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Jesse Eisenberg – Becomes an Action Figure in Zombieland

Jesse Eisenberg

Becomes an Action Figure in Zombieland

by Brad Balfour

For 26-year-old actor Jesse Eisenberg – who was awarded lots of attention for his troubled teenager in The Squid and the Whale – becoming a zombie-killing machine offers a curious shift in gears. Interspersed with his first-person voiceover as the wussy Columbus, Zombieland spotlights two survivors who forge an uneasy alliance to live in a world destroyed by a plague that turns nearly everyone into zombies. Both are trying to get east to see if anyone is free of the infection. The multiweapon-toting, bad-ass Tallahassee (the darkly funny Woody Harrelson) distrusts bonding as much as he hates zombies – but that's only because he doesn't want to pummel a friend if they've morphed into the living dead.

At first bamboozled by sisters Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), they establish a relationship with this duo to form a dysfunctional and desperate ersatz family. All four have found their own ways to vanquish zombies, so when the sisters steal the boys' SUV and guns, they catch up to the girls and go along with their determined effort to visit their favorite amusement park in California.

This wry, macabre horror comedy not only brings out the mayhem-making on Eisenberg's part, but it also shows he's capable of spoofing the kind of post-collegiate, sexually repressed nervous wreck he played so well in Adventureland who, lo and behold, worked in a local amusement park. And, if it's successful, he will be doing a lot more than just the San Diego Comic-Con and the recent Fantastic Fest in Austin. Ironically though, as Eisenberg admits in this exclusive one-on-one interview, he's more of an art house rather than genre fan and proud of it. Maybe his next few roles – as Allen Ginsberg in Kill Your Darlings or possibly, as the founder of Facebook – may better suit him, but I think he has a long future in geekdom.

You're a healthy 20-something. How have you avoided watching your share of horror movies? Maybe you read little too many Greek tragedies. I saw a performance of The Bacchae by Euripides the other day and that could be translated into a horror film.

My friend directed a Greek play and then he did like a horror movie version of it. It's not actually that different. I just don't really like horror movies. They're either scary, or if they're not scary, they're terrible. If they're not scary then they're a failure, and if they are scary then they scare you. So either way, you kind of walk out lost. But this movie is really not that. As you saw last night, it's mostly comedic, and it's a real fun experience. The horror of it is really secondary.

Now that you've done this movie, and you're a zombie-slayer, are you going to investigate a lot more horror films?

I have my own narrow view of cinema, but no, not really.

You've got to see Robert Rodriguez's From Dusk Till Dawn with the slaying of the vampires, or John Carpenter's Vampires. Bride of Frankenstein is one of the greatest movies of all time. Didn't making this film intrigue you as to what is behind the psychology of horror films like the old Universal pictures? What would you want to see?

I'm sure they're great. There was a movie out last year that everyone said to see, called Let the Right One In.

The Swedish vampire movie.

Is it really good?

It's great. For those who like indie films, you get your dose of indie art from it. It's teen angst via the vampire genre without too much teen idol-making. Now that you've done the kind of movie that might make you a teen idol, are you worried that Robert Pattinson's Twilight fans will switch over to you?

That's not my nature or the character in this movie. The only people that will be interested in me from this movie will be grandmothers, and they don't have websites. No, I think there's no threat.

You don't think that you've made a valid play for Wichita (Emma Stone) to fall madly in love with you?

Yeah, but he's not that kind of character. Thank God because who wants to be in the tabloids for anything, ever.

If this movie does well, you're going to be doing lots of comic-cons and things like that now.

I know. I realize that... I know.

Do you collect anything that you might find at the Comic-Cons so you should be looking forward to them?

I had no idea what was there. We had to go to this year's [San Diego Comic-Con]. I was out of my element.

You didn't get turned onto any cool graphic novels?

No. They couldn't be further from my comfort zone.

You must collect something. What do you collect?

I don't know. I don't have any space for anything. We have collector's half-photos of Fidel Castro at my house. I don't know why. We have like three amazing collector's editions.

How did you separate yourself from the character which plays on the type of characters you've done?

All the acting is very naturalistic, so it seems like we're all these people. It takes a lot of effort to establish this tone of this movie. The movie asks a lot of you comedically in a very specific world and in a very specific way. It's a unique world that the movie takes place in. I don't see the character as exactly like myself, but I'm sure when people see the movie, they will think that. Until one acts in a movie, they realize that it requires effort, even if it looks very natural or casual.

When you do a movie like this – you've handled guns, kicked ass on zombies – how does it change you? Are you inspired to be more of an ass kicker in some way?

No. I don't want to be promoting violence to children or making it look fun. Luckily, my character does not want to shoot people. He might close a door on this girl's foot and she's trying to kill me, and I'll say, "I'm so sorry that I hurt your foot." I'm glad that my character and I cannot have too much fun with the violence. People are going to see this movie that maybe have a proclivity towards violence, and we wouldn't want to make it look that much fun where it's inadvertently promoting it.

Woody does a damn good job of making it seem like it's a lot of fun. It brought out your inner shit-kicker. Do you think you're going to get offers now to do a lot more shit-kicking as a result?

No, no, I don't think so, nor am I interested in that. It's exhausting and technically difficult to shoot scenes like that. The scenes that I'm interested in are the scenes where we're creating these characters. These other scenes, half the time the stunt guy is doing the thing that's the most fun looking.

