“On Arts”: Public Purpose Program – Jesse Eisenberg in conversation

On November 12th, 2015, actor, author and activist Jesse Eisenberg, on tour with his new book, Bream Gives Me Hiccups sat down for a conversation with author Steven Winn on stage at the Nourse Theater. This was the 7th event in the On Arts series which benefits the 826 Valencia College Scholarship fund.

  • KQED Public Radio 88.5FM will broadcast a recording of this event on Sunday, January 10th at 1:00 p.m.

The young Eisenberg and older Winn were perfect compliments. Eisenberg spoke a mile a minute, whilst Winn offered the perfect opportunity for audience members to catch their breath. At first Eisenberg seemed a bit on edge, possibly nervous, while Winn looked so at ease that he could have been sitting in his own living room. Perhaps some of Winn’s ease rubbed off, towards the end of the conversation Eisenberg had both legs up on the chair and was leaning forward, energetically answering the questions, still talking at twice the speed of his interviewer. A few things revealed throughout the evening: he never imagined that he could play a villain in a superhero movie because he believed he didn’t weigh enough (he will be playing Lex Luther in the upcoming Batman v Superman movie) and he walked twenty minutes (possible exaggeration) to get to the restroom while living in a yurt for the preparation of his 2013 movie Night Moves.

Jesse Eisenberg at Comic Con in June 2015. Photo by Gage Skidmore

Jesse Eisenberg at Comic Con in June 2015. Photo by Gage Skidmore

Jesse Eisenberg is an actor, and writer. In 2010 he starred in the Social Network alongside Andrew Garfield, a role for which Eisenberg earned an Oscar nomination. He has also acted in Now You See Me, To Rome With Love and will play the villainous Lex Luther in the upcoming Batman v Superman movie, which is set to be released in March 2016. Eisenberg has also acted in and written three plays, Asuncion in 2011, The Revisionist in 2013 in which Vanessa Redgrave co-starred and The Spoils in 2015. Eisenberg also has an interest in writing, he has published in McSweeney’s and has written several pieces for the New York Times and The New Yorker. Eisenberg’s latest short piece was published in the November 2015 New Yorker and can be read here. Eisenberg has contributed to multiple foundations and charities. He has been involved with Farm Sanctuary for many years and just recently decided to match donations up to $100,000 made to Middle Way House, a shelter for women and children in Indiana who are fleeing domestic violence.

Amelia Levin-Sheffield:  In addition to tonights’ event (City Arts & Lectures, On Arts Series), which benefits the 826 Valencia College Scholarship Fund, you also show up for other charities, including Farm Sanctuary, which provides shelter for abused animals and Middle Way House, which provides shelter for women and children fleeing domestic-violence. Given your extensive artistic and professional pursuits, what motivates you to add public service and humanitarian work to your agenda?

Jesse Eisenberg: A few reasons. One is simply money, which is that I can afford to help some of these causes which I think are worthwhile and need extra help. The second thing is public profile which provides me with a lot of wonderful perks and I feel like it’s the only appropriate way to serve that and offset it. The third is, I’m personally interested and involved with these particular causes. I come from a family of animal rights activists and people who have worked at Farm Sanctuary and I’ve been personally involved with Middle Way House for about 13 years. Those are both causes that are important to me. If I have to add a fourth, I will say I occasionally act in movies that are like mainstream movies and have a lot of violence in them. I do those movies not for the violence, but I really like those characters or I really like the storyline or like a certain aspect of the movie, separate from the violent aspect and a part of me does feel like I’m contributing in some way to something that totally objectively I might object to. At least with regards to helping a domestic violence shelter it seems like the right kind of carbon footprint corollary to help. It’s probably inappropriate to link it to some kind of social activism, I come from a long line of people who are social activists, I’m certainly not the first Jewish New Yorker who has an interest in social justice. There’s a really strong history in Jewish culture to be for social justice, civil rights. Everybody in my family is very liberal. We try to support any social cause and try to right any wrong on which we have any influence. I don’t know how long Miranda July’s answer was but that was probably long…

Amelia Levin-Sheffield: No that was great, so my second question for you is, is there something about survivors (animals and humans) and/or safe havens/shelters that personally resonates with you?

Jesse Eisenberg: Oh wow, I see what you did, you linked the two, that’s very clever. No, but typically people who are skirting the line of survival are the people who need help so it makes sense that that should be my interest. My best friend is a teacher, for the last 15 years he has taught incarcerated youth. Those kids are not struggling to stay alive, they are young very healthy kids, but what they do need is an injection of culture and positive models so I would go into a school and read and bring them to the shows I was doing. That’s another way to help people who aren’t struggling to stay alive but struggling to be able to maintain some kind of healthy position in society.

Postscript: I am writing this series of articles, “On Arts” for the Lick-Wilmerding Hyphen as my 11th grade Public Purpose Project. In many ways, these articles are a continuation of my 10th grade PPP, which was to volunteer at the non-profit organization 826 Valencia as a creative writing tutor for students in the third, fourth and fifth grades at the Buena Vista Horace Mann Middle School in the Mission District. (See the article about my experience with 826 Valencia here.) My intention is to assist with fundraising for 826 Valencia by writing about the City Arts & Lectures “On Arts” benefit series, as well as to explore how organizations and individuals in different vocations engage in public purpose work throughout their lives. I think it is important for Lick-Wilmerding students to see how the public purpose work we are doing as part of our educational process can continue, no matter what career and path we choose as adults.

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About Amelia Levin-Sheffield

Amelia is a junior at Lick-Wilmerding High School and writes for the student newspaper, The Paper Tiger. She also manages the Style section and is one of three co-managing editors of the on-line LWHS community news source, Hyphen. Amelia is a voracious reader and started writing in second grade after getting a flash of inspiration from a gnome sighting in the hollow of a tree in her backyard.

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