2006-12-14 / Front Page

‘Same sweet kid,’ but now he’s a movie star

Jesse Eisenberg, 23, tells local audience about his roles in major films
BY MARY ANNE ROSS Correspondent

BY MARY ANNE ROSS
Correspondent

PHOTOS SCOTT FRIEDMAN
East Brunswick native Jesse Eisenberg takes questions from the audience prior to a screening of “The Squid and the Whale,” in which he co-starts, at the township’s library Sunday.
PHOTOS SCOTT FRIEDMAN East Brunswick native Jesse Eisenberg takes questions from the audience prior to a screening of “The Squid and the Whale,” in which he co-starts, at the township’s library Sunday. EAST BRUNSWICK — Fans of the township’s Fine Film series had a special treat Sunday.

Jesse Eisenberg, a township native with a growing list of big-screen acting credits, came to the East Brunswick Public Library to chat with the audience before and after a screening of his new film, “The Squid and the Whale.”

More than 100 people showed up to hear Eisenberg and watch the film about an intellectual couple living in Brooklyn in the 1980s. Writer and director Noah Baumach based the film on his own family and his parents’ divorce. Eisenberg portrays Baumach as “Walt,” the eldest son.

“It’s always difficult to play real people, but with this I sometimes felt I was really being watched closely because I was playing the director,” he said.

The 23-year-old actor responded good-naturedly to questions about the film, his career and the movie industry.

Linda Seiler and her mom, Isabel, both of Old Bridge, share a laugh with Eisenberg      during the question-and-answer session.
Linda Seiler and her mom, Isabel, both of Old Bridge, share a laugh with Eisenberg during the question-and-answer session. “You know, it’s a long process when you’re making an independent film. The hardest part is getting the financing. That took three years. The actual shooting only took 23 days. The editing process takes a few months, and then it needs to be presented at film festivals with the hope that it will make a good impression and someone will pick it up and distribute it,” he said.

“The Squid and the Whale,” which also stars Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney, did make a good impression, as did Eisenberg. The movie won several awards including one at the Sundance Film Festival. Eisenberg received rave reviews, and was nominated for the 2006 Independent Spirit Best Supporting Actor award and the 2005 Broadcast Film Critics’ 2005 Best Young Actor award.

Though he may be young, Eisenberg has already made several movies and worked with leaders in the industry, including Al Pacino, Isabella Rossellini and Jennifer Beals. He was directed by M. Night Shyamalan for his role in “The Village” and recently finished a film called “Spring Break in Bosnia,” in which he co-stars with Richard Gere and Terrence Howard.

If he had to choose, his best role to date was as “Nick” in the 2002 drama “Roger Dodger,” which featured Rossellini, Beals and Campbell Scott.

“I guess my favorite project so far has been ‘Roger Dodger.’ It was the first time I was working on a movie like that. Everything was very exciting and fresh,” he said.

Growing up in East Brunswick, Eisenberg attended the Frost and Hammarskjold schools and Churchill Junior High School. He went to East Brunswick High School for one year before switching to a performing arts school in New York. Although he was involved in various acting projects growing up, he doubts if anyone realized it.

“I always felt uncomfortable talking to people about what I was doing. I really kept the two things very separate,” he said.

His senior year, he got his big break by winning the “Roger Dodger” role. He appeared in “The Emperor’s Club” around the same time. Up until that point, he was not entirely convinced he would be able to make a career of it.

“Acting is tough because you never really know if you’re going to be able to get work. I was really lucky,” he said.

Eisenberg’s family — parents Barry and Amy and sisters Kerry and Hallie Kate — still lives in East Brunswick.

Performing arts is nothing new to the family, as Hallie Kate Eisenberg, 14, is an actress who starred as a young child in a series of Pepsi commercials, co-starred with Minnie Driver in the film “Beautiful” and played Helen Keller in a television remake of “The Miracle Worker.”

On Dec. 17, the library will have a 2 p.m. screening of the new movie “How to Eat Fried Worms,” in which Hallie Kate plays “Erica.” Free tickets are available at the library.

Despite Jesse’s success, he has not “gone Hollywood.”

“He is still the same sweet, genial kid I remember,” said Ellen Dweck, public information specialist at the East Brunswick Public Library. Dweck’s son Adam grew up with Jesse.

“He’s very serious about his craft,” she said. “He has matured into a very responsible, fine young man.”

Eisenberg’s presence was certainly appreciated by the local audience Sunday.

“It was a great experience to view the film and have the actor here to discuss the different aspects of its production. It really added another dimension,” East Brunswick resident Robert Da Silva said.

Arlene Freedgood, also of East Brunswick, is an avid fan of independent films like “The Squid and the Whale.”

“I really liked the movie. It was very honest and it was wonderful having Jesse here. He really told it like it is,” she said.

“It was a great experience to view the film and have the actor here to discuss the different aspects of its production. It really added another dimension,” East Brunswick resident Robert Da Silva said.

Arlene Freedgood, also of East Brunswick, is an avid fan of independent films like “The Squid and the Whale.”

“I really liked the movie. It was very honest and it was wonderful having Jesse here. He really told it like it is,” she said.

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