Jesse Eisenberg has played tech giants, zombie hunters, and magicians, but he’ll soon be making his supervillain debut in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Zack Snyder’s big-budget epic finds Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor facing off against various members of DC’s soon-to-be Justice League, but in the middle of the massive, months-long shoot, Eisenberg took a break to film the small-scale family drama Louder Than Bombs, the English-language debut from Norwegian director Joachim Trier (Oslo, August 31st).
The film stars Eisenberg as Jonah, the son of acclaimed war photographer Isabelle Reed (Isabelle Huppert), who died in a devastating car crash. Three years later, her family is still trying to pick up the pieces, and Jonah grapples both with his mother’s death and his own recent steps into parenthood.
After premiering at Cannes and the Toronto International Film Festival, Louder Than Bombs is headed to U.S. theaters in early April, and EW has an exclusive trailer (above) and poster (below) for the film. Here, Eisenberg chats about the film, as well as receiving a cease and desist letter from Woody Allen, and why his Lex Luthor feels like an indie character.
What was it about Louder Than Bombs that really intrigued you?
Not only did I like the script, but I liked [Joachim’s] idea and pitch for how he was going to treat the performances, which is kind of unusually naturalistic, but it doesn’t compromise or temper the theatrics. So the characters are dealing with emotionally fraught situations, and yet they’re dealing with the subtler aspects of them. … I really liked my character’s plight, more than anything. I liked the idea of this very strange circumstance that he finds himself in, which is that he has a child and feels not yet ready to be a parent and in a way takes refuge in a former relationship. And he almost infantilizes himself. … He feels like maybe he’s become a parent prematurely.
What was it like working with Joachim Trier? I know this was his first English language film.
He’s not just fluent in English but also incredibly well-versed in American culture. But what was different was that he has a kind of sensibility that is just, in my experience, unusual in independent film. … The movie felt like we were making an art film with house money. It seemed like we could try different things. It didn’t feel like we were just trying to get in and out of a location. It felt like we can kind of explore different aspects of what these characters are dealing with in a way that didn’t feel rushed. It’s partly the circumstances of the production and partly [Trier’s] nature. … It’s kind of an American story, but made by an outsider who likes American culture. It’s that interesting perspective that I think makes the movie really unusual for an American audience.
You shot this when you were on a break from shooting Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, right?
Yeah. I think there’s probably an ending sequence of Batman and Superman that accounts for my ability to do this movie.
So what was that like?
I had a month and a half off for Batman. I mean, the Batman shoot was something like 150 days, maybe more, I don’t know. So all of the actors had chunks of time off. … The movies couldn’t be any more different, in terms of how they’re presented to an audience, in terms of how many people will probably see them, in terms of the visual style. And yet my job doesn’t really change that much. Especially with my part in the Superman movie, my character has a lot of longer dialogue scenes and emotional transitions, and so that kind of stuff is very similar, even in a very different-looking movie like Louder Than Bombs. … And I think that usually, an actor on an independent movie is playing a really interesting character that wouldn’t necessarily exist in the kind of bigger budget movie world. But that just wasn’t the case for me because the character in the Superman movie is just so interesting and full of all the contradictions that you look for when you do an independent movie. So it kind of seemed similar to me.
What’s it like to tackle a role like Lex Luthor, where there’s such a sense of expectation, even before the movie comes out? Is that overwhelming, or do you think about that at all?
Well, I don’t really have to necessarily account for what is expected. When I read the script, I thought, this character is rendered so incredibly well that I just have to do what I know I do well, and it will be a great character because the character is full of interesting, contradictory, realistic elements that make a character wonderful. And as an actor, those are the most comfortable and convenient characters to play. The difficult characters to play are the ones where it doesn’t seem like the character has been rendered realistically or with human feelings behind them. That wasn’t the case with this character.
What are some of the contradictions you see in Lex Luthor?
He has a kind of charming public persona, and then a deeply private rage. And this is not only interesting as an actor to play, but I would say more realistic to how extroverted people like this, who are kind of leaders of big organizations, probably feel. You have to kind of put on a public front that appears genial and appears accessible, but you’re likely — if you’re very ambitious — harboring feelings of competitiveness, envy, and all these other things we try to avoid in public. So stuff like that was very interesting as an actor to explore. And then kind of coloring in that framework is somebody who’s also very clever and funny and emotional and vengeful.
There’s been some talk that Zombieland 2 is still in the works at Sony.
Yeah, it’d be wonderful to do. I know they’ve been trying to do it for a while, and I know they’re trying to figure out exactly what will occur in it. But it’s a kind of movie that, as soon as it came out, seemed appropriate to generate a sequel. … It takes place in this odd, created world and features an ensemble of interesting characters that it’d be curious to see more of. I would hope that it happens, and I’m sure everybody would be happy to do it if it happens and it’s good. It’s also a strangely beloved movie, so it’s a thing you have to get right. Some sequels you don’t have to get exactly right, but this is the kind of movie you have to get right because people like it for personal reasons, even though it’s a zombie comedy.
What can we expect from the Woody Allen project you worked on?
As secretive as Batman versus Superman is — and it’s the kind of secrecy where not only did I have to sign nondisclosure agreements, but I had to wear jumpsuits over my outfits walking from the trailer to the set for five feet — but for some reason, the Woody Allen movie is even more secretive, and I’m even more scared to say anything about it. Even though I would not be revealing anything earth-shattering, it’s just the nature of the way they work, and I feel so indebted to them and want to respect it.
You’re a longtime fan of Woody Allen, even before you worked with him. What is it about his work that you admire?
What is interesting, as an actor working on his movies, is that he’s so incredibly adept at putting together a scene and creating dramatic context, because he’s done it so much and because he has an instinct for it. It almost feels like retroactively surprising that it all comes together, because there’s such an ease. He has a very kind of practical nature, even though he’s doing something that is artful and creative. There’s a practical kind of approach to it.
You’ve talked a little bit before about how you were a fan growing up, and you wrote a play about him when you were 16, and he responded with a cease and desist letter. Have you ever talked about that with him or brought that up?
No, but I can imagine that by virtue of his iconic status, which is probably unparalleled… I mean, Jerry West, the guy with the NBA logo, or someone who has an equivalently iconic persona in entertainment, they’re sending out cease and desist letters probably every day, just by virtue of a lot of people trying to exploit that image. Which is probably what I was trying to do. So I deserved the letter, and I would never burden him further with a discussion about it.
Louder Than Bombs opens in select New York and L.A. theaters on April 8, before expanding.