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Jesse Eisenberg has managed to squeeze a lot into his 32 years. Most are familiar with him as an actor, best known for his role as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in “The Social Network”. But he’s also a playwright and an author, with work published in The New Yorker and McSweeney’s. Eisenberg is recently out with a new book of short stories called “Bream Gives Me Hiccups”. The title story is about a nine year old boy who is also a food critic. If that sounds like comedy it is — but as Eisenberg says, his humor most often goes into much deeper territory with commentary on human connection and emotional truth. Jesse Eisenberg joins Diane to discuss acting, writing, and what humor means to him.
“Sushi Nozawa” from BREAM GIVES ME HICCUPS © 2015 by Jesse Eisenberg; reprinted with the permission of the publisher, Grove Press, an imprint of Grove Atlantic, Inc.
“My Little Sister Texts Me With Her Problems,” from the audio book BREAM GIVES ME HICCUPS, published by Audible Studios, read by Jesse Eisenberg and Hallie Eisenberg.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. We tend to think of writers and actors in different groups. The former sitting alone for long stretches of time, the later comfortable on set and interacting with others. Jesse Eisenberg says he doesn't see the two as mutually exclusive. The result is a very busy career. In 2015, Eisenberg has been in three movies, wrote and starred in an off-Broadway play and published a book of short stories. It's called, "Bream Gives Me Hiccups."
MS. DIANE REHMJesse Eisenberg joins us from the NPR studios in New York City. I invite you, as always, to be part of the program. Give us a call at 800-433-8850. Send your email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Jesse Eisenberg, it's good to see you.
MR. JESSE EISENBERGThank you so much. I love your show. Thank you for having me on.
REHMThank you. You know, bream, let's spell it, B like boy, R-E-A-M. Who or what is bream?
EISENBERGThe significance of that word, unfortunately, ends on the title page. It's kind of abstractly refers to the stories that these little boy writes. So this little boy, as you mentioned in your opening is a restaurant reviewer, who is taken out to fancy restaurants or not fancy restaurants. But his parents are divorced and as part of the divorce agreement, the father has agreed to pay for anything that the mother does with their boy, as he's the joint property.
EISENBERGSo this boy writes these restaurant reviews where he discusses his parents' situation and his life and I thought it was a kind of funny juxtaposition to have this fish, bream, which is a fish you see kind of on fancy restaurant menus juxtaposed to something juvenile, like hiccups, to kind of describe the just funny life circumstance that he's in. And I also thought the kind of phrasing of that title summed up the book well, a book of kind short humor.
REHMWell, I love it. I have to say...
EISENBERGWell, thank you.
REHM...but I wanted you to spell that out for us. The other thing I am impressed with is that you seem to have gotten inside this 9-year-old's head. I mean, and he relates as a 9-year-old to the world and the adults around him in a very special, sophisticated and yet childish childhood way. And I thought that was really special. How easy was that for you?
EISENBERGWell, I wish I could say it was difficult, but the sophisticated and childish is how my therapist describes me so it was actually much less of a stretch. I actually wrote -- I started writing these stories when I was doing a movie called "The Double" where I play, like, a very kind of innocent, emotionally stunted man. It's based on the Dostoyevsky novella, "The Double," about a kind of a naive guy who runs into his brash doppelganger and so I was kind of in the mindset everyday of what felt like an emotionally stunted man, but with a great innocence.
EISENBERGAnd so that's what this boy is. So this was a kind of good example of my two, like, kind of lives intersecting in a very direct way.
REHMWell, you really still look like a kid and in this book, act like a kid, but the question is, how were you as a kid?
EISENBERGThis kid has a level of self actualization that I still haven't reached and certainly didn't as a child. I was kind of a quiet, mostly sad child. Not that I had great reasons to be sad, but for some reason, I took whatever I can get and turned it against myself. And but I was a kind of introverted kid and, you know, it's only retroactively logical because I meet a lot of performers now who also were introverted and are still introverted and yet, they do what we think of as, like, maybe the most public job in our culture of, like, kind of performing in a mainstream and mass way.
EISENBERGBut for some reason, that seems to work, you know. And I guess, you know, I guess the kind of reverse corollary is the kid who's like the class clown in school, but for some reason, doesn't -- it not as effective as, like, a kind of actor or performer.
REHMHow about you don't talk so much about your own family, but tell us about it.
EISENBERGAbout my own family?
EISENBERGCan I lie down first in the studio? No, well, my mother -- my parents are funny, but don't make a living from it. My parents are teachers. My dad teaches in the SUNY system. My mom, at Drew University in New Jersey in the medical humanities department where she's getting here PhD. My mom, though, in her previous professional incarnation was as a birthday party clown so she was not only funny, but she was a performer. She did local birthday parties.
