The Social Network star Jesse Eisenberg tells Susan Griffin why he won’t be chained to a computer in new action comedy 30 Minutes Or Less
Jesse Eisenberg shuffles rather than swaggers into the room.
Pale, slim and boasting a mop of dark brown curls, the 27-year-old actor whose turn as Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg was nominated for an Oscar this year, looks a lot like his on-screen persona.
Proceeding to answer questions to the floor in a nervy rat-a-tat-tat fashion, he continues to remind you of that smart, shy guy at school, whose geekiness is somehow appealing. And it’s this endearing demeanour that has translated so well on the big screen, in films such as Greg Mottola’s Adventureland and Ruben Fleischer’s Zombieland.
In his latest movie, he’s reunited with Fleischer again, in comedy action 30 Minutes Or Less, which sees Eisenberg and stand-up comedian Aziz Ansari playing former best friends. However, they’re forced to put aside their epic falling out when Eisenberg’s character, Nick, ends up with a bomb attached to his chest and is forced to rob a bank.
“Nick is a pizza delivery guy who dropped out of college a few years back and now feels a bit stuck. It takes a bomb strapped on his body to light a fire under him, so to speak,” explains Eisenberg.
Despite its dangerous premise, the movie manages to be laugh-out-loud funny, he says, with the comedy propelled by the incredible fear you’d have if you were in the same situation.
Many of the laughs derive from the humdrum way the boys tackle this life or death scenario. These aren’t your usual action heroes, just two lads who find themselves in an extraordinary situation.
“As we were thinking about it, the little things that came out were absurd – like searching on the internet as you tried to find a way out of the mess,” he says.
“It’s so specific that it’s comedic, but it’s also real at the same time.”
While the movie has a clever premise, what really sets it apart are the characters, adds the actor.
“That’s the most relevant thing to me when I look for a project. The concept is less important.”
And given what his character endures, it’s no surprise to hear Eisenberg say he found filming full-on: “My character is dealing with this intense thing, so for the most part, I was very stressed out because that’s what he’s going through,” he says.
Although he did manage to find some relief in filming the car chases. They provided an adrenalin rush he doesn’t usually get to experience in his low-budget movie choices.
“I tend to act in independent movies, where car chases are at 10 miles an hour into a driveway,” says Eisenberg. “In this movie, there are some intense chases with very imprecise but powerful sports cars.
“We’d have a long strip of road, 20 stunt drivers driving around me, and I was weaving in and out of them.
“I’m not a great driver but they allowed me to do it. Driving in a way that would otherwise have us thrown in jail was a lot of fun!”
Having made a career out of playing bumbling, rather neurotic blokes, Eisenberg isn’t afraid to admit he’s not especially savvy when it comes to social skills.
And despite playing a character who delivers pizza for a living, not being a fan of awkward moments, he describes ordering a takeaway as a nightmare in real life: “I’m mortified when it comes to new interaction, especially one inside my house,” he says.
“In this movie, the character is lazy, lives a boring life and has developed a sense of righteousness and bitterness.
“I have all of those things in me, so I tried to emphasise them. Any time you play a role, you have to find similarities and emphasise those qualities,” he says.
At one point in the film, Nick makes a reference to Facebook, but Eisenberg stresses it wasn’t supposed to be a jokey nod to his performance in The Social Network.
“I just thought that was something my character would say. He lives a very isolated life. He’s a pizza guy, so he spends most of his time alone in his car,” says Eisenberg, who, by the way, isn’t on Facebook.
“He’s the kind of guy who considers himself a rogue ascetic, instead of a guy with no friends, so he dismisses anything that would make him feel integrated into society – something like social networking.”
Born in New York City, Eisenberg made his feature film debut in the 2002 independent film Roger Dodger and he’s worked continuously ever since, steadily forging a solid and eclectic resume, and this year getting a nod of approval from the Academy Awards.
“It was a strange time of putting on a lot of suits, but that’s over,” he says, recalling the hype that surrounded his Oscar nomination, before he eventually lost out to Colin Firth.
“It’s nice to be in something that’s been received so well, but I still have the same kind of life.”
EXTRA TIME – JESSE EISENBERG
Jesse Eisenberg is currently filming Woody Allen’s comedy The Bop Decameron.
He turned down a place at New York City University in favour of a film role.
He reportedly received his first ever kiss from Roger Dodger co-star Jennifer Beals.
Also a writer, Eisenberg’s play Asuncion, which he’s also starring in, is set to premiere off-Broadway at The Cherry Lane Theater this autumn.
He is a frequent contributor to literary website mcsweeneys.net and the creator of the wordplay website oneupme.com.
30 Minutes Or Less is released in cinemas on Friday, September 16