Night Moves: An interview with Jesse Eisenberg
Jesse Eisenberg is the lead actor of eco-thriller Night Moves by Kelly Reichardt. The picture explores the preparation of an attack on a dam in the state of Oregon, focusing on the personal difficulties of the three members of the eco-activist group.
How did you react when you read the script? Were you interested in the political side of it?
I looked at my character; my involvement is just what the character is experiencing. It’s not my prerogative to make a statement with it.
I loved that the role seemed endlessly interesting and mysterious: he is a guy who buries everything he thinks and feels. He’s a very thoughtful person, he doesn’t understand himself, he carries out destructive and dangerous actions.
When I was younger I watched Old Joy [an earlier movie from director Kelly Reichardt] in a movie theatre; during the first 15 minutes I had no idea what it was… the same happened here. She structures stories in a way they creep up on you, a great quality.
Did you do any research on environmental activism?
Before filming I had read a lot about environmental activism; my character was working on a farm so I worked on a farm during the year as well to understand what it’s like. It’s all helpful; it gave me a new sense of how time works. I live in NYC where everything is fast and efficient. When you work and live on a farm everything is slow; walking from your house to the farm takes 20 minutes. Everything is different so it’s important to understand it, this slowing down effect. Josh looks down when he walks, he appreciates nature.
Is it attractive to you?
It’s a nice change of pace; my mind is not used to that – I don’t know why. Probably because I grew up in NYC, and it’s a nice change for a small amount of time.
Your character changes throughout the movie; is a legitimate idea taken too far?
When I read the script I thought: he is very mysterious, but you need to know what you are doing all the time when you act. You can’t be mysterious. So I imagined that he probably grew up in the suburbs and at some point he became disenchanted and moved out to a farm. He had to feel compensated becoming an activist, because he doesn’t truly understand himself.
Then the events kind of force him to come to terms with the behaviour.
Did you change as well in terms of everyday contribution to the environment?
We filmed it in Oregon, northwest, and there’s a lot of deforestation there. They cut down huge chunks of land. When you drive around the area it makes you feel… bad. In NYC it’s very easy to consume a lot and dispose of a lot, without realising it. I always try to do environmentally sound things: riding a bike everywhere I can or shopping at the grocery store selling local organic products.
Your character at some point sees a dying deer at the edge of the road, he stops the car to check it and he realises it’s pregnant. Instead of trying to help release the baby, he coldly pushes it down the woods.
Josh is a soldier in a war, and he knows that war has a lot of collateral damages. When he blows the dam he doesn’t consider that someone could be hurt. The deer is emblematic of his life: he cares about the big plan and everything else is a side effect. Even in his own life, he sacrifices himself for the mission.
When it appears that Dena could reveal the plan to the police, Josh doesn’t seem to be scared of being imprisoned – he seems to be angry because she is betraying his trust.
Josh and Dena are both soldiers with a mission and the fact that she threatens to reveal their plan, to him it feels like the worst thing you can do. Worse than being in trouble.
How was working with Dakota [Fanning] and Peter [Sarsgaard]?
I like them very much but in the film I had to act mysteriously so I wasn’t looking at them on the set either. I spent a lot of time on the character; I wasn’t looking at them in the scenes. By the end of it, I had to apologise to them because I wasn’t interacting.
Peter is amazing, I grew up watching him; he is someone I kind of modelled myself after even though we are very different. It was awesome to work with him.
Was it difficult to interpret Josh?
Yes, my background is theatre so I speak a lot, I’m used to dialogues… this is different; I have never done a role like this one. He buries everything he thinks, he doesn’t talk to anybody.
Is it hard if you don’t have words on the script?
Yes, although not much harder. That’s why I kept asking Kelly: what is he thinking here? She didn’t want to answer the questions completely because the character is mysterious. He is driven by the need to have convictions, the need to have strong feelings about something. Even if it’s not fully thought through.
Your character doesn’t seem to be interested in taking credit for the action.
My character thinks he is going to be appreciated. In one scene, when he goes to the farm, he seeks the approval from his peers, however they disapprove of his plan. They think it’s theatre and not effective; there are thousands of dams and if you bomb one it doesn’t matter. How can you take credit after so much criticism?
How is working with Kelly?
She is a decisive person with strong ideas; if there are two lines of dialogue, she’ll film five minutes before and five minutes after the dialogue. It ends up giving you a sense that the character is living in that kind of space, not just there to move the plot along. By living in the story you end up immersing yourself in the story more.
How do you balance theatre and cinema?
When I don’t work on a movie I would write a play and work to get it done – it takes years, frankly. I did a play this year from January to May. I will do it next year again. It takes a lot of time but you have a lot of time as an actor.
What are your future plans?
I start a movie in three weeks in New Mexico; it’s called Midnight Sun, by Chris Eigeman. It’s about the creation of the atomic bomb.
Sounds like an interesting project. Thanks a lot Jesse and have a nice day.
Filippo L’Astorina, the Editor
For further information on the 70th Venice Film Festival visit here.
Follow our daily reports from the Venice Film Festival here.