There are plenty of reasons Woody Allen cast Jesse Eisenberg to be play a fictionalized version of himself in "To Rome With Love," a charming, omnibus portrait of life in Italy's picturesque capital. They're both relentless workers (Allen makes a film a year, Eisenberg says he's going to do a play a year), they're both famous for being quirky (regardless of how reductive that characterization is), and, well, they cut a similar figure.
But Allen comparisons aside, Eisenberg is a star in his own right. After rocketing to fame on the strength of his performance as Mark Zuckerberg in "The Social Network," the 29-year-old Queens native has added a string of fun roles to his resume, including a memorable voice gig in "Rio" (and the forthcoming "Rio 2") and a turn in "30 Minutes or Less," a comedy in which he held his own in the company of Aziz Ansari and Danny McBride. Add in "Free Samples" and "Why Stop Now," and the theater vet has himself a nice little career in cinema.
HuffPost Entertainment chatted with Eisenberg as "To Rome With Love" shipped out on DVD and Blu-ray (it's available now). Ahead, his thoughts on avoiding politics, his refusal to watch himself on film, why Allen is his all-time favorite director and why nobody likes the Clippers. Above, watch an exclusive clip in which Alec Baldwin dishes on Allen's fascination with Italian cinema.
Is it weird having to these press runs for a DVD release, after you've moved on to other projects?
No more weird than having to do them for the film.
Fair enough. There's a line that sort of stuck out to me, when your character says he wants his stuff to be "radical and scandalous." You strike me as the type of person who is very invested in your work but not that interested in making a radical impression on people, personally or anything or in any sort of tabloid level.
Well, those things are kinda like words that are thrown around like irrespective of quality. So something could be radical but not original or good. Those things are kinda irrelevant but the character in the movie is supposed to be young and a little naive and idealistic. And so it makes sense that he would feel that way. And then in the context of the movie, it's implied that he might grow up to be more commercially driven, like Alec Baldwin's character who designed the shopping malls and stuff. I personally don't feel the need to be radical for its own sake, but I probably couldn't if I tried anyway.
A lot of people in our generation just go to Wikipedia, find something really quick and recite it when appropriate. Do you agree that this sort of "knowledge" is rampant in our society, and was that something that drew you to the role?
It's kind of hard to comment on a generational trend even though it is very easy to have a lot of little knowledge about things because it's so accessible now, and it's so easy to be able to know something about something without committing to the full scope of it. Yeah, I liked the way the characters spoke and I can kind of understand. You know, it's interesting because Woody Allen is not of my generation and yet, yeah I thought it was an accurate and funny depiction of these characters who sound really smart up until the three minute mark.
Did that character remind you of a lot of people you went to school with?
Well, I kind of went to an alternative school, so it was mostly pretty eccentric kids who were only trying to impress you by doing strange things. I feel like I know these people more from popular culture than actual life, but I'm sure they exist nonetheless.
Was your story line your favorite part of the film?
When I read the script I thought the storyline I liked the most was the Roberto Benigni storyline because it was such a clever commentary on celebrity culture and I thought it was so funny. But, I didn't want to be in it because I knew he would do it better.
I think it's interesting that you and Alec were paired up because Alec is someone who is incredibly outspoken about pretty much everything. Do you ever see yourself going that way, or do you think you'll always just prefer that the work speaks for itself and the rest of your opinions stay between you and your friends?
Yeah, I made the mistake of writing something very, very short about Obama for this website that I write fiction for and my father told me never do that again. And he was right. I have nothing to add to a political conversation because it's not my area. I have a little to add to a very narrow area of the world, so I will just add to that and yeah, I don't have too much to add to it. But Alec is older than me and very involved with a lot of stuff like that, so it makes sense that he is part of the conversation. But I'm not really involved.
Is what you're saying is that you probably don't see yourself developing interests in those things in ways that will make you credible enough in your eyes to talk about them?
Yeah, if you're in the public eye like I am, you have to make a pretty big commitment to be outspoken about something because there are a lot of people who know a lot about it. So you would just have to kind of make the commitment to keeping that conversion afloat because it's hard to dip in and out of it, I guess. But I don't really do it, so I don't know. I follow political issues like anybody else but most don't have any kind of public platform. But nor do I have a public platform, but I occasionally do interviews and promotion for a movie and I guess that would be a platform. But that doesn't exactly seem like the right venue.
You studied architecture. Did Woody know that you had studied it before he cast you in the part?
He gave me a test and I got most of it right. No, no! It's like so minimal. But I luckily have all of my old work saved on my computer so when I was doing the movie and in preparation for it, I studied up on all my old stuff because he asked to improvise sometimes about architecture and I happened to know about it. So that was helpful. But it was the kind of thing you could learn in a minute by just reading some names.
Are you and Alec in touch at all still?
I've been out of New York this whole year, so I didn't see him. But I don't know. It's kind of strange. Because when you work with people, you're kind of in a very intimate relationship for a concentrated period of time and then you presumably go to other places to do other things. It's a little difficult, but I like him.
Woody writes a movie a year and has said there range of quality that's inherent in that level of output. At this point in your career, do you feel that you already have enough distance to gauge which projects you are more pleased with than others?
No, because I don't watch what I've been in and so I don't really know. But I think also unlike what he's doing , for somebody whose acting, the final product is often not reflective of the experience. Stuff that's not seems great can be in a movie that didn't turn out well, and then conversely, something that I didn't feel exactly right about can turn out to be quite good. Because there are a million other factors that make it good.
Did you see "To Rome With Love"?
No, no. This is starting to sound like I'm disparaging. Look, [Allen] is my favorite director of all time. I will try to see it, if there is an edited version where they edited out scenes that I'm in. Then I will watch it.
That's interesting though because you have a background in theater as well. And in some ways, maybe an advantage of theater is that the performance only exists for those who are present it's gone when you leave the stage.
There's something really nice about that. It's kind of an experience that a limited amount of people experience for that brief time. There's an exclusivity about it which is not as good, of course, because it's kind of expensive to see and only a small group of people can afford to see it. But the positive side is, it's just this fleeting thing. It's just nice.
Did you see "The Social Network"?
Yeah, we had to sit through an event. But I just don't like watching myself on film.
What's your biggest takeaway from working with Woody, and how do you think that will help you in future roles?
What was really unique was watching how adept he was in all aspects of making the movie. From blocking the actors in such a complicated way, but it feels so simple, and the the camera movement, which once again is very complicated and precise, but ultimately appears so simple, unnoticeable. And also from the direction of the actors, which again appears to be kind of like they're just casually interacting but it's actually this orchestrated dialogue that is precisely paced. That was the most interesting thing. It's not one specific thing or funny, but that's what I took out of the experience the most.
Did you feel comfortable with Woody or did he seem like Woody Allen, Legendary Film Director?
He couldn't be more casual. He's comfortable to be around because he's just so unpretentious and he's funny. And he's just naturally very comfortable to be around.
In an interview with one of my colleagues, you said you hate rooting for the Knicks because they spend a lot of money and they don't have much to show for it. Did all this this fanfare with the Nets opening up in Brooklyn intrigued you at all?
It did a little bit, but it also kind of created some traffic problems. But I don't know, I have an affection for the Knicks that is unchanged. What about you?
I grew up in Southern California so I suppose I've always been a half-conflicted Lakers fan.
Did you ever like the Clippers?
Not really, the Clippers were always sort of the team that occupied the Staples Center on the Lakers night off.
Yeah, no one ever like the Clippers. But they're pretty incredible this year.