Jesse Eisenberg has taken an interesting path from an unassuming character actor in small indie projects to one of the most in demand actors of his time. The actor that once personified collegiate uncertainty and nervousness has blazed an unexpected trail that has resulted in him playing one of the most prolific supervillains in comic book history in [Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice](tag:711870) and a stoned secret agent in the upcoming American Ultra. Methodically, much like his Lex Luthor counterpart, adding to his resume and making a name for himself with a long-range plan.
We're in an era where the box office is not dictated by big name actors like it once was. Getting actors that can convincingly slide into various genres, while delivering relatable human qualities that the viewer can connect to, are what get actors hired nowadays. From Chris Hemsworth to Chris Pratt, the most wanted stars have shown that they can adapt and fit into many different movie styles and tones. Despite his early reputation as a Michael Cera surrogate, Eisenberg has spent his career carefully expanding his acting abilities and various audience's exposure to him. He has taken the long, awkward path to the top, but he has reached it nonetheless. Let's take a look at the movies that have led Jesse Eisenberg in becoming one of the most wanted actors of his generation.
The Squid and the Whale (2005)
Many got their very first exposure to Eisenberg in the much acclaimed indie, The Squid and the Whale, which immediately established that he has some considerable acting chops. He largely carried the award-winning drama while unassumingly carrying the film to great heights. The drama explored the impact of divorce on a family and was a critical favorite, which opened a variety of doors for Eisenberg.
His role in the smaller, more relatable comedy was one of the early times that he would star in a R-rated comedy, with an established cast. Adventureland was the world's first real introduction to Eisenberg as a leading man, despite his unconventional presence. He shared the screen with future stars such as Kristen Stewart, Ryan Reynolds, Kirsten Wiig, and Bill Hader, proving he was not only a worthy part of that class of entertainers, but could be a star among them.
In the same year, Eisenberg scored his first big commercial hit in Zombieland. He co-starred with Woody Harrelson and burgeoning star Emma Stone in the irreverent movie that combined horror and comedy elements. The movie was a hit and cemented Eisenberg's spot as a recognizable face, who could hold audience's attention with his nervous mannerisms. The sudden success almost worked against him however, as many began to think of Eisenberg as a one trick pony or even more succinctly, the alternative to Michael Cera. That moniker would linger, but would only last a little more than a year, as Eisenberg redefined himself with his next big role.
The Social Network (2010)
A movie about the creation of Facebook seems like a good idea now, however, few could understand why visionary director David Fincher (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Se7en) would make the movie at the time. He cast Eisenberg as Mark Zuckerberg, the co-founder of Facebook, in a role that can only be defined as a turning point in his career. The Michael Cera label would quickly be shed like a monkey off of his back as he proved that he was capable of carrying a movie with his own acting prowess, not just simple comedic gimmicks. Despite Fincher's reputation as visual filmmaker, the movie was particularly restrained, focusing on the performances of a few key characters. Eisenberg's Zuckerberg was all at once relatable, cruel, brilliant, and distant. Jesse Eisenberg disappeared into the role and compelled audiences with his introverted charisma. His performance got him an Academy Award nomination and shot him into the upper tier of actors.
30 Minutes or Less (2011)
What is interesting about Eisenberg's Lex Luthorian conquest of Hollywood is that he has never seemed to forget his original audience. After his Oscar nomination, he jumped into a pizza delivery car with comedian Aziz Ansari and Danny McBride. The R-rated comedy, 30 Minutes or Less, caters to his same fanbase that made Adventureland and Zombieland cult favorites. While it wasn't a huge hit, it was a nice tip of the hat.
Eisenberg had already conquered both the R-rated comedy and drama markets with success, so adults were firmly aware of the actor. However, kids were not yet aware of the endearing ramblings and personality of Eisenberg. To remedy this, he headlined the animated franchise Rio, as the lead character Blu, a bird from the city thrust into the jungle. Both installments of the franchise were successful and Eisenberg had widened his fanbase once again. What is even more brilliant is that these young kids will grow into Superman and Batman fans in just a few years...
To Rome with Love (2012)
While To Rome with Love was not one of director Woody Allen's bigger successes, Eisenberg won the opportunity to star in a movie for the legendary filmmaker. This showed his commitment to varying his material and doing dramatic work as well. He can also say that he is now on the list of actors who have played an Allen surrogate character on film.
Now You See Me (2013)
In 2013, Eisenberg led another talented cast including Mark Ruffalo, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, and reunited with Woody Harrelson in the magician caper movie, Now You See Me. The heist movie showed how his stature in Hollywood had grown, as he was now the ringleader of an Oscar-caliber cast. Plus, the movie went on to be one of the surprise hits of the the year, spawning a sequel that is currently in post-production. This was a further confirmation that he had now become a draw at the box office and was primed to make the next step. Additionally, this might be the first time Eisenberg played someone who is genuinely cool. Like, really cool.
Batman v Superman and Lex Luthor
Up until this point, it was easy to imagine why a casting director chose Eisenberg for his given roles. However, when it was announced that he had won the role of Lex Luthor in director Zack Snyder's Batman vs Superman, the world let out a collective, "huh?" The pizza delivery guy from 30 Minutes of Less would be the ultimate match for Superman? For the first time, particularly in such a high profile project, Eisenberg was being cast against type.
Securing the role as perhaps the second most iconic villain in comic book history certainly is a big deal. Eisenberg is now in uncharted waters; not just professionally, but he is also a lead participant in an unprecedented plan by Warner Bros, to create a fully functional DC Comics film universe. His first appearance will be in next year's Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which will lead to many more appearances. Including rumored appearances in Suicide Squad and Justice League movies. In other words, he will appear in a lot of the most seen movies in the world, over the course of the next five years or so. This will push the demand for Eisenberg through the roof.
Eisenberg has shown his ability to handle different genres ranging from romantic comedies to being a dramatic lead. But, the one type of role that he had never been considered for was as an action hero. In the upcoming American Ultra, he seems to be playing the slacker role we have seen in other movies, but this time he has a hidden identity as a secret agent...
The thought of Eisenberg as an action star is laughable at first glance, but so is him playing Lex Luthor. Much less, it has been proven recently that audiences are flocking to see a new breed of action star. Just this year we have had surprise hits with Spy and Kingsman: The Secret Service, who both have unconventional action hero leads. It only makes sense that he would find himself as a stoner-class Jason Bourne.
Jesse Eisenberg has come a long way. Taking a slow and steady route from prototypical underdog to one of the most in demand actors of his generation, it is an unlikely story and even more unlikely path. It will be interesting to see what he does with his time on top over the next few years.