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Q&A – Holy Rollers’ Jesse Eisenberg on Jewish Drug Mules, Zombie Killers, and David Fincher’s Facebook Movie

It sounds like the opening of a tasteless joke: two Hasidic Jews are employed by a New York drug dealer to smuggle drugs from Amsterdam to the States. But the scenario isn’t played for too many laughs in Kevin Asch’s drama Holy Rollers, in which Zombieland‘s Jesse Eisenberg plays a naïve drug mule who turns his back on his family and his faith after receiving a taste of the finer things in life. It’s one of three films the versatile young talent has in theaters this week, and his acting plate remains full with David Fincher’s anticipated Facebook drama on the schedule, as well as a second trip through Zombieland.

Q: So, Holy Rollers is based on a true story.

A: Right, but I read the script without knowing that. When I got the script, it was called Untitled Ecstasy Project, and that didn’t really appeal to me, based on the title. Every few months, I get sent a drug movie, and, almost without exception, they are all terrible. It’s all close-ups of dilated pupils. But with this one I was surprised to learn that not only were the characters interesting and well-drawn-out people but they also were Hasidic Jews. That made it so much more compelling.

Q: It’s also compelling how fear plays into the motivations of the characters. In the beginning, your character, Sam, is terrified at the idea of being a drug mule. But, later, he’s using scare tactics to intimidate other young mules who’ve been recruited.

A: That’s exactly right. Another part of the movie that I really wanted to emphasize was this idea that, if you don’t behave, the drug community can drop you. There’s always one guy who you think has all of the power, and everybody has to kowtow to this one guy. But he really doesn’t actually hold that much authority. He holds the threat of authority, rather than the actual authority.

Q: There’s also some humor in Holy Rollers. And it’s
your co-star, Justin Bartha, who brings a lot of that energy.

A: You know, that was just one of the best experiences of my life. We’ve
been friends for years. As an actor, I like to take things inward and
(Justin) is very comfortable taking things outward. He’s a much more
extroverted actor than I am. So as we developed these characters, we
created a dynamic where I was totally uncomfortable in all of the places where he was most comfortable.

Q: Can you tell me anything about David Fincher’s Facebook
movie, The Social Network, where you play Mark Zuckerberg? It’s
supposed to be a thriller, but the birth of Facebook doesn’t sound
thrilling.

A: Well, it’s certainly not a thriller in the traditional sense. I don’t
know how to describe the tone because I haven’t seen even one second of
it. It’s written by Aaron Sorkin, so it’s extremely clever, with long
passages of dialogue. But David Fincher certainly brings a very unique
vision to every movie he makes, and so I’m curious to see how this one turns out.

Q: So, how many zombie scripts have you received in the wake
of Zombieland?

A: None — though I’m just waiting on one, which would be the sequel that
hopefully [screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick] are working on. I
don’t know. Maybe my agents have stepped up, and they don’t show me
any, because most of the Zombieland-type scripts are really
bad. That happened to be a great script, but not because of the genre.
It was because of everything that wasn’t in the genre: the characters,
the humor. It’s very hard to replicate.

Q: Are you nervous about trying to replicate it in a sequel?

A: I’m hardly the most notable person in Zombieland. The other
actors in it are way more famous than I am. In terms of a fear of
replicating something, I would be the least threatened by being in a bad
movie, simply because people don’t know who I am.

Q: You’ve said that in other interviews, but it’s totally not
true! Adventureland found its audience, and Zombieland was
a hit.

A: But that was the first movie that I was in that was commercially
successful. Woody Harrelson, meanwhile, is in hundreds of amazing films.
But this is just to say that I would probably be the least threatened
by the idea of being in a movie that couldn’t replicate [the original].
We all wanted to do Zombieland. It wasn’t like, “Wow, this
one’s going to be a hit.” No one ever thought of it as a movie that was
bound to be successful. We all thought it was just so funny, and the
characters were so great, and the director had such an interesting
vision for it. That’s why we did it. And that’s, I assume, why we would
do another one.

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