CS Interview: Jesse Eisenberg On Vivarium & Resistance
Oscar-nominee Jesse Eisenberg is having a busy month in March as he is seeing not one but two films debuting this week. First up is the sci-fi thriller Vivarium, in which he reunites with Imogen Poots (Solitary Man, The Art of Self-Defense) for the third time, then the war biopic drama Resistance in which he stars as iconic mime/French Jewish resistance fighter Marcel Marceau. ComingSoon.net got the opportunity to talk with the 36-year-old actor about the harrowing war drama and insane sci-fi horror story. Check out the interview below!
In Vivarium, on their search for the perfect home, Gemma (Imogen Poots) and Tom (Jesse Eisenberg) visit a new house in a labyrinthine suburban neighbourhood. When they attempt to leave, each road mysteriously takes them back to where they started, leading them on a mind-bending trip, trapped in a surreal nightmare.
The film stars Oscar nominee Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network), Imogen Poots (Black Christmas) Jonathan Aris (Radioactive), Danielle Ryan (Professionals), Senan Jennings (Royally Ever After), and Eanna Hardwicke (Normal People).
Vivarium is directed by Lorcan Finnegan (Without Name, Foxes) who co-wrote the screenplay with Garret Shanley (Without Name, Self-Assembly). Fantastic Films’ Brendan McCarthy and John McDonnell produced in association with Lovely Productions, in co-production with Belgium’s Frakas Productions and Denmark’s Pingpong Film. XYZ executive produced the film.
Based on the inspiring true story, Resistance follows the revolutionary tale of a selfless act that would forever change countless lives. Before he was the world-famous mime Marcel Marceau, he was Marcel Mangel, an aspiring Jewish actor who joined the French Resistance to save the lives of thousands of children orphaned at the hands of the Nazis. Jesse Eisenberg stars in this compelling drama about a group of unsung heroes who put themselves in harm’s way to rise above hatred and oppression during World War II.
As a young man growing up in Nazi-occupied Europe, Marcel has no intention of getting involved in the war – his pursuits include impersonating Charlie Chaplin in burlesque clubs, painting backdrops for his plays, and antagonizing his obstinate father. His life is thrown into upheaval when he is recruited into the French Resistance, putting his acting skills to the ultimate test in teaching orphaned Jewish children how to survive in the horrifying reality of the Holocaust.
The film stars Oscar nominees Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network) as Marcel Marceau and Ed Harris (Westworld) as George S. Patton along with Edgar Ramirez (American Crime Story) as Sigmund, Clémence Poésy (Harry Potter films) as Emma, Matthias Schweighöfer as Klaus Barbie, Géza Röhrig (Son of Saul) as Georges Loinger and Bella Ramsey (Game of Thrones) as Elsbeth.
Resistance is written and directed by Venezuelan filmmaker Jonathan Jakubowicz (Hands of Stone). The film is produced by Claudine Jakubowicz and Carlos Garcia de Paredes, who worked together for Hands of Stone. Marcel Marceau’s oldest son Baptiste has reportedly been closely involved with the research for the film and will executive produce. Dan Maag, Thorsten Schumacher, Carlos García de Paredes, Patrick Zorer, Jonathan Jakubowicz, Stephanie Schettler-Köhler, Matthias Schweighöfer, Marco Beckmann, and Lars Sylvest are also set as producers.
Eisenberg, having been born in Queens, New York, raised in East Brunswick, New Jersey in a Jewish household, found a lot of “strange coincidences” about the project when receiving the script for Resistance, including his own familial ties to the story itself.
“I grew up as the son of a clown, my mom used to paint her face like Marceau and entertain kids at birthday parties and hospitals and schools,” Eisenberg recalled. “So, from a young age, I’ve kind of been exposed to at least the aesthetic of mime and certainly clowning. And then, I lost a lot of family during the war in an area very close to Marceau’s family, and so, that had kind of special meaning for me, to be able to do a story about that period. I have survivors in my family, and so, it just overlapped with my life in so many different ways.”
Despite having fun playing more ham-worthy or bad-natured characters such as Lex Luthor or Mark Zuckerberg, Eisenberg loved getting to take on the role of Marceau, who he likes to think of as “this reluctant hero.”