EISENBERGShe was not in the circus or anything. And she was not only funny, but a kind of a disciplined performer so I kind of -- I grew up listening to her tune her guitar at 8:00 in the morning with the piano so I kind of woke up to that every morning, her tuning her guitar so that she can go through...
REHMBut what kind of clothing did she wear as a clown?
EISENBERGShe wore, like, red overalls and white-face paint. She wore regular shoes and no nose, partly because we're Jewish and there was no need for it, but also because my father was a sociology professor and realized from like a sociological perspective that if you wear the nose and the big shoes, it's alienating to the children. So between the two of them, they created a kind of benevolent clown that kids were not scared of. But I kind of grew up realizing that discipline was very important, even for something as silly as being a birthday party clown.
EISENBERGSo when I'm writing these stories about a young boy or I'm performing in movie or a play that has some kind of, like, silly elements to it, I still prepare for it and think about it in the most serious terms.
REHMYou know, there's a story in your book, "A Bream Gives Me Hiccups," all about going for frozen custard and it's starts earlier, but it's called "TCBY." And you need to explain what TCBY is and then, if you would, start reading for us on page 16.
EISENBERGYeah, sure. I just want to say it's a sad day when I have to explain the franchise acronym TCBY. I really thought they would've -- I really thought they were going to have a global network, but I guess it's a dwindling chain. TCBY stands for The Country's Best Yogurt so it's a frozen yogurt place. And there are some left. So, okay, this is one of the restaurant reviews, but the mom in this story lets the child pick where he wants to go so he takes his friend and his mother and they go to this frozen yogurt place.
EISENBERGSo, okay, I'll read. This is halfway through it, though. "When I asked if we could up Matthew on the way to TCBY, mom sighed loudly and said, 'it would be easier for everyone involved if he just met us there.' I thought it was a strange thing to say because the only people involved were us and Matthew and he lives on the way to TCBY. But I didn't argue and Matthew rode his bike and met us in the parking lot.
EISENBERGWhen mom and I saw Matthew, he ran up to us and gave us both a hug, which is something Matthew has started doing a lot. I like it because I like when people hug me, but mom kind of pulled back because she's not used to people touching her because no one ever does. TCBY has a lot of flavor options, which makes me think they're trying really hard to be the best. I wanted mom and Matthew to think that I made a good choice in going to TCBY so I said, 'wow, look at how many different flavors they have.'
EISENBERGAnd then, mom said, in a sarcastic voice, "thou doth protest too much, TCBY.' And Matthew and I looked at each other like we were trying not to laugh because what mom said made no sense. Matthew ordered a Mountain Blackberry yogurt. He said that he got it because it's the most interesting color, which is kind of a light purple, but which Matthew called mauve. Mauve is a word I never heard before and hearing the words is one of the reasons I like Matthew.
EISENBERGWhen I asked why he didn't get the flavor he like the most, he said he thought that all the flavors probably tasted the same so it was best to get something that was pretty to look at. Mom rolled her eyes two times, when Matthew said mauve and when Matthew said pretty to look at. The woman behind the counter asked Matthew what he wanted for toppings and he said blueberries and cherries. And then, the woman said, 'you just want two fruits?' Then, mom said, 'yep, two fruits for my two little fruits.'
EISENBERGAnd then, mom laughed in a cackling way that made everyone uncomfortable. When mom finally stopped laughing, she said, 'sorry, I just couldn't help myself.' And then, we all felt uncomfortable again. When the woman asked me what I wanted, I decided to get the same thing as Matthew because he thought about his order in such an interesting way. Mom ordered a cup of Dutch chocolate yogurt and asked if the chocolate was really shipped in from the Netherlands.
EISENBERGThe girl said she didn't know, but that she could check. Then, mom told her not to bother and said that she'd get a cup of Dutch chocolate because it's so decadent. But I could tell by the way that mom asked about the Netherlands and how she said 'so decadent' that she was making fun of TCBY for being not fancy, but the girl behind the counter didn't know mom's sense of humor so she said something real, like, 'it's one of our classic flavors.'
EISENBERGAnd mom said, 'oh, it sounds like a real classic.' When the woman asked if mom wanted toppings, mom said, 'oh, boy, where to begin? What does your sommelier think of the Butterfinger pieces?' But since the woman didn't realize that mom was making fun of TCBY, she said, 'Butterfinger pieces are really popular.' Mom said, 'oh, I'll bet,' and laughed again. Then, Matthew and I looked at each other in a secret way because we thought it was weird how two people could have the same conversation, but one of them is making fun of it and the other one is taking it seriously.
