eisenberg culkin

Source: Gage Skidmore (licensed under CC by 2.0) / IMAGO/Landmark Media

Jesse Eisenberg, Kieran Culkin

Jesse Eisenberg has set his next feature as writer-director – A Real Pain – and is lining up a March 2023 shoot in Warsaw, Poland.

Eisenberg will lead the cast alongside Succession star Kieran Culkin. The story will follow two estranged cousins who travel to Poland after their grandmother dies to see where she came from and end up joining a Holocaust tour.

Dave McCary, Emma Stone and Ali Herting’s US production company Fruit Tree will reunite with Eisenberg after producing his feature directing debut When You Finish Saving The World, which premiered online at Sundance this year and went on to play Cannes.

Speaking to Screen about the main characters Eisenberg said “They have a funny, fraught relationship; it’s a bittersweet story, as we realise maybe we don’t fully belong together, but against the backdrop of this incredibly dramatic history.

“I’m trying to ask the question is modern pain valid against the backdrop of real historical trauma. I think I’m speaking to the experience of people [in their 30s] who go back and it’s foreign to them – and now suddenly real.”

Eisenberg said he is hoping to use “as much of the crew as I can bring” from his first film alongside Polish crew. “Luckily I’m shooting in a country that has an amazing film tradition.”

The actor-filmmaker comes from a secular Jewish background and his ancestry traces back to Poland. His acting roles include 2020 biographical drama Resistance, about the French mime Marcel Marceau’s role in the French Resistance during the Second World War.

Eisenberg is attending Sarajevo Film Festival this week, where he accepted the honorary Heart of Sarajevo award on Monday and has since participated in a ‘Coffee with..’ discussion and masterclass session.

Social status

Having received international acclaim and a best actor Oscar nomination for playing Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in 2010’s The Social Network, Eisenberg’s first film as director has a lead character who is obsessed with his social media following.

However he personally avoids that realm. “I have probably the most cynical attitude a person could have – especially a person in media,” he said. “My attitude stems from the fact that I’m a very public person, so I really try to maintain privacy in my personal life. So I’m completely befuddled when I see somebody posting something about the personal life on the internet, because to me it seems like you have the greatest luxury in the world, of privacy.

“Why the hell would you put yourself in a bikini eating spaghetti on the internet?”

Regarding Zuckerberg and how social media has changed the world in the 12 years since the film, Eisenberg said, “I don’t feel that he was thinking of changing the world for the better. He’s not seen as this benevolent force for social change. So that is concerning to me – that something with so much power and influence didn’t start with the intentions of some kind of social benevolence. So that kind of worries me.”

He also addressed the encroachment of social media on the acting profession – specifically the issue of actors and actresses being asked to show social media followings when auditioning for roles. “I’m so lucky I started acting before that became a thing, because I would’ve maybe been at a disadvantage,” he said. “I guess now it’s just part of the thing – I don’t know, that’s sad.”

On casting the plays he has written and When You Finish Saving The World, Eisenberg said: “I would look up an actor and sometimes they’d write something online that was so strange. You almost feel like, ‘I wish I didn’t know that about this person. They’re fantastic, I wish I didn’t know that they have an opinion about this random politician.’

“It just feels weird and distracting, and takes away from this wonderful thing actors have, which is [that] you can be mysterious in your personal life, so that when the public sees you in a role, they can engage with it as something new. That has completely disappeared.”

A24 holds US rights to When You Finish Saving The World and has not yet set a release date. Eisenberg said he tries “to stay uninvolved” in all distribution discussions – “it has nothing to do with anything that I’m good at” – and doesn’t watch himself on screen. He added that sometimes he doesn’t even know when his films come out.

Sarajevo Film Festival continues until Friday (August 19).