“He starts the movie as a kind of fledgling performer doing one-man shows, and he’s asked to entertain kids, which he feels is beneath him as an artist,” Eisenberg described. “What he comes to appreciate is that he can perform for kids without compromising his work, and then ultimately grows into this hero, where he ends up risking his life to save these children in a way that I think means that I think in a way that prior to that experience, he’d never imagine that he’d wind up doing.”
With the various important themes in the movie, from the wrongful discrimination of people to learning how to sacrifice for what matters, Eisenberg thinks the most important thing he took away from the film that he hopes audiences get as well is “being able to reconcile doing what it is that you like to do and using it to benefit other people.”
“I mean, here’s this guy who was an artist who thinks of himself in these very serious terms, and yet, he finds a way to use his work to benefit other people in a way that is completely selfless,” Eisenberg said. “I think about that as somebody who is in the arts and somebody who, I consider a lot of what I do to be pretty indulgent, and yet I married somebody who was an activist and a teacher, who grew up volunteering in her mother’s domestic violence shelter and works in the poorest schools in New York. For me, it’s always been a struggle to kind of reconcile the kind of self-serving part of what I do with the really benevolent work that my wife does. This movie I think speaks to that negotiation so beautifully, about how you can do something that might feel self-indulgent, but if you shift part of it, it can become a really benevolent and wonderful thing for others.”
When it came to Vivarium, Eisenberg found himself loving the Twilight Zone and Black Mirror quality to the project, describing it as an “abstracted” and “surreal version” of both the hit sci-fi series.
“It felt like a more kind of art film version of a kind of Black Mirror, where it was not as didactic about the dangers of technology or modernity, but really was more of a fever dream,” Eisenberg said. “It’d be the kind of nightmare you’d have the day before you get married or buy a house or have a child, the kind of abstracted manifestation of our unconscious fears, the fears that we all have about making commitments to things, and how we are pursuing them seemingly by choice, but underneath it, have this terrifying, foreboding sense of permanence or mortality or claustrophobia.”
The Oscar-nominated star found the subtle exploration of the housing crisis in the film as a fascinating socioeconomic theme to touch upon, especially given writer/director Lorcan Finnegan’s personal history with the subject in his home country of Ireland.
“The movie was inspired by the housing crisis, where people were kind of increasingly desperate to find houses, and therefore had to kind of, let’s say go further and further out of where they’re working or where they want to live,” Eisenberg explained. “In this movie, at least, the character’s desperation to buy a house becomes their undoing. I think it was kind of addressing the dangers that come with an increasingly desperate desire to be a part of the middle class life, and succumbing to the pressures that exist in society of having the perfect house and family and marriage and children, I think it was intended to speak to those fears. I think what it’ll speak to now, because it’s coming out now during this crisis is that the kind of claustrophobia you feel being so isolated. The characters are living in this suburban town and are surrounded by literally no one. They knock on the doors of the neighbors and no one’s there. They walk outside and no one’s there. They hear the echo of their own voice and they’re stuck with this child who’s becoming increasingly stir crazy. In a different way, I’m with my three-year-old and we’re trying to make it across country together, and he’s becoming increasingly stir crazy and we’re becoming increasingly claustrophobic. I think that’s probably a very typical experience right now.”
Prior to working together on Vivarium, Eisenberg and Poots worked together on the well-received drama Solitary Man in 2009 and last year’s acclaimed dark comedy The Art of Self-Defense and in coming into the film enjoyed getting to work alongside her once again, calling her a “great actress” who enjoys “experimenting with different tones” in the same way he does.
“The last movie we did together was this brilliant movie, The Art of Self-Defense, where the tone was this kind of very strange literal flat affectation and unusual performance style,” Eisenberg recalled. “And Vivarium is a very naturalistic performance style, but in a far more surreal universe. And she just understands those things in such an instinctive way, and similar to me, I think really enjoys doing that. You know, as opposed to kind of doing just a more naturalistic kind of performance style one after another.”
Vivarium and Resistance are both set to hit Digital platforms and VOD today!