News & Views

Jesse Eisenberg / Interview

by Contagious Team

Contagious chats to the actor and Academy Award Nominee about social networks, creating roles and his website OneUpMe, following his appearance at the MOFILM seminar at Cannes Lions

Contagious / You don't have a profile on Facebook, but what are the technologies and innovations that do excite you?

JE / I've always been interested in geography, so definitely something like Google Maps. I don't know if Google Maps was the first to do this, but specifically the technology where you can not only see things in macro, which is what I was always interested in, but in micro as well. It's so fascinating and also disturbing that you could see a picture of your mother's house. (Contagious speedily furnishes Jesse with a link to Wilderness Downtown).

Do you think that the way people develop a 'personality' on Facebook is comparable to how you would prepare for a role, as an actor?

If the role that I'm asked to play is naturalistic then in a way it's similar to creating a persona, where you want to show a good side of yourself. But I also play roles that are not natural, for example, the roles that I'm asked to do in theatre are oftentimes not natural, and for that you're not really showing all sides of yourself. Of course, the fundamental difference is creating the illusion of truth - on Facebook there's a bit of a bigger leap to make, because you're saying something is actually true, whereas in a movie there's an understanding between the audience that what you're doing is not me - Jesse - but the role.

How impressed have you been with the ideas that the OneUpMe community has thrown up? [OneUpMe is a wordplay site launched by Eisenberg and his cousin, who works as social design evangelist at Facebook] Do you think user-generated content competes with more polished professional outputs? 

Not only does it compete, but oftentimes it can surpass. I started this website really just for a few friends of mine to create a community of a very limited group of people who are similar to me and from the same background. What we discovered was that when you do that you get very similar responses because the references are all very much the same, as opposed to broadening your pool and casting a wider net. 

When you do that, you realise that references are different, humour is different, but just as valuable - in many instances more valuable. And that's exactly what MOFILM does - it casts a wide net for aspiring filmmakers, and not only do they get really good content, but brands get a fresh perspective on an identity that they might have lived with for decades.

You've spoken about the artifice of film production and when you know more about it, it can become disturbing to discover how commercial it is. What do you think of the fact that Cannes Lions is entirely based around celebrating commerciality?

That's great and it should be done. I just mean as an actor, while you're acting, at least for me, I find it distracting to be aware of this while you're doing the job. Afterwards, if I'm asked to do publicity for the movie or help in the marketing of the movie all that stuff is really important and should be discussed at events like this, for example, but, while you're acting, ideally it should be the furthest thing from your mind.

Do you think social media has upped levels of creativity in potentially unexpected individuals?

I'm sure by virtue of there being more content it can increase the quality - because more people are doing it. People are learning from each other, sharing things quickly and realising what works and what doesn't. 

I write plays to be performed in small theatres in New York and that it takes me a year to write and I have to do that in a very quiet setting. It would be very distracting to be at my computer. This is all to say that with social media and the fast pace that creativity is moving at, I imagine, you could lose the work that's created in solitude, in quietude and over a long time.

Is that something that you've found with OneUpMe, thanks to feedback via Facebook connect? 

As more people play the quality of the responses improved, but that's because the nature of the site is asking for something quick, a thought off the top of your head, not some long-form thoughtful response. 

It's also really interesting that the site was designed for users to respond anonymously and now users are responding with their Facebook profiles, so you see who is responding and go to their Facebook profile. The difference that I have noticed is that people don't respond with crass, sexual responses. For me there was nothing funny about it, it was just crass and in poor taste, not what I wanted from the site, which was to be very clever. Once we made the site personal and you were able to see who was responding, by virtue of knowing who you are the responses became higher brow.