Jesse Eisenberg Discusses Acting, Writing and His Inner Child
"A Marriage Counselor Tries to Heckle at a Knicks Game."
"A Bully Does His Research."
"A Lifelong Teetotaler, Embarrassed by His Own Sobriety, Tries to Pick Up a Woman at a Bar."
These are a few of the short pieces in "Bream Gives Me Hiccups: And Other Stories," the new story collection by Jesse Eisenberg. The title comes from the first group of stories in the book, subtitled "Restaurant Reviews from a Privileged Nine-Year-Old."
"[His] parents have divorced, and the only way his mother can maintain her nice lifestyle is if she takes the boy out to all the fancy things she wants to do because the father agreed to pay for anything she does with the child," Eisenberg said. "So this 9-year-old boy is reviewing these restaurants that his mother takes him to but also kind of reviewing his relationship with his mother."
Eisenberg is probably best known for his portrayal of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in “The Social Network,” a role that garnered him an Oscar nomination for best actor. He'll also be playing the role of Lex Luthor in the upcoming "Batman v. Superman" movie, giving the evil genius a slightly more nerdy aspect.
Less widely known is that he’s also a playwright, with three published plays. Many of the pieces in the new book were originally published as "Shouts and Murmurs" columns in the New Yorker, including "Carmelo Anthony and I Debrief Our Friends after a Pickup Game at the YMCA," "My Nephew Has Some Questions," and "An Honest Film Review," which skewers a film critic who writes about everything but the movie.
Eisenberg said his work as an actor has helped him learn to imagine someone else's perspective, and he uses those same skills to write his stories, many of which are first-person musings or dialogues. The 9-year-old restaurant reviewer is an entirely fictional creation.
"The only child I have is my inner one," said Eisenberg. "As a child I had no profound thoughts or anything interesting to say, but as an adult now I'm kind of just getting to the mindset of a smart child."
Many of the pieces in Eisenberg's book are funny but with an edge of sadness, as with the 9-year-old who doesn't understand everything his parents say, but knows that they're using him to fight a proxy war with each other. Eisenberg said he loves comedy but wants to go deeper.
"If you're just writing jokes, you feel like you're not doing enough or it's not that interesting in a sustainable way. And so you try to find the flip side of it. You find the richer side of it, the more emotional side of it. As an actor you're trained to do that," said Eisenberg.
One of the hardest things about writing, Eisenberg said, is making the time and staying open to inspiration when he doesn't have an external deadline.
"As an actor, you have to act as soon as the camera is on, and you have no choice except to perform at a given moment, and maybe as a writer I haven't fully embraced that idea, that I can compel motivation or inspiration to occur," Eisenberg said.
Jesse Eisenberg will be signing books at 6 p.m. Friday at Carmichael’s Bookstore, 2720 Frankfort Ave.
(Image by Raffi Asdourian/Creative Commons)