Jesse Eisenberg on Zombieland 2, Good Sequels and Missing John Ritter

Last week I met actor Jesse Eisenberg for a lengthy discussion of subjects ranging from his coming-of-age in the New York theater to his beloved Zombieland and his awards-season prospects for The Social Network. We covered a lot of ground, which I'll be retracing this week in a five-part series here at Movieline.

And so we arrive, sadly, at the end of our five-part journey with Jesse Eisenberg. By the time the actor and I reached this point, the done-to-death The Social Network had given way to... well, quite a few subjects. Let's just say that in this last installment of our bar-side conversation, it's a movie-reference blowout: The Godfather, Jurassic Park, all six Star Wars films and three Lord of the Rings films, among others, made the cut. We also discussed the pending progress of Zombieland 2 and Eisenberg's surprising affection for the star of Three's Company.

Just recently, both Leslie Nielsen and The Empire Strikes Back's director Irvin Kershner died. With certain actors or directors, there is a real outpouring of emotions toward them, even though there's no real personal connection. What actor or director do you admire like that?

Wait, George Lucas didn't direct one of the Star Wars?

No, he didn't direct Empire or Return of the Jedi?

Oh, I didn't know that.

Lucas directed the first Star Wars and the three prequels.

Ohhhhh. I see.

So what actor or director meant something to you growing up?

Oh, gosh. I hesitate to say, it's like I'm willing somebody's death. [Laughs]

Oh, no, don't do that... Just someone that you admired their work growing up.

I'm friends with Jason Ritter and, you know, his father died. And I didn't know Jason at the time, but when I heard that John Ritter died, you have that feeling like you lost an uncle. And it's kind of a misguided feeling because you don't know the person. My mom was very upset. And it's because... I guess it's because, in the case of John Ritter, he seemed like such a wonderful person. So that's a strange feeling, of course.

Is Zombieland 2 next for you?

I don't know, actually. It may take a while to... What is the word? Reboot? Is that the word?

Put the pieces in place?

Yeah, exactly.

This will be your first sequel, right?

Um... [Laughs] Yeah.

Is that exciting?

[Pauses] Well...

OK, put it this way, are you looking forward to watching Zombieland 2?

It's a risky thing to do -- a sequel -- of course. A lot of time what people like about the thing in the first place is not replicable. With a movie, there's not just the cast and the director and the writers working on it. There's a hundred people working on it and everybody has an effect. Maybe some people have less of an effect, but everybody has an effect. When something comes together and is popular and people like it, it has a lot to do with luck, coincidence, timing, all of that stuff. When you try to replicate that, it becomes difficult. Having said that, there are great sequels. Right? Well, The Godfather, obviously. And, um, I don't know... Wasn't Jurassic Park 2 really good? Or maybe not that one.

The Lost World? Well, it made a lot of money.

Oh, but not good? I don't remember.

Silence of the Lambs is technically a sequel to Manhunter. But then Manhunter was remade as Red Dragon, which is considered a prequel, so it's confusing to me.

[Laughs] Oh, right. But it wasn't with the same actors. Brian Cox, I think, was in it? Well, that's a good way to do it then.

The second and third Lord of the Rings movies are good.

But I guess that and The Godfather were based on source material that had a life to it. Actually, Zombieland has a similar origin. Because they wrote it as a TV series, they wrote several episodes as a TV series. Then it didn't get accepted or picked up, so they turned it into a feature. Anyway, so the point is, it kind of has a similar background to The Godfather. [Laughs] No, I'm kidding.

When it's compared to everything else you do, Zombieland seems so unlike you.


It's obvious from this conversation how much you enjoy that film, now. How did you wind up agreeing to it in the first place?

Well, I didn't crack open the first page of the script for months because of the title. I didn't think it was something that could have good characters and good dialogue. And then when I read it, I immediately realized that it was great -- in many ways, far more sophisticated and rich in character than a lot of independent movies that I'm signed on to do which are supposed to emphasize those things because they don't have guns. And I'm not the only one who felt that way. There are four great actors. Abigail Breslin gets offered every movie where there's a girl in the world. Emma Stone, the same thing, and Woody Harrleson. I think we all felt that way. And just because it happened to be, you know, commercial and occasionally silly, we all felt that we were really having a opportunity to play full people. Situations were generally funny, and the aesthetics that were created by the director, Ruben [Fleischer], were perfect. As a package, it may look silly or inconsistent with doing theater -- but the details are, at least to me, the same.

And it's the one movie that you can watch

Yeah. [Pauses] Yeah, I don't know why. [Smiles]. Ruben, who directed that movie -- I just did another movie with him [30 Minutes or Less] -- he just has his own aesthetic that he brings to the movie that seem to me like watching myself inside of a video game. I don't see the work I was doing in the same way. It's like, I don't know... I don't feel as exposed. Maybe?

MONDAY: Jesse Eisenberg on Awards Season, Narcissism and His Feelings About an Oscar Nomination

TUESDAY: Jesse Eisenberg on Using Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg and His Next Project (Which May Involve You)

WEDNESDAY: Jesse Eisenberg on AOL Chat Rooms and Why He Hates Watching The Social Network

THURSDAY: Jesse Eisenberg on Bill Murray, Walking Dead and Why He Became an Actor

FRIDAY: Jesse Eisenberg on Zombieland 2, Good Sequels and Missing John Ritter


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