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Q&A – Jesse Eisenberg Explains How Mark Zuckerberg Led Him to His Role in Rio

Oscar nominees will tell you that the run-up to the Academy Awards can be a grueling marathon. Days become endless cycles of screenings, interviews, and parties. The travel itinerary can take you from Los Angeles or New York to London, Toronto, Palm Springs, and back to Hollywood — sometimes in the same week. So when Jesse Eisenberg — Best Actor nominee for The Social Network — needed a break, he’d go to Rio. Not the Brazilian capital, but the animated film by Ice Age director Carlos Saldanha. Eisenberg began our conversation with some Social Network talk before moving onto the Oscars, Anne Hathaway, and how Rio connects with Zombieland.

Q: Were you personally interested in doing an animated feature?

A: Well, I was in Los Angeles shooting The Social Network, and I discovered that on the weekends I was having a bit of a difficult time shaking that character. He was so rigid and carried a lot of anger and fear. When they asked me if I would be interested in doing this movie and recording it on the weekends, I saw it as a wonderful opportunity to kind of take a break from that character but still be able to perform. I loved the story. I come from a family of animal-rights activists, and so to be involved in a movie that provided such a wonderful message about protecting the environment and endangered species was a great opportunity for me.

Q: Is there anything you miss about Oscar season?

A: I was on basically a five-month press tour around the world promoting that movie. And as much as I loved talking about the movie, there is a point after which there’s not much more you can say about it that everyone hasn’t already heard. I’m so honored to have been a part of it, but I’m glad that it has chilled out. Being nominated was a huge honor for me, of course, and it was great to have such wonderful seats at the Academy Awards, where my Rio co-star Anne Hathaway hosted and performed.

Q: Do you think there will ever come a day when an actor will be nominated for an Oscar for doing voicework?

A: Well, it’s different. When you are in a live-action movie, you have so many more options to express yourself. You can use your body and your gestures and facial expressions. When you are doing an animated movie, you really only have your voice. And so I found that I started to overact in a way that would not be good for a live-action movie. Because you have to overdo things to achieve the perfect energy for a scene. It’s a good argument. I don’t know if you’ll ever convince the Academy, but it’s a compelling point.

Q: You’re in Rio de Janeiro for the film’s world premiere. Are you finding time for a little fun?

A: It’s actually hard to do a lot. I’ve been traveling a lot over the past few months for work, and I built in a few extra days. But Rio is one of those amazing locations that requires more than just a few extra days. I have been hiking. The terrain is incredible, as people will see in this movie. There are huge rock formations and mountains jutting out of the city. It’s a great hiking city, with beaches surrounding the city. There’s an endless amount of things to do.

Q: You’re such a New Yorker, though. Do you feel out of your element?

A: Nah, I love to travel. I’m away for half of the year as it is.

Q: Your director, Carlos Saldanha, told me it was your performance in Zombieland that convinced him you were the right actor to voice Blu. Do you see the similarities between your Zombieland character and this bird?

A: Yeah, I do. Blu is a very cautious bird, which is what makes him such a wonderful character. He’s also very open-minded and optimistic. He comes down to Rio after being raised in Minnesota and never learning how to fly. But he maintains a very open attitude. He’s eager to try to fit into the culture, rather than to change the culture to suit him. While he’s in Rio, he kind of goes on an incredible adventure and learns to discover who exactly he is supposed to be: a flying, samba-dancing macaw.

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