If you had to smash anything like you did in the film, if you had that opportunity to smash as a result of the freedom to smash, what would you have had in mind?

Probably a laptop computer, because you know how frustrating it is when it's not doing the thing you asked it to do. It's the most frustrating thing in the world, and you just want to throw it against the wall. It would probably feel good for one second – and after that, terrible. Again, the things that are most fun to watch are usually the things that are the most difficult to shoot. When we were filming the scene where we destroyed this store, you had to be very careful. Then when you watch it, it looks like the characters are having fun so spontaneously. But it's a difficult thing to shoot. It's so much fun to watch so you can relive it, almost, through your characters.

Did you discuss a back story as to how the zombie plague began? Did you elaborate – just for fun – on whether it was some sort of biological experiment?

It changed so much over the course. At first, we weren't sure if people would be interested in knowing the back story. Then we did the test screenings of it and realized people actually want to know where it came from. So the final verdict is that it's now like a mad cow disease. It came from contaminated hamburger, which is good because it has some kind of possible practical implications toward the food industry. Woody is really happy with that because he's a strict vegan.

Harrelson is an incredibly naturally funny guy. I don't know how you get on set with him without breaking up all the time. Abigail Breslin can be funny too. But you must have had some interesting conversations with him, because he's got that passionate, serious side about politics, philosophy, and other things?

I've admired him for many years. I work with a few animal rights organizations; I've been vegetarian for five years and I was vegan for a year. I'm not a vegan right now, but when we were filming, I ate all the same food he ate.

You had so much fun with Woody there, that you must love to have a chance to work with him again. Do you see that as a possibility?

Yeah, I would love to. He kind of cast me in this, so I owe him a lot and would love to.

Not only as a result of this movie, but are there people you'd like to act with or work with? Now you've done such an interesting range of people, you're moving on to a new plateau.

Yeah, that's exactly it. I would never think that I would get to meet Woody Harrelson. It always ends up being more shocking than you would have expected had you tried to fantasize about it.

Do you ever sit there and fantasize about who you would have as your leading ladies?

No, I'm surprised that they stay on the set after they meet me. As you're well aware, I'm more than lucky.

It must have been fun working with Emma. Did you know her from before? She really doesn't take seriously that role of the sex kitten, zombie-slayer. It must have been fun to work with her.

It's a great asset to the movie that she's not the typical hot girl. She's an incredibly funny person. The character that she has is a very strong and self-respecting female character, which is not the most common thing – especially in a movie like this, a horror-comedy.

You're lucky that you've been able to get some really great directors. Are there people you want to target? Writers you want?

No. Once you start doing that, you just open yourself up to disappointment, because it doesn't work that way. It's best to just be open minded to whatever new opportunities present themselves, like in this case.

You must have thought about sequels.

No, no, I haven't. If you'd asked me a week ago if I wanted to do a sequel, I would say that would definitely be the last thing that I would ever want to do. In fact, they asked me when I originally signed up for the movie, "Could you sign on for a sequel now?" I asked my lawyer at the time, "Please, please, don't agree to something like that," because the worst thing you want to be doing is a sequel to a movie that no one likes. When I saw the movie the other night for the first time in Miami, I was so blown away. I think it would be a great thing to do.

When you envision that sequel, can you imagine all the possible places to go, like zombies in New York versus zombies in LA?

I would love to do that, too, because I wouldn't have to leave home to film it. That's exactly right; there's so much you could do. Although I imagine zombies in New York would be so much more expensive they'll probably end up doing zombies in Tulsa. But there are so many possibilities because there's such a free-flowing logic to the movie.

You were pretty young when you started, and you've naturally evolved. Where do you want to go from here? You've done comedies, but they're with a more indie heart to them than some of the raunchy buddy stuff that Judd Apatow's produced and directed. Where do you see yourself going now that you've added this into the catalog?

Well, I never expected to be in a movie like this. But because the script was so good, I wanted to. So I guess it's just project to project, regardless of what the genre is or the size of the movie. I feel like if it's good, then that stuff is really not relevant, and that's what I felt about this. I mean they're sending me a lot of movies that are similar to this because people are liking this movie, but they're awful. I have plays that I've written that I'm trying to get done, and it's certainly helpful to be in movies that people see. The next movies I'm supposed to do happen to be dramas, but if something like this came along again, I'd be happy to do it.

What about directing and other things?

That's a whole different [story], to actually have some command of authority, and I don't have any of that.

But then you'd rise to the occasion.

I suppose you could, but you need a deep voice or something.

Oh, you're undervaluing your magnetic and influential skills.

Thank you, but you're the same person that wanted to see an action figure of me.

Copyright ©2009 All rights reserved. Posted: October 2, 2009.

Photo Credits:

#1 © 2009 Brad Balfour. All rights reserved.

#2 © 2009 Brad Balfour. All rights reserved.

#3 © 2009. Courtesy of Columbia Pictures. All rights reserved.

#4 © 2009. Courtesy of Columbia Pictures. All rights reserved.

#5 © 2009. Courtesy of Columbia Pictures. All rights reserved.

#6 © 2009. Courtesy of Columbia Pictures. All rights reserved.

#7 © 2009. Courtesy of Columbia Pictures. All rights reserved.

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