Jesse Eisenberg On Fame, Stalkers And The Magic Of ‘Now You See Me 2’

Jesse Eisenberg brings back the magic in Now You See Me 2 with an all-star cast featuring Mark Ruffalo, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine and Daniel Radcliffe. The Oscar-nominated actor and Batman V Superman villain combines writing plays and arthouse projects with Hollywood blockbusters; he talked to NME about the weird world of fame, his fear of hypnotists and new TV show Bream Gives Me Hiccups.

When we spoke in 2009 you were promoting Adventureland with Kristen Stewart but weren’t excited about a career in movies. What changed your mind?

“Nothing. I still feel ambivalent about everything I do – I just do more things. So, now I’m ambivalent about 10 things as opposed to two things! I’m busier but acting in movies is an unpredictable, unreliable, often discouraging but occasionally encouraging experience. I find, though, if you don’t have other hobbies or interests it can be very difficult because even if you’re a very prolific actor you still wind up a few months each year doing nothing. For a movie actor that’s lucky but for any other job it would seem like an eternity. By virtue of doing other things I’ve written three plays (his latest, The Spoils, is on now at London’s Trafalgar Studios), a book and now I’m directing a TV series based on that book (Bream Gives Me Hiccups). So, all of my ambivalence about movie acting is mitigated by my feeling that I’m creating other liferafts to fill my time with things that really interest me. So maybe that’s why I’m not as dispirited.”

Richard Ayoade told NME his foray into Hollywood with The Watch was a blip. How do you deal with another level of fame after Batman V Superman?

“The difference between me having an acting career or not and getting whatever the perks of, quote, fame can be, all happened because of a film I was in called Roger Dodger (a coming of age comedy released in 2002). It was the difference between being an actor and not being an actor. Since then, some have been very popular and some haven’t even been released but it’s not by virtue of being in a Batman movie I’m now in some different kind of bracket. There exists no other bracket. Um, unless there are rooms I haven’t yet been invited in. But if there are I probable don’t want to go in them anyway! The movie I get recognised the most from is Now You See Me. Nobody expected it to be such a big hit – it took on a life of its own. So I’ve got used to it and my life’s not very different since Batman.”

Did you get any advice on dealing with fame from your co-star Daniel Radcliffe?

“In terms of there being rooms I haven’t been invited in… Dan is in those rooms. I think his experience with the public is very different to 99.9% of other movie actors. He grew up in front of his fans and they grew up with him. They identify with him. Not just through the movies but the Harry Potter books too. He is, in a way, the face of a lot of people’s childhoods. That creates an unusual dynamic. The lucky thing with Dan is that he happens to be a great actor. In Now You See Me 2 we were all taken aback on day one when the first scene we did with him he nailed a five-page monologue with the perfect performance on take one. So if there is any trap, to that level of fame, his talent means he’ll very deftly be able to move out of that.”

What are the downsides to celebrity?

“I was in one dangerous situation where someone was stalking me. That was horrifying. I care less about myself than the people around me that I love. In this particular case I knew I could handle myself with this person. I’d done two plays at a theatre in New York which, to put it loosely, was being ‘attended to’ by an individual who became dangerous. But otherwise my interactions with people are incredibly nice. My feeling about whatever public notoriety I have is that the benefits so far outweigh the drawbacks. My biggest gripe is that I can’t eavesdrop on people on the subway like I used to! I used to write down people’s conversations… I could wear a cap and glasses but then you look like a weirdo. Then no one is gonna sit near you and freely speak. Or people spot who you are and you look like an idiot for wearing sunglasses indoors! But I don’t deal with what Dan Radcliffe has to deal with…”

How did you get into magic mode for Now You See Me 2?

“We did a magic boot camp two weeks before shooting and tried to learn as much as possible. We worked with some of the best illusionists in the business – Keith Barry, Andre Gikh and Blake Void. And David Copperfield (famous for making a jet disappear) was one of the producers of the film.”

What was the toughest scene to shoot?

“We worked hard at our ‘cardistry’ for one of the coolest scenes where the Horsemen attempt to steal a computer chip from a high tech vault. It was choreographed over three days before five days of shooting and all just for a three-minute sequence in the film. Our director Jon M. Chu is great with action (he directed G.I. Joe: Retaliation) and choreography (the Step Up franchise) so he’s really talented when it comes to making movement enhanced by the camera. That scene gives the film a real Oceans Eleven heist feel.”

During your magic boot camp and the creation of your street magician character J. Daniel Atlas were you ever hypnotised?

“No! My parents told me this story of when they were kids at camp and a hypnotist called up one of their friends. He made the guy think his girlfriend was in the audience naked and the guy started screaming at her and she was mortified and the guy was mortified… Ever since I heard this story I’ve solemnly pledged to avoid hypnotists.”

What’s the greatest illusion you’ve ever witnessed?

“Keith Barry does stuff that’s not just amazing – it’s worrisome. He doesn’t just surprise you, he tells you the names of pets you had that died or deceased relatives. I don’t know how he does this. It’s scary and transcends magic. By virtue of doing these movies I know they’re tricks. I know they’re fake and yet there’s a little adolescent part of you that wants to believe.”

You’ve said that you don’t watch movies you’re in because your curiosity is outweighed by terror. Do you think you’d enjoy this one?

“I like good acting so I’m sure I’d like Now You See Me because it stars some of the greatest actors in the world. My friend – one of my friends… Like I only have two friends! He only likes arthouse movies and will never go see a Hollywood blockbuster and yet he loves Now You See Me because of the actors. Mark Ruffalo and Woody Harrelson are two of my favourites that inspired me to become an actor. Michael Caine! Morgan Freeman! I’ve been watching these guys since I was a kid. But the driving force is that it’s a really fun caper.”

Now You See Me 2 is in cinemas everywhere now