EISENBERGIt also made me feel bad for the TCBY woman because she didn't know she was being made fun of by mom, which is sadder than someone who does know they're being made fun of because at least those people can fight back."
REHMJesse Eisenberg reading from his new book of short stories titled "Bream Gives Me The Hiccups." Short break. Your calls, your comments, stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. Jesse Eisenberg is with me. We're talking about his brand new collection of short stories. It's titled, "Bream Gives Me Hiccups & other stories." Now, here's an email from Nick, who says, the fish, Bream, is universally spoken brim. Hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of fishers in the Southern U.S. prize this small, bony fish, which is one of the most difficult to eat, nearly impossible to fillet, but also one of the most delicious. Did you know that?
EISENBERGI knew the first part of his Wikipedia article, which is that it's pronounced brim, because I have a friend from Savannah and he said, oh, oh, you wrote "Brim Give Me Hiccups." I said, no, no. I wrote, "Bream Gives Me Hiccups." And he said, no, not where I'm from. And so I learned my lesson. I am from New York, the -- North of the Mason-Dixon. And...
REHMSo you didn't know that.
EISENBERG...I did know that. But I didn't know his other -- I didn't know the rest of his entry. That was interesting.
REHMYeah. Really interesting. And in that excerpt of TCBY you just read, Matthew loves mauve. He uses the word, mauve. And our hero, our reviewer loves that word. You love words.
EISENBERGYes. Yes. I was also worried that I was pronouncing mauve wrong and that it's not mauve. And I'm glad that you confirmed it in your question. Yes. Yes. Yes, I love words. I almost use them exclusively to speak. You know, I come from a family where like, you know, you have to, you know, to get a word in edgewise, you have to either interrupt or find the briefest of gaps. So not only do I love words, but you kind of have to -- you have to fight to get them in.
REHMAre there siblings in your family?
EISENBERGYes. I have two sisters. And so I was also kind of -- I was also, you know, outnumbered, gender wise. So, yes, I had an extra battle.
REHMAre they older or younger?
EISENBERGI have a younger sister and an older sister. Younger sister just graduated from American, near you, in D.C.
REHMIndeed, American University holds the license for this station. So I'm glad she just graduated.
REHMOh, wow. So there's a bit of nepotism in my appearance today.
REHMTell us about this little boy. He's nine years old. He's precocious in his outlook. But there's stuff going on in his life.
EISENBERGYes. I mean, I picture him to be like the kind of people I'm most fascinated in, which is very quiet people who you can tell have a lot going on and a lot more going on than the person who is, you know, the extrovert. That's how I -- that's what I aspire to be, you know, the kind of quiet person in the room who's, you know, taking things in and ultimately having the kind of more accurate assessment. I think, probably in real life, I'm the kind of annoying extrovert that, you know, people probably try to avoid. But he's a smart kid, sensitive. He is probably, you know, not to get too Freudian, but he's probably more self-actualized than the adults in his circle. And yet he has a kind of original perspective.
EISENBERGHe says, in one of the stories, that he thinks children think more like themselves, because they haven't been on Earth so long. Whereas adults think more like each other, because they've spent more time with each other. And I think he's right, that children do have a kind of, let's say, more authentic perspective, just by virtue of not having been part of the, kind of, the socialization, which can dull creativity.
REHMHe's worried about his mother because his father has left.
EISENBERGRight. His mother appears, initially, to be a horrible person. She even says to him, at one point, the only reason that I took you here is so that Dad would pay for it. You know, she says the worst thing you could possibly say to a child, or among the worst things you could possibly say to a child. And then, but the kid's kind of -- the kid's broad assessment of her is that she's just hurt and needing love. And she could say the worst things to him and he gets hurt, but ultimately sees that they're hurting together, not that she's hurting him.
REHMWhat does he think about his father?
EISENBERGWell, he has kind of a, I would say, like a good assessment of his father, which is that the father is doing good work. We think, throughout the stories, the father must have left the mother for kind of, let's say, like a younger version, like the cliché. But what he actually comes to discover is that his father had a kind of mid-life crisis and went down to live with an androgynous woman who built houses in New Orleans. So it kind of bucks the cliche. But at the same time, the dad cares more about his kind of social cause than of the family. So it's -- the dad's a bit of a hypocrite because he espouses kind of great values and yet he is abandoning his child.
EISENBERGThis is something you see sometimes, you know, with, you know, what we think of as, you know, great, you know, great civic leaders, and yet at home maybe, you know, maybe their home life is not as wonderful as you'd expect.
