Zombieland's Jesse Eisenberg: 'I'm So Shocked Every Time I Get Into a Movie'

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Since bursting onto the indie scene in 2002's Rodger Dodger, Jesse Eisenberg has cornered the market on vulnerable adolescent males. He's boldly navigated the treacherous terrains of divorce in The Squid and the Whale, campus bullydom in The Education of Charlie Banks, and teen midway love in Adventureland. But his most formidable foe was yet to come: In the audience-pleasing Zombieland, Eisenberg battles an army of the undead alongside Woody Harrelson, Abigail Breslin and Emma Stone. We met Eisenberg recently, before it was announced that he'd landed the coveted role of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in David Fincher's The Social Network. As you'll see from our candid interview, no one could have been more shocked about his good fortune than Eisenberg himself.


JESSE EISENBERG: [He examines my T-shirt intently.] Sorry I have a final due today. I study contemporary architecture, so I've been looking at houses exactly from this weird perspective all day long.

MOVIELINE: It's the cover of a David Byrne album.

Oh, I see. OK.

Where are you studying architecture?

I go to the New School. I'm an anthropology major, but this class is contemporary architecture. 1920s on.

So you manage to keep up with your studies and pursue your acting career?

Yes. I made this zombie movie in the spring of this year so I couldn't go to school, but then I was enrolled for summer session because I wasn't hired to do any acting.

Hopefully no one snapped you napping in a class, like James Franco at Columbia.

Columbia is a much more difficult school. Two of my classes are online, so I could fall asleep without any consequence.

So what's your mood as we approach Zombieland's opening day?

My obsessive-compulsive disorder is out of control right now.

How does that manifest itself?

Well, I touch the tips of my fingers in a weird way; I don't step on cracks; if I'm going onto a new surface -- be it carpet to concrete, or concrete to wood, or wood to concrete, any new surface -- I have to make sure all parts of my feet touch equally the ground before I touch that new thing. So I'll often hesitate before walking into a new room. You know what I mean?

That's just a manifestation of anxiety?

Yeah.

It's not partially superstition, is it?

No, no. I don't think anything's going to happen.

Has that ever been a problem for you on set?

Um...It's...Yeah. Yeah, yeah. I'll put my hand down to touch something during a scene. It's distracting. It's terrible, just terrible.

Did a director ever point it out to you?

Um...no. I just play anxious people, so it becomes OK.

They think it's brilliant flourishes.

Exactly!

I think that has served you well as an actor. Take The Squid and the Whale, which is my favorite film of yours. Not many movies explore that very specific kind of anxiety divorce manifests on kids -- certainly not as well as that one did.

Oh, well I didn't write that. The writer is really, really brilliant. It was very autobiographical.

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