Jesse Eisenberg is no stranger to playing with people’s minds in fast-talking, genius-type roles (ahem, The Social Network), but he is a stranger to literally playing with people’s minds. In the summer movie Now You See Me, Eisenberg takes on the role of one of the four horsemen, a team of Robin Hood-inspired magicians who use their powers to perform illegal maneuvers to take from the rich and give to the poor. EW caught up with Eisenberg to talk about his background in magic, what he learned on set, and what fans can expect from the mysterious flick, which also stars Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher, Dave Franco, Mélanie Laurent, Morgan Freeman, and Michael Caine.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Tell me a little about the film itself.
JESSE EISENBERG: The story line is about these individual great magicians who team up to form this super group of magicians to pull off these daunting tasks. The first one involves robbing a bank in Paris during one of their shows, and they’re brought together by this secret organization that they all have heard about but have never been exposed to or even know if it’s real.
How did you get involved? What intrigued you about this role in particular?
They sent it to me, and I thought it was a great script. The character they sent it to me for was this fun, charismatic showman. I was doing a play at the time in New York where I was playing a character who was terrified all the time, so I didn’t get to experience any of the fun of performing in the show because my character never had any fun. So I was able to go right from that play to this movie and experience all the joy of performing for real, and they put together an incredible ensemble. I think I was the first one to come on board, so every time they’d tell me who else was signing onto the movie, it just became an increasingly wonderful project.
In the trailer, we see the magicians steal money from a bank? So is your character good or bad?
The people in the audience are selected because they have been exploited for some reason. Although it seems like a random collection of audience members, you start to discover that they have been selected for very important reasons.
So it’s kind of like a Robin Hood scenario?
Have you ever had any personal experiences with magic?
When I started doing the movie, I tried to learn as much as I could. And we had some incredible consultants who I met with before we started to rehearse the movie. When I was younger, I was friends with a magician. My mother was a birthday party clown when I was younger and so for my birthdays, she bartered with the local birthday-party magician so that he would do my birthdays and she would do his kids’, like an exchange. I kind of felt like I had an inside knowledge of that world.
Do you have a favorite trick from the film?
The magic that we use for the movie is magic that would be done in a few years from now. So all the tricks we were doing were really kind of cutting-edge stuff that’s very possible but probably not at the moment, but stuff that is taking from what’s currently done and kind of extrapolating to imagine what will be done in the future. So the tricks are really amazing. In the first scene of the movie, I’m asking a group of people on the street corner who’ve just come from a bar to choose a card. I flip through a whole deck and I ask them to choose a card, and then the card appears on the side of a tower, like a 50-story tower nearby, the card that they randomly selected. And this is a very possible trick, and it’s kind of explained throughout the movie how we do these tricks, so it’s kind of fun for people to see how these tricks are actually done.
So did the consultants on set train you all?
The four magicians each specialize in a different area. There’s a mentalist, a pick pocket, an escape artist, and my character is, he considers himself a sleight-of-mind magician instead of sleight-of-hand. His tricks are more psychological. Not mind reading, but using psychological tricks to perform elaborate card tricks. And so we each had a consultant that specialized in our field, and they spent time with us. The main consultant on the movie is a guy named David Kwong and my character is kind of doing the stuff he does, so he was on set every day. And it was really fun, and it kind of became the thing where we would try out different tricks to each other. I, of course, didn’t know one tenth of one percent of the stuff he does, but it was just fun being in that world all the time for a few months.
How often did you practice magic?
For the movie it’s important it looks authentic, so you end up practicing something like they do, which is to say several hours a day. When a magician is practicing a trick, they’ll practice eight hours a day for an extended period of time, so you end up practicing something. You’re not as good as them, but repetitions enough to do it for somebody forgiving. And yeah, I do know some stuff now, I guess.
Do you have a specific trick? Are you a card trick person?
Yeah, my character is. Also, there were these hand doubles on the movie, so when I’m like flipping through the deck, shuffling in that very fancy way, that’s somebody else as well.
Is there any other element of the film the audience wouldn’t gather from the trailer?
One of the interesting parts of it I think probably for an audience is they’re being tracked by this FBI squad [played by Mark Ruffalo and Mélanie Laurent]. And they go to Morgan Freeman’s character, who is like this magic debunker, and he spends his life trying to reveal the secrets of magicians. Through them uncovering our tricks, the audience learns how we did these tricks, so it’s interesting. To me, when I was reading the script, I thought, “Oh, this is so fascinating” the way he sees things that seem absolutely impossible and then through the story line, [shows] how they are not only possible but how they are so meticulously planned for months and months.
Are the four magicians friends?
The characters in this, they each specialize in something very specific and have developed these huge egos based on being the best at their specific crafts, so when they come together there’s an initially contentious relationship because they are each the best in their field and now are kind of stuck together in a four-person team. But over the course of the movie they learn to work together in this really incredible way to create these amazing illusions.
Now You See Me hits theaters this Friday, May 31.