The Big Picture
- Jesse Eisenberg takes acting seriously, especially in films that make you uncomfortable, like “Manodrome.”
- Eisenberg’s directorial debut changed his perspective on acting and increased his understanding of the value of actors on set.
- Eisenberg feels more comfortable and creatively free in roles that are intense and different from himself, like the character in “Manodrome.”
If you talk to Jesse Eisenberg, you quickly realize he takes acting and its craft seriously, especially with films that make you uncomfortable. It is hard to think of one that fits this bill quite like Manodrome, which sees him playing a man named Ralphie who is having a hard time with life lately. His girlfriend is pregnant and money is increasingly tight. When he hears about a group of men who invite him to come meet with them, he begins to go down a dark path that seems destined for destruction. Starring alongside Adrien Brody, the duo ooze toxic masculinity and make you wish you could be anywhere else but in the room with them.
- Release Date
- November 10, 2023
- John Trengove
- Jesse Eisenberg, Adrien Brody, Odessa Young, Philip Ettinger, Ethan Suplee, Evan Jonigkeit, Caleb Eberhardt
- 96 minutes
- Main Genre
- Grindstone Entertainment Group, Capstone Studios
This is very much by design and to hear it from Eisenberg, who we interviewed for the film’s VOD release, it is where he feels more comfortable. We spoke with him about this, how his recent directorial debut changed his perspective on acting, the perils of Trident gum commercials, why he taped his face in the film, and his excitement for Now You See Me 3.
COLLIDER: You recently made your directorial debut and I was curious if that changed your approach to this type of film or gave you a different perspective, knowing what it’s like to be on the other side of the camera?
JESSE EISENBERG: Oh, thank you. Yeah, that’s such a generous question to ask and definitely it did change my point of view of what actors do on set and what directors are worried about on set. I’ve always, I would say, had that wrong. What I thought actors were doing on set was less valuable and what I thought directors were doing on set was worrying about their actors. I realized those two things were wrong. What actors do on set is so valuable. I only learned that from seeing the other side of it, seeing the two actors who were in my movie [When You Finish Saving the World], Julianne Moore and Finn Wolfhard, pour their heart out every day, bring their emotions to something. It’s what I have been doing on sets as an actor, but never appreciated until I saw somebody else do it. So being on set of a movie like Manodrome where the focus was so much on me and my acting because the part is so extreme and it’s such a central kind of character movie, I learned to kind of give myself a break and think that, ‘Oh yes, what I’m doing is, you know, let’s say maybe has some value in the arts in some big way.’ So I don’t have to feel like I’m just doing something vain and self-centered. Then I also have this other feeling which is like, ‘Oh yes, I could feel totally comfortable just using myself in every possible base way because that’s what’s gonna make this good.’ I’ve kind of always understood that intuitively but never felt totally comfortable with it.
The other thing that I learned is just seeing what directors are worried about. I always assumed directors are walking around between takes being angry at me that I did a bad job because I’d be so self-punishing during the take or after the takes. I’d be like ‘I missed that moment’ or ‘Shoot, I wanted to do this thing, I couldn’t do it or I wasn’t engaged in the moment in that particular take.’ I assumed the directors all knew that too and were walking around furious, but they weren’t. I realized that too because Julianne Moore, who is like the greatest actress in the country, would say to me, ‘I missed that take’ whereas I thought this is the greatest thing I’ve ever seen in my life. So I realized directors aren’t walking around just being mad at me. In a movie like Manodrome where the movie is so focused on my particular acting job, I let myself off the hook of worrying that I was doing a bad job.
That sounds like it was very creatively freeing then to take on something like this.
EISENBERG: It’s exactly that. Knowing how the process works as an outsider is always freeing. And also compassion for actors which I always, always, always have had, was just increased. The best advice I ever got on a movie set was from this director Greg Mottola who was directing Adventure Land that I was in. I had like a minor panic attack during a take and I kind of just froze. I asked the director, ‘Can we stop for a minute?’ and I brought him to the site and I said, ‘I think I just had a panic attack and I ruined the scene.’ He said, ‘Well, you didn’t ruin the scene and I saw you were a little uncomfortable, but I’d be surprised if you didn’t have a panic attack in every take. What you’re doing is like this emotionally explicit thing. You’re using yourself, your face is on camera.’ He’s like, ‘I would freak out every second as an actor.’ That was the best advice I ever got because it allowed me to kind of take the burden off myself for worrying that I was gonna screw something up that was gonna screw the movie up.
