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With production grinding to a halt in the face of the novel coronavirus pandemic, the entertainment industry has found itself navigating uncharted territory. To offer a better sense of how, The Hollywood Reporter is running a regular series that focuses on how Hollywood’s writers, actors, directors, executives and others are living and working in these challenging times.
As the shelter-in-place order came down in Los Angeles, Jesse Eisenberg, with his wife, Anna Strout, and their 3-year-old son, piled into an RV for an impromptu road trip. “It felt like the safest way to do it for us and others,” says the Oscar nominee, who spent 10 days in the camper, making his way to Bloomington, Indiana, where he and Strout planned to volunteer and help with fundraising efforts for the local domestic violence shelter where his mother-in-law has long worked.
Now in Indiana, Eisenberg has also busied himself with pitching his next movie (When You Finish Saving the World, starring Julianne Moore and Finn Wolfhard) over video conference to studios and financiers with his producer Emma Stone. The multihyphenate — who stars in two new films currently on VOD: sci-fi feature Vivarium and WWII drama Resistance — spoke with THR about the “out of the blue” text he got from Amy Schumer and selling ferns.
So, what do your days look like now?
I have spent the last two weeks pitching this movie that I wrote and am directing to financiers and studios. I’d have these hourlong pitches with my producers, Emma Stone and Dave McCary, and when I was doing that, it felt like a typical workday, except for the fact that it was all on the computer. The days I’m not doing that, my wife and I are volunteering at a domestic violence shelter that my mother-in-law ran for 35 years and that we are deeply connected to.
Can you tell me about the shelter and what’s going on there?
It’s a very bad time for domestic violence. Because people are isolated together, domestic violence is on the rise. The tragic paradox is that calls are down at shelters because people can’t get away to make calls. The shelter is called Middle Way House, and it is one of six model programs in the country. It has childcare programs, support groups, legal advocacy groups, a transitional housing unit. My wife and I are coordinating donations from local businesses, like our friends at a local bakery, Inkwell Bakery, are donating food to the shelter. And we have been doing some more unusual fundraising efforts, like a community program to buy 400 ferns. The money is going to the shelter, and it supports the greenhouse in town.
When we got here on the first day, my wife and I got a text message from Amy Schumer, who is a new friend of ours, saying that she would be donating $50,000 to the shelter. This was just out of the blue, but I know she supports issues around domestic violence. I am going to match it, but we are also going to try to build a campaign to encourage people to look out for their local domestic violence shelters.
I know you traveled by RV to get to Indiana. How did that come about? Had you traveled this way before?
So we rented an RV in Los Angeles and dropped it off in Indianapolis. We have driven cross-country a lot, but we thought it would be prudent to isolate in an RV instead of stopping at hotels. It was a pretty surreal journey in that we were driving through an empty country. We didn’t do a lot of tourism, obviously, but we would drive through major cities that would be empty, and we’d see the old theaters in town that would say something like “Stay strong, Wichita” or “We miss you, Topeka.” So it was this simultaneously eerie and really heartening trip.
Probably Albuquerque. I had actually never been to the American Southwest. And then Lawerence, Kansas, because I love college towns. We are in one right now, Bloomington. I think college towns are just the best place on earth because they attract the most interesting people to one area, based around one thing: academia.
How was it traveling with your 3-year-old?
Because of my job and my wife’s work — she works at different nonprofits and teaches in New York City at a nonprofit — he spent the first few years of his life traveling. Whether or not he is adapting to our crazy lives or we just happened to get a kid who is comfortable with it, he has never been happier. He loves being on the road; it’s interesting to him. And Peppa Pig drives in a camper van, so he feels like he is in a Peppa Pig episode.
What’s been the easiest adjustment so far? And the hardest?
I don’t have any consistency in my life to begin with. I haven’t gone to an office for work since I was a 20-year-old intern, so I often find myself in periods not so dissimilar to this where I don’t have anywhere in particular to go during the day. So the easiest transition is that I have been through a lot of periods like this before, and the hardest thing is feeling like I want to be more helpful and can’t. That sounds like a kind of obnoxious answer, “The hardest thing is that I want to help,” but I just want to be useful.
What are you watching, reading, playing or listening to as a reprieve?
The Irishman has taken us a week because we don’t have that much time after we put the baby to bed and the movie is, like, 16 hours long. The movie we watched last night, which was just the best movie I have seen in a long time, was Never Rarely Sometimes Always. My wife is an activist for the kind of rights that are addressed in that movie, and, living in the Midwest, that spoke quite specifically to her. I just loved that movie.
When I am New York City, I ride a bike every day so I get in my podcasts on the move. Now I listen to them doing house chores. In five years, I don’t think I have missed an episode of The Gist, which is from Slate, and then I listen to one called Hidden Brain from NPR and Today, Explained from Vox. In terms of reading, I just finished a friend’s book called The Biggest Bluff by Maria Konnikova.
Are you dusting off any old hobbies or finding new ones?
Like everyone, we have been doing so much cooking. We live in New York City, so it’s usually cheaper and more efficient to eat out, and we have so many options. My wife is a good cook, and I am trying. Last night, I tried to make cookies, but they just came out as this disgusting, flat mess. At least you see what is going into your food, so in some ways it feels healthy — or you feel the pangs of guilt when you put something in that is not good for you or your son. Whereas when you eat at a restaurant, you have the same food and feel none of the shame.
Getting back to work, how was it pitching a movie over video conferencing? Have you been able to work on other projects during this time?
It was 1 million times better than I would have expected. We would have had to drive around to 20 different offices and studios, and this way we did them all over two days. We ended up in the best possible situation for us. But, of course, the irony is that we never know when it can possibly get made.
I was supposed to be in Bosnia now. I was directing and acting and writing this episode for Modern Love, and I thought it would be so cool to set it in Bosnia. Then the pandemic started to shut things down, and I thought, “Oh my [episode] will be the first thing to go.” And it wasn’t the first to go, but maybe the second. We are still waiting on that, so I am looking at when America will open up but also Bosnia.
And I was in Los Angeles [before Indiana] because I was supposed to record Kaitlyn Dever for an audio book I wrote. I recorded six hours and Finn Wolfhard recorded six hours, and Kaitlyn was the final third of the book, and we just missed the window. If L.A. shut down two days later, we would have been done. So we are stuck in limbo for a while. But I can’t say I am frustrated because how can you possibly be aware of what is going on in the world and still be frustrated?
What’s atop your to-do list once this is all over?
I want my mother to see my son. That’s the main thing I keep thinking: I want my mother to see my son. I’m not dreaming about a bagel or a slice of pizza; I just don’t think in those terms at any point. I’m really a very simple person. I wear the same thing every day, and I tend to not leave the house if I’m not working. I eat everything blended up like, I don’t know, a toothless animal. [Laughs.] So my life is not that changed. But I think about the joy that comes when my mom gets to see my baby.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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