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Jesse Eisenberg Tells Us What It Takes to Be a Modern Supervillain: Photography by Jake Chessum

Photography by Jake Chessum


Jesse Eisenberg Tells Us What It Takes to Be a Modern Supervillain

Lex Luthor is bald, except when he has a wild mop of red hair. He’s a stone-faced Kevin Spacey, except when he’s an ascot-sporting Gene Hackman. And he’s a sociopath bent on world destruction, except when he’s a deep soul who questions his own powers. In short, Superman’s arch-nemesis is a complicated man. Who better to play him in 2016 than Jesse Eisenberg, who slides from one difficult role to the next: In the past year, he’s grieved a lost parent in Louder Than Bombs and sparred with David Foster Wallace in The End of the Tour. But Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice marks his first straight-up villain role. We asked about the part’s complexities, and he told us about mocking co-stars Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill on camera.

“The character is in line with what audiences want to see now, which is a more modern, psychologically realistic concept of Lex Luthor. His motivations are multifaceted; he has a way of using language that’s specific to the way his mind works; he struggles with interesting philosophical dilemmas like that of the individual having too much power, even if that individual is using that power for good. For instance, Superman has so far been using his powers to do some good, but is it safe to have someone like that walking the streets? It’s great that all of this happens in the context of a very exciting superhero movie.”

“He reminds me of one of those characters in old Greek theater who very explicitly state the philosophical dilemma at hand and put it in a way that feels in line with that character’s interests and voice. He speaks in broad themes and ideas: That’s what makes the character very theatrical and yet authentic. This is the kind of role actors really like to play because you don’t feel like it’s a problem if you color outside the lines. I can be as funny as I want to be in the context of my character behaving poorly, and I can be as sad as I want because the character’s also going through real internal conflict. Take it as far as you want and be as theatrical as you want to be – it’s all correct.”

“The previous movies are interesting to watch, but they feel unrelated. This incarnation of the character is drawn so differently. I’d read the comic books, but I figured out pretty quickly there’s not much there that relates to an acting role; it’s just a different format. You know the old joke about actors—if you’re playing the messenger, you think it’s a play about the messenger—but the main characters are wonderful as well.”

“They’re both very smart, funny people. They were wonderful to work with because we were all sort of adjusting things to make the scenes as good as they could be. Henry has already played Superman in another movie so he has such a strong idea of his character. That was fun for me because I could play with that. Ben Affleck is also very sharp. Doing this was a lot of fun because the three of us like to improvise, changing dialogue and all. But it was also strange for me: I have a lot of respect for both of them and yet my character mocks them both a lot in the movie. But that was just the nature of the thing.”