Jesse Eisenberg Talks About His Lex Luthor: "He Is a Classic Xenophobe"

Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor - H 2016
The 'Batman v. Superman' star elaborates on what motivates the Man of Steel's sworn enemy.

Even back when he was a two-dimensional drawing on the page, Lex Luthor had another side to him. 

“He is a classic xenophobe. He’s hell-bent on getting this alien destroyed,” Eisenberg tells The Hollywood Reporter ahead of Friday's release of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.

In comic books, Luthor is presented to the public as a philanthropist, donating millions to public parks and schools, but beneath his beneficence was one simple aim — destroy Superman. As one of the most powerful men in the world, Luthor has weighty civic responsibilities. And if Superman is an alien “with powers far beyond those of mortal men,” as the 1950s TV show suggests, he had better get his papers in order and wait in line like everybody else, because Luthor has zero tolerance for illegal immigrants.

“It’s not based on somebody in particular, although I think if you watch the movie and looked for real-life parallels, you might find them,” Eisenberg says. 

The Dawn of Justice, as the subtitle suggests, marks the beginning of the DC Comics universe and what Warner Bros. hopes is a long and prosperous future for saviors in stretchy pants. But the current saviors are in a tiff over the future of the planet. Will Earth be subjugated to alien attacks like the one that ended Zack Snyder’s 2013 pic Man of Steel? Or, under the leadership of Batman, will we be rid of Kal-El and his ilk once and for all?

Never mind that were they to hash it out over cocktails, Batman and Superman's differences might be chalked up to no more than a silly misunderstanding. But if the new movie promises anything it is that havoc shall be wrought, and so it is. But the kind of city-engulfing havoc Snyder has in mind often requires an instigator.

“I think of the character more as a very emotional man but on behalf of no one else, on behalf of his own emotion,” is how Eisenberg assesses Luthor, a psychopath first portrayed in the movies by Gene Hackman in 1978’s Superman as a buffoon in a cheap wig and vaudevillian suit. Almost 30 years later, Kevin Spacey might have chewed the scenery if not for his tongue placed firmly in cheek when he battled Brandon Routh in Superman Returns.

Back in 1940, when he first appeared in the comics, Luthor wore a bright red shock of hair. In the new movie, Eisenberg’s is reddish until he shaves it off, sporting the trademark dome only in the third act.

“Although he has a charming public front, I think the average person would be able to figure out that he’s pretty evil. I don’t think he has that good of a cover,” says the actor. 

The real reason Luthor has such deep-seeded emotional issues goes back to his relationship with his father.

“He talks about the abuse he suffered as a child. And in some kind of perverse Freudian parallel, relates Superman’s power with his own father’s power, and in some really dark way confuses the two,” Eisenberg remarks.