REHMOne of the characters that you say you most identify with in this book is Harper Jablonski. I'm not going to ask you to read that story because...
REHM...It's a little too complex for air time. But tell us about her and why you identify with her.
EISENBERGYeah. This is my favorite character. I actually wrote this based on -- this has a sort of American University connection -- but very, very, very separate, or very tenuous connection to American University, which is that my sister, in her freshman year of American, she's the sweetest kid, the sharpest kid, and yet kind of just adjusting to college life, brought out this kind of vitriol that I never heard. She would call me in the middle of the night, I'm so angry at my professor. He did this. And I just, I never heard from my sweet sister this level of anger.
EISENBERGAnd I thought, oh, it'd be really funny to kind of have a freshman kid, struggling to adjust to college life, write a series of letters to her former high school guidance counselor, the only woman who she felt really understood her, and express her disenchantment or difficulty with adjusting to college life, but with a level of anger not seen since, like, the Third Reich. Because, at that time, and in that situation, the hormones would be such that you would be probably more angry than you'll ever be in your entire life. And so she expresses in great detail and with great vitriol, her troubles. And it's really funny to read, but really dark.
REHMReally dark. There is one other short story I'd love you to read and that is "Alexander Graham Bell's First Five Phone Calls." Because, I understand, you have actually acted this out.
EISENBERGOh, yeah. Right. So, just to preface it, we know Alexander Graham Bell had the first telephone call, where he said, Watson, come here, I want to see you. That was to his assistant. So this is imagining his first five phone calls, so not just that first one, but the next four. Okay, so I'll read it.
EISENBERG"So this is March 10, 1876. He calls, he says, Watson, come here I want to see you.' The next day, March 11, 1876, he calls and says, 'Hey Watson, guess who? Yeah, it's me, it's Aleck. How'd you know? But I was doing a funny voice! Did you get any sleep last night? Me neither. I was so pumped about the whole phone thing working. I know. I totally wanted to call you too, but I figured you probably went to sleep. Did you tell anybody yet? No, me neither. I was actually thinking of telling Mabel, though. I bet she would think it's really interesting. All right, cool. If you're up later though, call me. I don't care what time it is. Cool. So...okay, are you gonna hang up? No, you hang up first. No, you. Okay, all right, we'll do it at the same time. Okay, you ready? On three. One. Two. Three. Are you still there? Yeah, me, too. Okay, I'm really hanging up this time. One. Two. Three. Hello?'
EISENBERGOkay. This is the next day, March 12, 1876. Hey, Watson, how's it going? Nothing. Just sitting here. You? That's cool. Hey, I kind of got a weird idea. Tell me if this sounds like too creepy. You know how you have a phone and I have a phone? Don't you think it would be cool if more people one? I don't know, like Mabel for instance. No, I just think she would like it. What? No, I don't like her, I just think she would like the phone. No, I'm not obsessed with her. I just think it would be a cool experiment, to like see if it could work at her house. Okay, so I was thinking we could make it a surprise, you know?
EISENBERGLike you could hide the phone in her house and then I could call her and she'll hear it ringing and not know what it is and then pick up and I'll be on the other end and I'll say something really casual like, Hey Mabel, it's Aleck, calling from my house down the block' and she'll be so impressed -- not that I'm trying to like impress her -- and then we'll know it worked. So I was just thinking if you could like go to her house and sneak the phone in, that would be great. Like you could totally just like casually knock on her door and pretend you're delivering flowers or something. Or doing a survey on plague in the neighborhood -- just something totally casual.
EISENBERGBut don't mention me at all. Cool, thanks. Watson, you are the best. She's gonna be so impressed. What? No, no, I mean with the invention. She's going to be impressed with the invention. Yeah, cool, speak later.
EISENBERGOkay, so this is like a week later, or a few days later, March 15. Hey, it's me. Nothing. What? No, I just at dinner. I'm not slurring my words. I'm not. Well, I think you're drunk. I'm totally fine. I may have had a sip of wine, so what? Shut up. I'm not in the mood for this, okay? Hey, have you heard anything from Mabel? I've been calling her all day, she doesn't pick up. Yes, of course I dialed the right number, 2. Don't patronize me. You probably didn't connect the reeds to the armature properly. No, I'm not saying you did it on purpose, but it does seem a little odd that she hasn't picked up. That's all I'm saying.