When you talk about that intensity of the experience, it’s hard to think of a movie as intense as this in some key moments. In the domestic scenes, in the scenes you share with Adrien Brody. Have you become more prepared to dive into something like that because of past experiences you’ve had or was this in a new beast entirely?
EISENBERG: I always prefer things like this. They just don’t come around as frequently as, you know, more kind of, how to describe it, casual kind of roles because they’re not made that much. But my background is in theater as an actor and I write and act in plays for myself and the characters are close to this level of drama and intensity. Just no one sees them because they’re plays. But so this is the kind of role I would create for myself. Something at that extreme level. So I’m very comfortable, frankly, more comfortable in roles like this than in casual roles. When I’m in a kind of casual role that appears like myself, I’m often just worried that I’m inauthentic because you’re so self-conscious because it’s so similar to you. Whereas this you’re basically in somebody’s nightmare scenario and, in some ways, that’s a more comfortable place to be in because it’s not like there are these very strict rules that you have to adhere to about how your character behaved because no one knows how your character would behave.
It sounds like there’s a distance that you appreciate in the roles that you take on.
EISENBERG: That’s a perfect way to put it. Because he’s not like me and doesn’t react like me, I could be completely artful with it. I find it pretty stifling when you’re playing a character that’s so similar to you to really dig into your creative imagination because it’s similar to what you’re doing all day by yourself. So with a movie like this, and I’ve been in a few movies where I got this, kind of, let’s say leeway or creative freedom, I just have this thought every day on set like, ‘Oh, this is the gift.’ This is why I would do maybe a commercial movie that I didn’t exactly feel engaged with. It’s for this reason, it’s so I get to do this, which is like being in the greatest acting class in the world but also it’s in a movie that people will see. How lucky is that?
It sounds like, and it’s the cliché phrase, of one for them, one for me. This sounds like this was the one for you.
EISENBERG: Yes, exactly. And sometimes the one for them is also one for you. Like I’ve had unbelievably great experiences in that world too. But sometimes you feel like, ‘Wait, what is the end goal with a particular thing?’ Then when you’re acting in something that feels totally real and authentic and you’re stretching your creative brain, you think, ‘Alright, this is what I assumed I would be doing all the time when I was in drama school.’ When you’re in drama school, you do Greek plays and you play Stanley Kowalski at 16 years old. Then you get out of acting school and you’re auditioning for a Trident gum commercial where you’re trying to show that you’re smiling into the camera, but you know your teeth are not going to be good enough to get the part. So this assumption of what acting is and the reality of what acting is, are normally never in accordance except for times like this.
I just had a nightmare vision that this movie would be the most terrifying re-edit into a Trident gum commercial possble.
EISENBERG: Yes, exactly. I wonder, you could probably actually keep a lot of it, but it would be one of these bastardized arthouse versions. It would be like a commentary on the dangers of gum. [Laughs]
I wanted to ask specifically about one scene and it was the tape scene where you wrap the tape around your face. I had thoughts of where I remembered similar things from, but I was wondering how that came to be and what the origin point of that was?
EISENBERG: When I first read the script, it really read to me as somebody who had transcribed a nightmare. There were all of these things in the script that were like, I would say logically not totally explainable to me, but emotionally felt real. So like a guy who is struggling with his own identity, with his own masculinity, with his own face, this is something we probably all struggle with to a certain degree, because it’s part of our ego and vanity. But this is somebody who’s experiencing it at like an unbelievably extreme, dangerous level. So the thing with the tape on the face is like, ‘Oh yeah, of course, this person would do that.’ This person who hates himself of course would put tape all over his face. Not only because he’s trying to distort the very thing that he resents, which is his own appearance, but it’s also painful and this is somebody who is self-harming. So this is exactly emotionally realistic to me. But if I try to explain to an outsider why he’s doing this particular thing, you kind of struggle up against it, which is this beautiful thing about when you can read a script that feels emotionally honest, even if it’s somehow occasionally illogical.
I think that emotional honesty is kind of the core of this where it’s very, very painful, but there’s a truth to it. Even as it has its surreal moments, there’s that truth to it. I was wondering, were there truths you discovered in the process of going through this that you maybe didn’t have at the beginning?
