Jesse Eisenberg’s Drive To Humanize ‘Icon of Evil’ Lex Luthor

Actor Worked With Screenwriter To Go Beyond Villain's One-Dimensional 'Cruelty'

By

Jesse Eisenberg loves to flip the script. In his recent collection of short stories, “Bream Gives Me Hiccups,” he takes everyday, stereotypical characters and transforms them into something else — something more interesting.

“How can I make this mother sympathetic,” he mused, “while she says the most horrible things I can make her? How can I make these funny little stories also heartbreaking?”

For Eisenberg, working on a role is much like working on his fiction: To take on something new, he said, he has to justify it.

Stay informed on the latest news

Sign up for WPR’s email newsletter.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

“I’m constantly asking myself, ‘Am I doing enough?,’” he said. For the role of Lex Luthor in the forthcoming “Batman v Superman,” he knew he needed to take the character to places audiences hadn’t necessarily seen him before.

“Lex Luthor is an icon of evil,” Eisenberg said, “who is known almost for one word: cruelty. My goal over the several-month period of filming was to make this character have the opposite of that, too.”

To get to that point, Eisenberg talked extensively with screenwriter Chris Terrio, who also wrote the film “Argo.” Their conversations covered not only the specific Luthor backstory presented in the movie, but also its connection to broader themes in literary history. Those conversations, he said, are what make a character memorable to the audience and the actor.

“I think it’s really special for an actor to be able to do something like this movie and make it as intellectually or emotionally stimulating as a play,” he said.

Eisenberg said he approaches these roles as an obligation as much as a challenge: “An actor’s job is to bring humanity to it. It’s the actor’s job to say, ’I’m not only going to physically embody this person, but I’m going to provide emotional reasons for this person’s behavior.”

Join the challenge. Goal: 500 gifts before June 27. Join the challenge.