EISENBERGI'm not accusing you of anything, but I have seen the way you look at her. Oh, I'm just inventing things, am I? Oh, the Great Inventor. Inventing things, right? Like when you told her you liked her frock? Did I invent that? Or when you walked curbside with her all the way to Strawbridges? Maybe I should get a patent on that vision? Ah! Now I feel enraged! I feel like hanging up my phone before we finish speaking to each other. I mean it. I'm going to do it. I'm going to hang up my phone even though we're not done.
EISENBERGIt's a week later. Hey, Watson, it's Aleck. How's it going? I'm okay. So... Yeah, I guess I just wanted to say sorry for like my phone call last week. I should never have called you drunk. That was stupid. And I guess I wasn't really mad at you. I guess I was just...mad at the situation, you know? And I took it out on you, which was totally juvenile. So, yeah, anyway...How are you? Well that's good, that's good. Yeah, no otherwise, I'm pretty good, too. I thought I had an idea for a new invention, but I think someone already did it. It was like a spoon with ridges.
EISENBERGWhatever. It's kind of stupid anyway. No, I haven't heard from Mabel. I don't even really like her that much. She's kind of self-involved, you know? Like, she turns every conversation into something about herself. Yeah. I think I was just in love with the idea of her, you know? Anyway, I'm actually a little lonely. Yeah, I do sound depressed, don't I? Watson, do you think you could come over here? I want to see you." Okay. That's it.
REHMJust terrific. Jesse Eisenberg. He is reading one of the stories in his new collection. It's called, "Bream Gives Me Hiccups." Though, as one of our listeners pointed out, bream is actually pronounced brim. If you'd like to join us, give us a call, 800-433-8850. Tell me how you came up with that idea.
EISENBERGI read that he had -- no, you know what it was? Actually, when I was like 12 years old, I heard a joke from a standup comedian. I thought it was so funny. And the joke was something along the lines of that he -- that this comedian had set his new cell phone -- so this was when cell phones had just come out -- to a Beethoven ring. You know, it's just like one of those kind of cheap sounding, midi file Beethoven rings. And he said, I wonder, when Beethoven was writing this song, did he ever imagine that somebody would go, oh, god, that's my mom calling, after he hears that beautiful song?
EISENBERGAnd so that joke always stuck with me, the way, kind of, inventions start out with these kind of pure, beautiful purposes and then ultimately get appropriated for the dumbest things. So I thought, oh Aleck -- so even the phone, you know, I wonder if when Alexander Graham Bell was inventing the phone, did he think anybody would drunk dial on it and then, you know, and then have to apologize for it?
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's open the phones, 800-433-8850. Let's go to Gabby in Reston, Va. You're on the air.
GABBYHello. Hi. I'm Gabby.
GABBYI am a really big fan of Jesse. Everything you do is just so beautiful and you understand the world and you're so funny and down to earth. And I just wanted to know, are you happy?
EISENBERGHow can I not be after your lovely comment? But I guess like anybody...
REHMIt's really a good and serious question, I think. Don't you?
EISENBERGYes, but I gave it a kind of glib answer nonetheless. Yes. No, it is a good question. I've discovered that happiness is not like a kind of, like, stasis, that happiness is like a kind of momentary experience. And I try to have a lot of those experiences, even though I would consider them separate experiences from each other and not necessarily linked in any kind of chronological or consecutive way. I feel like if I have more of those than I have the other moments, then it was a good day. I feel like if I can help make the people in my life have those moments, then I feel more of them myself. If I can have -- if I can make strangers feel that, I feel more of them myself.
EISENBERGAnd I don't mean strangers in a way, like, I'm on television and people are watching me. I mean strangers that you're with and can affect. It makes me happier. Mother Teresa said, the purpose of life is to help other people. And it was the one time I ever heard anybody say the purpose of life that I thought was a good answer, to help other people. Why not? I can't think of anything wrong with that. And you, obviously, you know, feel better about yourself. And you become less of a narcissist, which I'm working on.
REHMAre you happiest when you're writing? Are you happiest when you're acting? Does each of those activities give you a different kind of happiness?
EISENBERGYes, I love any kind of productivity, which sounds, like, obvious, but actually is a kind of secret I've discovered for myself. You know, the kind of -- the, I am so thrilled to go on, like, a book tour and be able to talk to people and read the book. But of course, the happiest moment is the writing of the book. You know, and the happiest moment is the acting, not the movie premier, which I actually never go to anyway. I don't watch the movies I've been in. I don't like to celebrate myself in the way that, you know, actors have the ability to. Not that they all succumb to it.
EISENBERGSo I love the kind of productive, you know -- I think it was the Polish, famous Polish psychiatrist who said, you know, people are most happy when they're doing the thing, not when they have achieved it.
