Who’s the biggest nerd in the movies? Jesse Eisenberg, who played the older brother in “The Squid and the Whale” and starred in “Adventureland,” might seem like an outside contender, but he has three films opening this month—“Solitary Man” (with Michael Douglas), “Holy Rollers” (about Hasidic ecstasy mules in Brooklyn), and “The Living Wake” (co-written by the comedian Mike O’Connell)—and, this fall, he’ll star in “The Social Network,” as Mark Zuckerberg, the creator of Facebook.
“The Living Wake,” a dark, dreamlike comedy, is the most low-budget of the four. Eisenberg plays a factotum for a blowhard, played by O’Connell, and spends most of the film pedalling his co-star around in a bicycle rickshaw, or pedicab. On a recent windy day, Eisenberg showed up in Central Park for a reversal of that role: he was going to be taken on a pedicab ride around midtown. He wore jeans, a red Indiana baseball cap, and a white button-down shirt over a navy T-shirt.
He hailed a pedicab. The driver’s name was Oz. “Where are you from?” Oz asked, pulling into the traffic of Columbus Circle.
“I’m from here,” Eisenberg said.
“Here?” Oz said.
“Where are you from?” Eisenberg asked.
“I’m from Istanbul.” The pedicab lurched and veered across several lanes of traffic. “I’m a teacher,” Oz shouted, over the roar of buses. “I teach math—integral calculus. You know integral calculus?”
“No,” Eisenberg said. “I’m not good at math.” The pedicab continued down Broadway. “I grew up in New Jersey,” Eisenberg, who is twenty-six, said. His parents, a sociology professor (father) and a dancer turned part-time birthday-party clown (mother), moved to East Brunswick when he was five. “I went to a lot of Broadway plays as a kid, so I thought I wanted to live around here,” he said as the pedicab approached the theatre district. “I thought that’s what real actors do. But now I know that no one lives here. It’s just offices and theatres.” The pedicab cut in front of a car, whose driver proceeded to lean on his horn for three terrifying seconds. Eisenberg ignored it and said, “Can we go down to Forty-fifth Street?” He pointed to the Palace Theatre: “When I was fifteen, we used to sneak in here to see the second act of ‘Beauty and the Beast.’ They didn’t sell the front two rows because you couldn’t see over the orchestra. I must have seen the second act of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ ten times. I didn’t even like it.”
“Where now?” Oz asked.
“Should we go back up Eighth?” Eisenberg said. The pedicab careered past Planet Hollywood. “This used to be the All-Star Café,” he said. “A sports-themed bar. They used to serve me for free, because I would go there all the time by myself. I was fourteen. I was in a Tennessee Williams play. I think they felt bad for me, so they gave me matzo-ball soup.” Eisenberg started acting after a traumatizing sixth-grade year at a big new school. “Imagine a place where kids are kissing each other and smoking cigarettes, and it’s scary,” he said. “I was miserable there. I didn’t fit in.” He started a kind of sit-down strike, and ended up in a mental hospital briefly. The next year, he said, “I started acting professionally, because it was the only way to get out of school with a legitimate reason.”
In high school, things improved. Eisenberg transferred to the Professional Performing Arts School, in Manhattan, and, at eighteen, was cast in the movie “Roger Dodger.” From the beginning, he said, he’d found acting easier than, say, going to a birthday party. “If you’re terribly uncomfortable with yourself, being given a script is very comforting,” he said.
The pedicab pulled into the Park, and Eisenberg thanked the driver. There was some quibbling about the fare—“Thirteen blocks,” Oz said. “Multiply by two and you get twenty-six”—but Eisenberg quickly gave in. “You’re the mathematician,” he said, and agreed on seventy-five dollars.
He sat down on a rock and talked about writing—he has been writing plays, and two of them will be produced next year. He goes to therapy once a week and takes adult-education classes in anthropology at the New School. There socialization isn’t a problem, he said: “Most of my classmates are senior citizens.”
A group of teen-age girls walked by and pointed. One shouted, “I love ‘Adventureland’!”
“Thanks a lot!” Eisenberg said, waving. The girls shouted something else. “I don’t know what they’re saying,” he said. “But the burden is not on me. That’s what my shrink says: the burden is not on me to make a social interaction that is unnatural natural.” He kept on smiling and waving. Source
A Pedicab ride with Jesse Eisenberg
Posted by Steph on May 11, 2010