way around a deck of cards. He's got confidence and swagger, and is the best in the world at what he does. Eisenberg breaks free of his typical casting specs -- nerdy, shy, unsure -- and becomes an entirely different creature in this magical caper.
Moviefone Canada caught up with Eisenberg on a press tour in Toronto, where he spoke about playing a different sort of role, reuniting with Woody Harrelson and who was most like their magician character.
Moviefone Canada: One of the film's strengths is its ensemble structure. Would you say you thrive in that sort of working environment?
Jesse Eisenberg: Oh, yes. I like working with great actors, it makes my job easier. You don't realize how much it makes your job easier until you work with the alternative, which makes life really difficult.
Did you enjoy working with such big names?
The nature of my character is that he's teamed up with these other great magicians, and initially it feels like a competition with them. But on-set, we didn't feel that, so it allowed us to bring our own sense of humour to the project and make light of it. I like to work in the same way that Woody Harrelson does, which is improvise and bring your own personality into it, and so we were encouraged by the director to bring ourselves into the characters.
What did you learn about the illusionist's life? How did you study the tricks?
I always try to learn as much as I can about the character I'm playing. This had a unique requirement, because my character is the best in the world at something, so I learned as much as I could over the four weeks of rehearsal and the months of shooting. I would plan out what tricks I needed to know and for what time. I worked with a few different magic consultants; the main one is David Kwong, he's great. He taught me a lot about magic, the sleight of hand and the performing of it. I was able to use my imagination because I perform a lot on stage in New York City, so I know what it's like to be in front of people and command an audience.
Was this sort of character liberating for you to play?
It was fun to play a character that's so confident about performing. When I read the script I was doing a show in New York where I was nervous on-stage every night. This character gave me an opportunity to break out of that and to feel confident about going on stage. I think it's always good for actors to play roles that serve them in some personal way. It makes them instinctively much more interested in their character and so with this, it gave me the opportunity to live out a certain fantasy. It was self-serving, in a way.
He was a bit dickish, too.
Yeah, he was arrogant. He thinks he's the best, and has that attitude. He's frustrated that he has to collaborate with other magicians. It's fun to play, and to bring some humour to it. Woody Harrelson's character also thinks he's the best, too, so we have this sort of rivalry.
So you're quite different from your character -- who among this cast bears the most similarities to theirs?
I always thought Woody Harrelson is quite a persuasive guy. He's the kind of guy who can call you up in the middle of the night and tell you, "Let's all go get a donut!" And you're thinking it's the middle of the night, but somehow you still get up and go get a donut. His character is a hypnotist, and so he's always trying to hypnotize us. You can't tell if it's him being charming and persuasive, or if it's the hypnotism. I think he indulged in his character, but I also think it's just naturally him.
You've worked with him before, so who would know better than you?
Yeah, on the "Zombieland" set, he would still be charmingly persuasive, even though his character in the movie is a guy I don't like.
What would you say to people who're skeptical about magic movies?
I would say this movie focuses more on heists that these guys pull, and you're following the FBI trying to bring them down. It's more like "Oceans 11" or "The Usual Suspects" than a magic movie. It just so happens that the characters are using magic to pull off these heists. It's more like your traditional caper film.
"Now You See Me" opens in theatres on May 31.