05/28/2013 09:27 am ET

Jesse Eisenberg On 'Now You See Me' Role: 'This Allowed Me To Feel Not Only Good, But Arrogant'

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"Now You See Me" is a throwback heist thriller that, in its best moments, feels like an extension of Steven Soderbergh's "Ocean's Eleven" franchise. Not that star Jesse Eisenberg would know.

"I really don't watch movies ever," Eisenberg told HuffPost Entertainment. "So I really didn't know the genre or the history. I liked this movie, though, because the magic was integrated into the heist."

That's right: magic. Eisenberg plays J. Daniel Atlas in the film, a cocksure sleight-of-hand artist who teams up with three other magicians (played by Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher and Dave Franco) to pull off elaborate robberies for an undisclosed benefactor. Complications arise, however, when an FBI agent (Mark Ruffalo) and an Interpol officer (Melanie Laurent) team to bring the crew to justice ... which is actually when things get really complicated.

With "Now You See Me" out Friday, Eisenberg spoke to HuffPost Entertainment about why he joined the new film, card tricks and what he would do for the rest of his life, if possible.

This is a different role than maybe audiences are accustomed to seeing you play. Was that part of the reason you signed on?
I was doing a play two years ago when they sent me this script. At the time, I was feeling a lot of stage fright and nervousness about performing every night. When I read the script, however, the character they wanted me to play was the most confident performer. I thought, "That's what I need to do. I need to force myself to enjoy performing and feel confident about performing." So I tried with this character to do everything that I didn't allow myself to do with the play. It actually provided me with a lot of relief. All the nervousness I felt about doing the the play in New York took a toll on me; this allowed me to feel not only good, but arrogant. It was like an Onion headline: Consumer confidence verging on cockiness.

Was it hard to affect that cockiness since it was so outside your comfort zone?
Once I decided that I would play the character, it became my comfort zone. It's a strange thing what actors are able to do, psychologically. You just create a different comfort zone. This guy, his comfort zone is performing confidently. So, actually, there are little moments where he's unsure of himself and that then became out of my comfort zone -- even though that would have been out of my comfort zone.

Your character is an expert magician. How much did you pick up during the production?
Let me give a quick example: In the opening scene my character is performing for a small group on a street corner in Chicago. He flips through a deck and asks them to remember that one card. Then he makes a huge version of that card appear on the side of a building in Chicago. So I know how to do the first part -- the flipping through the deck and forcing people to see a card. He forces them to see a seven of diamonds, even though it looks like he's just flipping through the cards and randomly selecting one. I know how to do that, but I can't do the rest of it. I know how to do the small details big illusions.

This cast is pretty impressive and you have a pair of great scenes with, respectively, Mark Ruffalo and Michael Caine. What did you take away from working with them?
Nothing is harder than working with an actor who doesn't take it seriously or show up in the same way that you are. That wasn't the case with this movie; it was wonderful. I still feel, of course, that I'm learning. I just finished a play with Vanessa Redgrave [called "The Revisionist," which Eisenberg wrote] and the two of us were on stage every night for two hours together. Just toward the end of it, I started feeling a little more at home. Because performing with her all the time -- she's so wonderful -- I felt like every night that it was like climbing up a hill. I think once you stop feeling like you're learning it's probably pretty boring.

You've done a lot of both at this point in your career, but which do you prefer: stage acting or film acting?
The acting of it is the same but it's a different daily experience. Doing a play is strage in that you're waiting the whole day to perform for two hours. I don't like that schedule because it makes me nervous all day thinking I have to perform at night. If we did the shows in the morning and I had the days free, that would be the best possible thing for me, and that's what I would prefer to do for the rest of my life. Unfortunately you have to wait around all day and that's an awful experience.

Movies, on the other hand, you're performing all day long but for a more concenrated period of time. So it's less stressful in that way because you're constantly working. With a movie, however, you don't have the advantage of getting to live out the entire experience of the character; you only get to live very small moments. It can feel frustrating. The most frustrating part about performing in a movie is that your role is edited and changed and manipulated. I don't watch the movies I've been in because I find that to be disconcerting. Even if they're edited by the best editors and directed by the best directors, I still feel it doesn't reflect what I wanted to do. It's kind of jarring. I'm not saying I wouldn't want to do it; I just don't like the watching of it. Once I made a decision not to watch [my movies], it was a nice relief.

'Now You See Me' Premiere