REHMBut you mentioned narcissism. Do you think you are a narcissist?
EISENBERGUm, I am. I think anybody who does all the stuff I do would probably be diagnosable, maybe even on the low end of the spectrum, even if my book is entirely self-deprecating. I think just the idea -- I just imagine that anybody with the kind of gall and audacity that I have to put down words and assume that other people will want to read them, there's a kind of -- there's something narcissistic about that. Even if the words are, I'm miserable.
REHMJesse Eisenberg, "Bream Gives Me Hiccups," is the title of his new collection of short stories. We're going to take just a short break. More of your calls, your comments, when we come back.
REHMAnd welcome back. Lots of questions, lots of callers waiting to talk with Jesse Eisenberg, whose new collection of short stories is titled, "Bream Gives Me Hiccups." At least that's how B-R-E-A-M looks to me. And apparently looked to Jesse, as well. However, we are corrected and told correct pronunciation is actually "Brim." Here's an email from Charlie, here in Washington, D.C., who says, "Jesse worked with Vanessa Redgrave on stage a couple of years ago. I'm wondering how that generation gap affected his work with the septuagenarian star, for the better or for the worse."
EISENBERGOh, it was incredible. We did a play that I wrote five years prior to performing it, based on -- she -- Vanessa played my cousin. I wrote it about my cousin who was in Poland. So I had lived with this play for years. And then to have Vanessa do it with me, you know, for five months was the most incredible experience because I think not only was it great just kind of from -- in -- from osmosis, just kind of being around that, but I think it was also great as, like, a kind of life lesson about discipline and effort.
EISENBERGSo here's somebody who -- she was 77 at the time -- was probably the -- considered the greatest, you know, living actress. And she came into the theater about four hours before every performance, you know, even before the 90th performance, she's at the theater four hours before, going over her Polish accent, going over her Polish dialogue, running her lines. And above all else, worrying about that night's performance. And I thought, oh, that's really interesting. 'Cause I have -- I get really worried before each performance.
EISENBERGAnd I thought, oh, this is something I'll grow out of, this is something that's due to a lack of experience. And here's the greatest actress, most experienced person worrying. And I realized, oh, that's what makes her great. And it's not just worry. It's more accurately concern. It's concern for her work. And it makes her better. And I think it makes me better. And I have -- it's not the easiest way to live, 'cause you kind of are always worried. But you're -- what you're doing is better. And then maybe in some kind of more profound way it's more fulfilling.
REHMYesterday I watched the entire film, "The Squid and the Whale." I wonder how you felt about that movie.
EISENBERGOh, great. It was a really special script. It was one of these unusual scripts where it's very funny and yet never compromising the drama. It's really hard to do that, especially in a movie. It's easier to do it in kind of a prose. And it just felt at all times like the funniest thing and saddest thing.
REHMLet's hear a clip from it.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMANDo you want to go to my house? I thought we could…
EISENBERGJesus, you really want to do it, don't you?
WOMANI don't know.
EISENBERGOh, what's the obsession with sex?
WOMANWell, it's not an obsession. I'm not so sure I want to do it either. I'm scared, too.
EISENBERGWell, scared is not the issue. It's just everything is so serious suddenly. We're not getting married.
WOMANWhat are you saying?
EISENBERGNothing. I just don't want to feel this pressure from you.
WOMANWell, do you like someone else? Your dad's girlfriend?
EISENBERGNo. No. Why -- no. And she's not his girlfriend.
WOMANMy father said you had a weak handshake, which is a sign of indecision.
EISENBERGHis hands are so huge. I can't get a good grip.
WOMANMy mother said you don't have a very good model for relationships because of your parents.
EISENBERGWhat? Your mother doesn't know anything. Well, I thought it went well. You told me she said I was hilarious. Like, don't be difficult, please.
REHMYou know what I thought after seeing that movie? I found myself thinking that anyone considering divorce who have children should see that movie first.
EISENBERGOh, that's a good point. Yeah, it really is.
REHMTough, tough, sad movie. And yet…
REHM…funny, and yet, you know, so touching, as far as how those two young boys felt.
EISENBERGYeah, you see the kids and their kind of private lives. The thing that the -- the part of their lives that their parents wouldn't see anyway, but because they're divorced and because they're kind of going through a, like, an unfriendly divorce, they're even farther away from their children they would -- then they would be anyway.
REHMTalk about a narcissist, Jeff Daniels plays a big one in that movie.
EISENBERGYes. But he is a narcissist who is kind of like on, like, who is experiencing kind of like the down slope of his writing. And so…
REHMHis career as…
EISENBERG…that's the dangerous narcissist.
