Five Minutes With Jesse Eisenberg
This Friday marks the release of Holy Rollers, an independent film based on the true story of a drug ring that employed Hasidic Jews as smugglers—after all, who could look less like ecstasy mules? Eisenberg (left), the 26-year-old star of Adventureland and The Squid and the Whale, plays a smuggler who swiftly turns from a sheltered innocent into savvy negotiator, all the while straddling the divide between his pious community and an especially sin-filled secular world.
How did you prepare to play a Hasidic Jew?
The day after I read the script I went to Borough Park in Brooklyn, where a lot of Hasidim are concentrated, to see if I could realistically play this character. When I first read the script I thought it would be better if they just cast a Hasidic Jew. But I talked to some people and I realized they weren’t a monolithic group—they are individuals and some of them talk like me and stand like me. So I thought, yes, I think I can do this.
So the Hasidim were immediately receptive to talking with you?
Well, no. But I found there was one group that was very interested in speaking to me: the Chabad group. They look for secular Jews who they can encourage to become more religious, so they were eager to spend time with me. They never asked me what I was doing and I never told them. Well, except for one guy who spent two days with me—I felt he deserved to know—but he didn’t care because he didn’t have any context for it, since they don’t watch secular movies.
Are you indeed more religious after spending so much time with Chabad?
Technically, yes, because they gave me a Bar Mitzvah and I had never had one. But personally I was always just thinking about the movie and the character; I wasn’t really having a purely spiritual experience.
So wait—you learned a Torah portion in the process?
No. They were so eager to give me a Bar Mitzvah that they didn’t mind that I only knew the most basic prayers. They didn’t make me learn anything, and I didn’t get any checks from my grandmother.
Jesse Eisenberg, Justin Bartha and Jason Fuchs in Holy Rollers.
Have you ever had a stressful airport security encounter in real life?
I never get stopped. I probably couldn’t look more harmless if I wore a ballet outfit. Which I normally travel in anyway, of course.
In other words, the real life Jesse Eisenberg would make a great drug smuggler?
But I’d never accept that job, you know, what with all the movie work. Plus I don’t like flying so much. My ears pop.