EISENBERG: Yeah, that is such a good question. The answer is yes, but I’ve never been asked it before and I can’t think of an exact scene.
EISENBERG: But it’s exactly right. This happens all the time, by the way, with actors halfway through doing a movie you go, ‘Oh, now I finally get it!’ or halfway through doing a play, you have six months left on a run that’s a year long, you’re like, ‘Oh, now I finally get it. I wish I could do this six months again.’ It’s exactly that. It’s because when something is written from the unconscious, sometimes it’s not helpful to kind of discuss it with regular language. So as you’re physically experiencing the thing, suddenly that makes sense. There were things in this movie that, like suddenly the character is walking outside of his car and he’s going to bash somebody’s head in and you’re like, ‘Wait, why did he come out of the car? Why is he targeting that particular person or why is he in the bathroom getting into a fight with this particular innocent person?’ When you’re acting in it, you’re like, ‘Oh right, of course!’ Because he just experienced this severe repression of his own rage in scene X, so of course, scene Y is going to have that manifest in some bastardized way of feeling ashamed from his girlfriend who was pregnant and feeling worried about having a baby and like attacking somebody in a mall bathroom. Of course it makes sense, because that shame leads to an expression of violence that can be the only solution to that shame.
I am very interested in the I’ll say shades of masculinity that you’ve taken on. I think of Mark in The Social Network, I think of Vivarium, I think of this. What is it that draws you to these types of characters who are struggling with identity in themselves and it manifests in often very hurtful or violent ways to others around them?
EISENBERG: I mean, I grew up as a small kid in an environment where jocks were celebrated. Probably like most people on Earth I’m speaking for, but I didn’t grow up in an artsy kind of school. So all the people that were celebrated were all the people that made me feel inadequate. I could understand exactly these feelings of struggling with your own masculinity, against expectations you have for yourself, society’s expectations, and so, to me, these kind of roles feel incredibly natural and intuitive. I do these other movies, Now You See Me we’re about to do a third one, you know, commercial movies, and plot-driven movies. But the character I play, which I got to help create because the script was kind of like in its nascent stage when they first came to me for it, like I wanted to play like this kind of very confident showman because it’s not what I normally feel in life. So when I’m playing those roles, A. they’re just a blast to do but B. those are kind of more of a struggle for me to figure out, ‘Wait, why would this person have so much confidence? Why would this person think that they’re so great?’ Because that’s not usually the mindset of an actor. Usually the mindset of an actor is coming from a place of pain and inadequacy and they need the roles to make them feel whole. So those are more of the struggle for me and really less intuitive as opposed to the movies you just mentioned which feel quite personal and seamless.
That’s very interesting because I did want to ask about Now You See Me briefly, but I won’t have you do a magic trick or anything.
EISENBERG: Thank you. [Laughs]
Does doing that type of part of it help you get into the confidence of it and what kind of was this new movie like as an evolution from all the work that you were talking about?
EISENBERG: I discovered that I don’t like actively pursuing what you would call “method acting,” which is where you almost treat the circumstances as reality. I found that not a lot of actors do or some do it kind of performatively, but in a way that doesn’t feel exactly real. For me, doing those movies, Now You See Me more than anything is like the furthest I go in terms of feeling like the character because I am an actual performer as my job and the character is a performer. Yet the character is this very confident performer and I’m a very unconfident performer experiencing self-doubt. I don’t watch any of the movies I’ve been in, I try to avoid still frames of the movies. I don’t wanna see myself because I’m just encumbered with my own anxieties about myself. So getting to be a performer that feels good about himself and actually be on a movie set where I am performing is the most method I felt. I walk around almost arrogant on these sets. That’s why I love love them so much and I’m so desperate to do a third one. It’s like the only time I could kind of lower my antidepressant dosage because I feel so at ease and comfortable with myself as a performer because the character is.
So, in some ways, the way I would describe method acting would almost be in the reverse that the character is making you feel a certain something about yourself. That’s what it is for me in those movies, whereas a movie like Manodrome, which appears to audiences probably like a far more “difficult” kind of role because the movie is so intense, to me feels much more in my comfort zone. Or not comfort because it’s not comfortable, but in a place I am familiar with.
Manodrome is now available to stream on VOD in the U.S.
WATCH ON VOD