Jesse Eisenberg hates going to the movies. “I get anxious watching them because I’m aware of the artifice,” says the 25-year-old elfin star of such heartfelt coming-of-age tales as The Squid and the Whale and Adventureland. “I start to feel like I’m part of that.” By the end of this year, Eisenberg will have filmed more movies than he’s seen. (He’s only caught three.) And don’t even get him started on the torture of seeing himself on camera. “My therapist made me watch the trailer for [my upcoming film] Zombieland as immersion therapy.”
In fact, there isn’t much the chatty actor does enjoy about the movie business—“Every script is about a guy trying to have sex with lots of women. I read them and my veins hurt, like, what am I doing with my life?”—except, of course, acting. This fall he shoulders his first big-budget picture: the Tarantino-esque Zombieland, a tongue-in-cheek take on done-to-death zombie movies. He plays a precocious slayer learning the art of annihilating the undead from a grizzled Woody Harrelson.
But even a meaty part in a rock ’em, sock ’em horror comedy and a string of upcoming roles—“most are in the money-raising stages,” he says—aren’t enough to quell the natural born skeptic’s concern about his career prospects. A grueling casting process for Zombieland, which had the native New Yorker auditioning 10 times and barely snagging the role, encouraged Eisenberg, who lives with his girlfriend of seven years, to look beyond acting. He’s now pursuing an undergraduate anthropology degree at the New School and finishing up his first novel. A musical he wrote last year, Me Time—about the most self-indulgent woman in the world—is getting produced. Inspiration for the project was close at hand. “In New York City, there’s so much self-indulgence,” he says. “As an actor in a magazine talking about myself, I have the inside scoop.”