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When writer-director Riley Stearns penned the script for his new dark comedy The Art of Self-Defense — starring Jesse Eisenberg — in 2015, he wasn’t aware that his commentary on toxic masculinity would resonate even more several years later.
In a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter In Studio, Eisenberg — who plays Casey, a socially awkward accountant who journeys into a world of hyper-masculinity and violence as he attempts to learn karate and become more of the man that society expects him to be — explained why the film’s narrative feels particularly relevant in a #MeToo and Time’s Up world.
“It kind of framed and re-contextualized the movie in a way that felt not only relevant but increasingly potent,” said the actor, adding that the Harvey Weinstein scandal — during which many actresses and women in entertainment leveled sexual misconduct allegations against the Hollywood exec in the fall of 2017 — happened as The Art of Self-Defense was shooting.
“Suddenly, everybody on set was reading about this industry and this massive shift that was happening in our industry, and learning about friends and colleagues who were victimized by this horrible person and the crimes that were kind of all under our noses that we were not aware of,” Eisenberg said. “What was interesting was reading about this every day and then doing a movie that was not at all a commentary on it intentionally but became relevant to the discussion — and thinking about masculinity, thinking about the dangers that come with men being told and instructed, even unconsciously, to be strong and bullish in order to succeed.”
Though Eisenberg appreciates the film’s sociopolitical undertones, he feels that its “subtle” approach makes its message even more impactful. “It doesn’t feel explicitly political. I think it’s possible to watch the movie as a straight comedy and not feel like it’s hitting you over the head with some sort of political allegory,” he explained. “The best kinds of political movies like this that have something to say do it in a subtle way without alienating the audience.”
For more from Eisenberg — including his martial-arts training for the movie, plus his thoughts about a third installment in the Now You See Me film franchise — watch the video above.
The Art of Self-Defense is in theaters now.
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