REHM…his wife's career is on the rise.
EISENBERGRight. Is on the ascent.
EISENBERGYes. A narcissist on the ascent is a lot of fun to be around, but you don't want to stick around too long.
REHMAll right. Let's take a call here from Fayetteville, N.C. Courtney, you're on the air.
COURTNEYHi. Jesse, I love your movies. I think you're hilarious.
COURTNEYI can't wait to read your book.
EISENBERGWell, thank you.
COURTNEYAnd I am actually a middle school writing teacher. So I would love to know kind of a two part question, what do you love about writing and what advice would you give to young writers?
EISENBERGI think probably the answer would be the same, which is to express yourself. Express the most kind of specific experience that you have because no one else knows about that experience. What I love about writing is expressing kind of myself. So even if it's through fictional characters, it's still what I want to say about the world, maybe through them, or what I want to say about human interaction, anything that I want to express.
EISENBERGEven if what I want to express is a joke that I thought of, that's still my self-expression. And it sounds, again, just on the topic of narcissism, it sounds like a kind of self-serving thing to do, but actually that's what the most entertaining things to read are anyway, is a kind of self-expression, an intimate expression from a writer's mind.
REHMTell me about your appearance in "The Social Network."
EISENBERGMy appearance was about an hour and 40 minutes long and underscored. I -- it was a great role, a script by Aaron Sorkin, who's a phenomenal writer, and directed by David Fincher, who's this great director. I mean, it was just like a, kind of a coming together of some very talented people. And luckily, I got to be on the team.
REHMLet's hear a clip from that.
UNIDENTIFIED MANIn the 16th email you raise concerns about the site's functionality. We're you leading them on for six weeks?
MANThen why didn't you raise any of these concerns before?
EISENBERGIt just started raining.
MANMr. Zuckerberg, do I have your full attention?
MANDo you think I deserve it?
MANDo you think I deserve your full attention?
EISENBERGI had to swear an oath before we began this deposition and I don't want to perjure myself. So I have a legal obligation to say no.
MANOkay. No. You don't think I deserve your attention.
EISENBERGI think if your clients want to sit on my shoulders and call themselves tall, they have a right to give it a try. But there's no requirement that I enjoy sitting here listening to people lie. You have part of my attention. You have the minimum amount. The rest of my attention is back at the offices of Facebook, where my colleagues and I are doing things that no one in this room, including -- and especially your clients are intellectually or creatively capable of doing. Did I adequately answer your condescending question?
REHMBoy, the bitterness coming out in that clip.
EISENBERGRight. Yes. I can't say that the bitterness was non-fictional, but the circumstances were.
REHMAnd do you fear that after that role, somehow you were getting typecast?
EISENBERGWell, you know, the trick of an actor in anything that becomes popular is to just kind of, you know, take advantage of the opportunity, but try not to repeat it. So, you know, I got sent every script where a character was sitting at a computer. But you just don't do those. And luckily there are enough movies where characters are doing other things. So you just do those. So, that said, the part was so unusual that it's hard to replicate anyway. It's a kind of, you know, a young, brilliant man and it happened to be infused with a lot of anger and, you know, just interesting -- with an interesting psyche.
EISENBERGSo it's kind of a hard thing to replicate because most movies don't feature people like that, you know. So it's -- if it's, you know, the kind of goofy best friend you could do that and a million different things, but this is just such an unusual role.
REHMJesse, you're so young and you've accomplished a great deal in those 32 years. Where do you think your own talent has come from for writing, for acting, for playwriting? I mean, there's a lot going on in that young life of yours.
EISENBERGOh, thanks. I mean, I think it's probably a confluence of feeling at once kind of part of the world and also alienated from it. It seems to me like the people with really interesting things to say have that feeling. They're able to kind of integrate into the world just enough to be able to know what's going on. But kind of stay removed enough to be able to comment on it. I think if you have a good balance of that you can probably reflect it well in the arts.
EISENBERGI think if you have a little too much of either one, you're either gonna be not productive 'cause you love going to parties too much and socializing or you're gonna be just kind of not aware of how people interact if you're too much of -- kind of a hermit. Yeah, sorry?
REHMSo how do you balance that? How do you, you know, do you have friends, do you have dates, do you -- you say you don't see your own movies, you don't go to premieres. What do you do for fun?
