...and he was almost played by Jesse Eisenberg
Fans speculated for months about how Jimmy Olsen, Superman’s pal and ace photographer, might turn up in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
But even viewers on the lookout for Olsen in the blockbuster movie (in theaters now) might not realize where he shows up.
The truth is: Yes, Jimmy Olsen is in the movie. But he’s not identified by name — and he makes a rather hasty exit early in the story.
Some fans erroneously guessed that Scoot McNairy’s character would be The Daily Planet photojournalist, but McNairy actually plays an embittered amputee who lost both legs in the destruction of Metropolis depicted in 2013’s Man of Steel.
Instead, Olsen is played by Michael Cassidy, best known for his role on The O.C. and for playing a mysterious editor of The Daily Planet in the young Superman TV series Smallville.
It’s not a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it part, but … the appearance might cause viewers to flinch. That’s because Olsen is the photographer who accompanies Amy Adams’ Lois Lane on a dangerous mission to interview a warlord in Africa, and is soon outed as a CIA plant. Olsen’s punishment? He gets shot in the head and dies in front of a horrified Lane.
Director Zack Snyder explained his controversial decision to sacrifice the character in an interview with EW:
“We just did it as this little aside because we had been tracking where we thought the movies were gonna go, and we don’t have room for Jimmy Olsen in our big pantheon of characters, but we can have fun with him, right?”
It’s meant to be a shock to the audience, but Snyder ended up softening the blow by not identifying the character at the start. On the R-rated “Ultimate Edition” of the film, which will be released this summer, Olsen reveals himself up front. “He comes up to her and he goes, ‘Lois Lane, I’m Jimmy Olsen, photographer, obviously … You know, I’ve been assigned to you for this mission.’ But it turns out that Jimmy Olsen is a spook for the CIA.”
Early on in production, Snyder wanted to cast a famous face in the part so he could pull a Psycho — destabilizing the audience by unexpectedly killing off someone they thought would be a main character.
The actor he wanted ended up becoming Lex Luthor instead.
“I thought, if it were Jesse Eisenberg and he got out and he goes, ‘I’m Jimmy Olsen,’ you’d be like, oh my God, we’re gonna have Jimmy Olsen in the whole movie, right?’” Snyder says. “And then if he got shot, you’d just be like, ‘What!? You can’t do that.’”
Snyder and his wife, producer Deborah Synder, met with Eisenberg to pitch the idea of a sudden-death cameo. “I said, ‘I want to do this misdirect and you’d be great. You’d be a great Jimmy Olsen,’” the director says. “And he’s like, ‘Yeah, that’s cool,’ and he was being very Jesse in the meeting. Introverted but constantly going, ‘Okay, I see, uh-huh. So it’s sort of a pop-culture redirect, you’re gonna do, because of the certain status of an actor…’”
As Eisenberg thought out loud in rapid-fire bursts, Snyder watched the nervy, jangled young actor and started thinking of withdrawing the Jimmy Olsen offer. And after the 32-year-old actor left the meeting, Snyder turned to his wife: “I was like, ‘Wow, that guy is crazy… Debbie, what about Jesse as Lex?”
At that point, they had were still interviewing actors about the Luthor role — most of them older, more imposing figures, such as Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston.
“We talked about the usual suspects that you would imagine; any actor who has been bald, probably,” Synder says. “Bryan Cranston would have been great, right? And by the way, he’s an amazing actor. Can you imagine how different the movie would be?”
Instead, they decided to take a chance and experiment with a younger, weirder, and more frenetic Lex. Eisenberg said yes, but that wasn’t his first impulse when it came to the Jimmy Olsen part.
As Eisenberg obliquely told EW’s Keith Staskiewicz during production: “He met me for, yes, something else. And I wasn’t really interested in it. But his enthusiasm about the movie and his description of the movie sounded really interesting. … When they sent me the script they asked me to play the part I play in the movie and it was such a wonderfully drawn character.”
This Lex is a spoiled brat, a millennial intern who happens to be the billionaire boss, an adult who still tantrums like a child, and a boy so horrifically abused by his father that the only way to release his torment is to unleash it on the world. He despises both Batman and Superman.
No heroes ever came to his rescue. He is determined to turn them against each other. If the world ends, so be it. Lex wants for nothing. Literally — nothing sounds pretty good to him, and that suicidal impulse manifests itself as a desire to see the whole world annihilated, too.
Eisenberg has no idea how he fits into the pantheon of other Lex Luthors. “I’m so unfamiliar with anything surrounding it because I didn’t grow up reading the comics or watching these movies,” he said. “I read a little bit out of interest, but it was meaningless.”
This was the exact kind of cold indifference Snyder says he wanted. “He can’t fake it,” he says.
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