Jesse Eisenberg makes magic in 'Now You See Me'

Jesse Eisenberg stars in “Now You See Me.”

  • He plays a showman who leads a group of magicians on a series of possibly illegal stunts.
  • Eisenberg studied David Copperfield and Penn and Teller for the way they perform and deconstruct magic.

JESSE EISENBERG has fun as a confident master of illusion in "Now You See Me," a masterful feat of illusion for an actor who wrestles with self-doubt.

"With 'Now You See Me' I was doing a play at the time in New York, and I was experiencing some pretty severe stage fright and nervousness when I read this script," said Eisenberg.

"I saw that this character was the most confident stage performer in the world, and I thought, this is a part I have to do, because it's a challenge for me, and will help me get over my fear of performing onstage."

He plays a Blaine/Copperfield-type showman who leads a group of magicians (Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher) on a series of possibly illegal stunts that attract the attention of the FBI (Mark Ruffalo) and a famous debunker of magicians' tricks (Morgan Freeman).

It's a very twisty, plot-heavy caper movie that itself is a change for Eisenberg, who's known for more high-toned fare like "The Social Network."

He wasn't sure the slick, action-packed "See Me" was in his wheelhouse.

"It seemed like there was so much action, that maybe the acting wouldn't be taken seriously, but then I was told who wanted to be in the movie, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Mark Ruffalo, and I thought, if we're getting those people, this could really be something special."

He also hooks up with Woody Harrelson, his buddy from "Zombieland."

"Woody had no hesitation. The role was originally written as an older British guy with a drinking problem, and Woody said, this is something I want to play. Plus we have a really nice rapport, so I was happy to have him involved."

Eisenberg knew little about French director Louis Leterrier.

"I didn't know his movies ("Clash of the Titans") but I knew actors who'd worked with him, and they love him because he adores actors. A lot of the time, directors see actors as pawns who get in the way with their pretentious ideas and emotional processes, but he loves actors."

To prepare, Eisenberg went to Las Vegas to see David Copperfield onstage, and studied Penn and Teller for the way they both perform and deconstruct magic.

"The confidence they project mirrors the confidence they need to deceive. Part of the success of deceiving the audience with magic is projecting this unshakable confidence. They're telling the audience that what they are doing it real, when in fact it is not."

Eisenberg said magic, to him, is the opposite of acting. When he inhabits a character, he's trying to be as real and as truthful and as authentic as possible.

"It's a similar net effect, but I'm not interested in knowing something they (audience members) don't. I'm not hiding or deceiving or cleverly deflecting attention. I know how I play a character, and I'm happy to reveal that."

He's happy to reveal that his next project is "The Double," by British writer/actor/director Richard Ayoade. Eisenberg stars in the title role, adapted from the Dostoevsky story about a meekly anonymous man who watches his unscrupulous physical double become diabolically popular.

"It's a great treat for an actor, to play guys who are the opposite of each other. Plus Richard is brilliant, and he's carefully selected every prop, every sound, to create this unique dystopian world, totally timeless, but totally consistent . . . I think it's the greatest thing that I've done."