EISENBERGMy best friend is a teacher. For the last 15 years he's taught incarcerated kids. So I get to kind of see a part of New York City that a lot of people don't get to see. My girlfriend also teaches in the inner city schools. So I get to see her students. So I get to kind of experience a lot of the world that I would never kind of be exposed to personally. I try to do all the things I don't feel comfortable doing, going out after 7:00 p.m., leaving the country, leaving the bedroom. Yeah, I -- on my own, I know I would probably never leave the house. So I try to surround myself with people who force me to.
REHMWhy do you think you'd never leave the house on your own?
EISENBERGOh, I just -- I don't know. I assume something's going to go horribly wrong. So I just -- I would like to stay indoors, where I know it's, you know, I know I'm in kind of like an earthquake-proof room. But I know in a kind of more significant way that it's probably a good idea to go outside once in a while.
REHMSo when you go out you're usually with somebody?
EISENBERGYes, yes. Or alone. Eithers option. I write a bicycle everywhere, which is a great way to see New York and to give yourself the illusion that you're exercising, when actually you're just sitting on a bicycle and coasting. And yeah, I try to see different neighborhoods. And I try not to just stay in the kind of like elite centers of, you know, museums and libraries. I try to see and interact with places that I, you know, wouldn't normally go to.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And let's go to Roanoke, Va. You're on the air, Scott.
SCOTTHi, Diane. Thank you for taking my call.
SCOTTJesse, you were absolutely amazing in "The Social Network." I thought it must have been amazing to work with David Fincher, who is my favorite director as well. In the upcoming film, "Batman v Superman," you play the iconic character Lex Luthor. And I'm just curious as to who or what you channeled for, you know, to portray that -- such an iconic character. And I'll take my answer off the air. Thank you.
EISENBERGOh, well, thank you very much. Yeah, I've always noticed that, like, the best thing to channel as an actor is yourself, to figure out what makes you angry, what makes you feel vengeful or righteous. Those are the feelings that Lex Luthor has. And use that, as opposed to kind of watching Gene Hackman, who was great actor obviously, and played that part originally. And think, well, how can I kind of mirror that? Because the truth is me mirroring him would just come off weird.
EISENBERGWe have different faces, different life experiences, different emotions. But what I do have, that I have more than anybody, in my how feelings. And so I use those and then the character seems not only real, but emotional and just, you know, when you're, you know, he believes he's the hero of his own story, is the kind of actor cliche. When you're playing the villain, you're the hero of your own story. And that's the kind of most interesting way for me, as an actor and I think for an audience to appreciate, as well.
REHMThere are a lot of people who compare you to Woody Allen, in one of whose movies you did perform. How much might you identify with Woody Allen?
EISENBERGI think he has been like a kind of, you know, indirect pioneer for me and for a lot people. I'm actually working with him now. We have the week off and then we have the last week of the film we're doing now. So I've been with him for the last three months every day.
REHMWhat's that titled?
EISENBERGThere's actually -- it's untitled 'cause he doesn't title his movies until they…
EISENBERG…you know, get finished editing. But he's just phenomenal. But now the problem with kind of trying to mimic him or using him in any direct way is that it just comes off odd and forced. So the way to kind of, like, take inspiration from him is to just really like his things and then do whatever I'm inclined to do that I could do well. 'Cause no one can do what he does well. In fact, you know, oftentimes he'll give me like a line reading on the set.
EISENBERGYou know, he'll read the line to me how he would hear it. And I just think, my goodness. That is so much better than what I could do, 'cause he's just perfected his persona. So I have to do what kind of works best for me, not what kind of is most similar to him. 'Cause it'll never perfect.
REHMAnd is he okay with that?
EISENBERGNot only is he okay with it, but he keeps encouraging me to use my own style. And he's, you know, he's directed 45 movies or something. So I think he's probably been around a lot of young men trying to do a Woody Allen impression. And I think he's savvy enough to realize that that's not works -- that's not what works best.
REHMAll right. So tell me, if you can, what would be the ultimate role for you to play.
EISENBERGGoodness. That -- I think, I mean, I never really think that way except I did have maybe the most unusual experience doing this movie, "The Double," that I was talking about earlier, which is based on the Dostoevsky novella. It was -- it's a movie directed by the incredible director, Richard Ayoade. That's an English director. And it was -- I was playing two characters in it. I was playing a kind of very timid, nervous guy and then his brash, arrogant doppelganger. So that was probably the most unusual part to play 'cause I got to play both sides of the same split psyche.
REHMJesse Eisenberg, we've been talking with him about his many works, both in acting, writing, playwriting. His newest work of short stories is titled, "Bream Gives Me Hiccups." I've loved talking with you.
EISENBERGYou, too. Thank you so much for having me on your wonderful show.
REHMThanks so much. And thanks, all, for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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