Socially awkward movie star is cool for cats

When Jesse Eisenberg was in town for the recent Shanghai International Film Festival, his first act was to find homes for three stray kittens.

The first thing Jesse Eisenberg did in Shanghai, even before he made his debut at the recent Shanghai International Film Festival, was saving three homeless kittens on the street and posting a video asking for adoption.

“We bought milk and tried to feed them which I realize now was a bad idea,” says the American actor, author and playwright. “I came from a family that are animal rights activists and it is just impossible to walk past homeless animals without trying to help.”

Within a minute after Eisenberg posted the video, thousands of users posted comments, and the kittens have found new owners.

“It turned out that many people in China want a cat, so it’s a perfect match,” he says.

While in town for the film festival, Eisenberg attended the “A Rendezvous Read” forum on June 24, where he read clips from his short story collection “Bream Gives Me Hiccups” and talked about the creative process.

“I’m a shy person and didn’t have many friends in school. Actually my only friend was my therapist,” he says. “And like many quiet people do, their minds start racing.”

The best moment of his childhood, according to Eisenberg, was when he was told he was “as funny as Steve Urkel,” one reason he grew up thinking he would write jokes one day.


Jesse Eisenberg in Shanghai for the city's international film festival

Now juggling careers as a playwright and actor in Hollywood, he has written and starred in three plays for the New York stage: “Asuncion,” “The Revisionist” and “The Spoils.”

“Well, it’s really offensive. So maybe I should read fast and skip to the part where she is nice,” he said when reading “My Roommate Stole My Ramen: Letters from a Frustrated Freshman” featuring a depressed first-year student at university writing to her therapist.

It seems that Eisenberg, who was born in 1983, has put a lot of the emotion, anger and anxiety he has experienced into something creative and fun now that he is an actor and writer.

He shares many similarities with the characters he has created, with all the common modern vices, highly difficult, anxious and sensitive. He writes with a strong personal style which is a bliss and a curse for a writer. And the humor has the same sardonic, witty tone. In other words, he writes about himself.

“John Patrick Shanley said that he spent the first half of his career writhing about himself, and the second half of his career writing about people,” says Eisenberg.

The solution, he says, is to meet new people and write about them. His profession helps.

“It’s amazing for me that a country like China exists where there are so many people. Because I come from a country where we are almost brought up thinking that we are the only country in the world,” he says. “So I’m interested in a place where there are so many things happening and the rapid development.”


Eisenberg (left) plays Facebook Founder Mark Zuckerberg in “The Social Network.”

After making himself known to audiences in the 2010 film “The Social Network,” in which Eisenberg put in an Oscar-nominated performance as Facebook Founder Mark Zuckerberg, the New York-based actor is still socially awkward, even after being a target of the paparazzi for years.

“Because there are always new and wonderful ways to screw up,” Eisenberg says, referring to his performance at San Diego Comic-Con, when he says the experience of being screamed at by thousands of people was like genocide.

“I wanted to say something along the lines like this must have been what the Beatles felt like, because there are so many people shouting my name. But my mind work is ‘don’t say you feel like the Beatles because that’s arrogant.’ And so I said it felt like genocide.”

However, his honesty is what his fans like. 

“I think he is a person with strong charisma, including those sides which he views as flaws, like being awkward and not knowing what to do before the camera,” says Xie Guangwei, a fan who had been waiting outside Eisenberg’s hotel in Shanghai since 8am, along with other hundreds of fans. “I can see his inner conflict and his struggles. I bought many copies of his books because I want make sure I can have one in every place.”

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