Sunday May 26, 2013
A tale of illusions and unbelievable heists in Now You See Me
By MUMTAJ BEGUM
Will the real Jesse Eisenberg please stand up?
HAVING only his on-screen persona as a point of reference, it is only natural to be curious what Jesse Eisenberg is like when he’s not playing someone else. Does he have anything in common with Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook – an angry but brilliant young man whose words stumble out of his mouth faster than a speeding train (The Social Network)? Or was he just playing a version of himself as the anxious, somewhat frenetic and insecure nice guy in The Squid And The Whale, Adventureland and Zombieland?
When Eisenberg calls from New Orleans, Louisiana, to talk about his new movie, Now You See Me, he starts the 15-minute interview by engaging in small talk, saying he knows where Malaysia is located as he has visited a couple of countries in Asia including Nepal, Tibet, Cambodia, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong and China. He later adds that he likes Malaysian cuisine – “I can tolerate spicy food” – and has eaten at a Malaysian restaurant called Penang in New York, where he lives.
Throughout the interview, he remains friendly, polite and forthcoming. Perhaps what Eisenberg – who turns 30 this October – shares with the above-mentioned characters is that he’s just as intelligent and fast-talking, often punctuating long sentences with erm(s) and short pauses.
Dave Franco, his co-star in Now You See Me, says Eisenberg is very serious about acting and is self-critical. Franco states: “Jesse is amazing. I just love that guy. He is so humble as well. I don’t even know if he watches any of the things he’s done. He is just genuinely one of the nicest people I have ever been around. It was inspiring to see just how much work he puts into the role.”
In Now You See Me, audiences can expect to see a totally different Eisenberg. He plays a charismatic magician named Michael Atlas whose speciality is sleight of hand illusions. When Atlas gets on stage, he commands everyone’s attention because he is just that good. Atlas is also the leader of the group known as The Four Horsemen – comprising three other equally talented magicians (Franco, Woody Harrelson and Isla Fisher), each an expert in their own field (picking pockets, mentalist and escapist).
Together, they pull off a series of bold heists (like robbing a bank in France, while staging a show in Las Vegas), which has the authorities (Mark Ruffalo) and other magicians (Morgan Freeman) baffled, and the people they rob from (Michael Caine) frazzled.
As it turns out, Eisenberg was drawn to the role because of his character’s fearlessness. The actor shares: “I read the script while I was acting in a play in New York City. I was very nervous going to stage every night and I thought it was interesting how this character is so confident performing on stage. I thought it’d be really fun to play a character that was having so much fun on stage because I was so nervous doing my play. I also love the storyline; it was such an unexpected part. I haven’t been in a movie like this – it was thrilling to read and I thought it’d be even more thrilling to watch.”
To research for the role, Eisenberg watched a lot of magicians perform. Several professional magicians were also recruited by director Louis Letterier to figure out the art and craft of magic for the film, delving deep into the workings of illusions. This allowed Eisenberg to spend time with them, and further his skills. According to Eisenberg, the magic performed in the film are all very possible in the near future, and their secrets are revealed to movie-goers by the end. “So, you know, nothing about it is like phony or unexplained.”
While magicians have had the luxury of practising eight hours a day for a number of years to perfect their craft, Eisenberg – in his limited time – managed to learn enough how to perform the tricks.
What is more important, the New Yorker did pick something up to help him personally. “All magicians have their own style, but there is a general confidence and command over the audience that seems to be common even in magicians who appear to be very casual. They are in great control during the performance.
“When they are performing, they are 10 steps ahead of the audience. They are aware of every possibility and I try to take on that feeling. So, now when I perform in New York, I try to have that same confidence – to be really in control and ahead of what the audience is expecting.”
Now You See Me opens nationwide on May 30.
His own man