Jesse Eisenberg, Director & Cast Talk The Art of Self-Defense [Exclusive]
This is already a hell of a summer season. Of course, we had big hits like Avengers: Endgame but largely, many of the blockbuster movies that the studios were betting on, such as Men In Black: International and ] Godzilla: King of the Monsters did not generate the buzz necessary to become a true box office success. Still, there are several little movies coming up this season that could offer something that these big movies can not. Enter The Art of Self-Defense .
I was fortunate to see this movie when it debuted at SXSW earlier this year. This is certainly not your typical summer affair and it 's certainly not for everyone. That said, those who are a little tired about the half-cooked suites can feast here. It's a totally bizarre, untidy, and dark comedy from the mind of writer / director Riley Stearns. He has assembled a first-rate ensemble, led by Jesse Eisenberg, Imogen Poots and Alessandro Nivola to guide us into a very strange and martial-filled world.
This is one of those films that uses absurd lens to attack modern problems. To say something about modern society. Especially with regard to the toxic masculinity and the way that permeates our culture and manifests itself in an ugly way. Yet, at first glance, it's the most insane karate movie you've ever seen.
Related: Art of Self-Defense SXSW review: Eisenberg shines in the dark, poignant comedy ]
The art of Self-Defense is centered on Casey (Jesse Eisenberg), who is attacked one night by a biker gang in the street. In an effort to learn how to defend himself, Casey joins a neighborhood karate studio and ends up admiring that of a charismatic and mysterious instructor, Sensei (Alessandro Nivola), as a mentor. Anna (Imogen Poots) is also an important member of the dojo and helps Casey regain his confidence for the first time. But when he attends exclusive evening classes, this man gets a lot more than he had expected.
I had the chance to chat with the cast, as well as Riley Stearns, of the film. In a real dojo, not less. During our chat about the karate carpet, we covered a lot of ground and even had the opportunity to ask questions to Jess Eisenberg about Zombieland 2 . So, without further ado, here is my interview with the cast and the director behind The Art of Self-Defense .
This film has all these strange little thoughts about life. Did you take anything to this personally? Maybe we're learning from it, even if they came from a less than ideal place?
Riley Stearns: I do not know if I am that one to answer that question.
Jesse Eisenberg: Part of the film's comedy and some of the kind of insights that the film presents come from the idea that you think it's going to be. It's about one thing, the pursuit of masculinity and the ability to defend oneself, but that's what you're talking about, you realize that the people who run this group are actually corrupt and immoral and that the goal that the character has set for himself is not the one you want him to succeed.
Alessandro Nivola: I definitely left thinking that it was better to listen to metal.
Riley Stearns: I like this lesson. I think it's a good lesson. I mean, it comes from my head, so I think a lot of these things are just ideas that came up while I was writing the script and other things. So, if someone takes something and gets something out of it … I just want people to be entertained. This is the biggest takeaway sale.
You mentioned the issue of toxic masculinity. Imogen, for you, how did you represent the main feminine point of view in this world dominated by toxic masculinity?
Imogen Poots: It was a great chance to play that role and the toxic masculinity was very obvious when reading the script. And I was excited to play with someone who was deeply complicated, who had the capacity to do great violence and who obviously existed in such a harmful world, and who was denied the right to succeed. And the ramifications of that were pretty horrible. I've already talked about the ridicule of some people who control and who decides … the system decrypts whether or not you are allowed to ride. This kind of nonsense was also evident in the script and it was really cool.
It's funny, but the humor is about as black as possible. So, what was it for you to work with something like that?
Riley Stearns: The bottom line is that with this stuff, it would be very easy to sell the dialogue or the lines as jokes, and they are funny. They have an innate fun inside of themselves, but you can not recognize it when you say it. You must say everything very seriously and believe what you say. And that's where humor comes from. It's the absurdity of the line and the way it is stated. This is the most important thing. But, even when night falls, my favorite art, in general, always has a sense of humor. So, even if the film darkens, I always wanted this humor to be always present. I think something as dark can be funny too. There is a specific moment that occurs midway through the film where I have the impression that the change is occurring and that we are now in the dark territory. And this change still makes people laugh. Or at least it makes me laugh and I hope it will do others.
Jesse, you play that kind of lonely, lonely guy, and I think everyone knows somebody like that, no, that's a big deal. Where does this come from for you? Just enter this isolated state and feel. How did you prepare for the role?
Jesse Eisenberg: This is not entirely natural. This is not supposed to be a natural playing style and for me it is the ideal. I much prefer to do this kind of style because you are given settings and a so specific topic that once the type of behavior found, you can really indulge in it. A naturalistic type film seems to me a lot harder because it is still necessary for you to be authentic and accurate because the audience is much more likely to recognize the unauthenticity in a natural performance than it does. is in reality. recognize inauthenticity in a film that has its own style. So, in a way, it was like I was doing my own art project and if people like it, it's about them. But I do not have to convey at every moment what it means to be a natural human being that everyone can recognize and understand. So, I much prefer this. It was much easier and comfortable. I just thought that this character is someone who acts like a baby. He acts like he's a seven-year-old boy. He does not understand sarcasm. He does not use sarcasm. He does not understand the ulterior motives. He assumes that people are as pure as him. He lives in this kind of strange and literal bubble. I just loved it I would like to be able to do it again. Every day was a real gift for an actor.
Alessandro, you have this quiet intensity throughout the film. Where exactly does it come from and what does it mean to get into the puzzle of the rest of this movie?
Alessandro Nivola: The inspiration for the character comes from the guy runs the dojo for my son's hapkido class when he was eight years old. And he looked a lot like this guy. You always had the feeling that he had that false sense of importance and that he was only dominating it by those little kids, who were an easy target. So, I was just thinking about it all the time, and I was imitating his body language and the kind of tone he was taking, which was very sacred and that these are kind of sacred grounds. This space has something sacred and it must be honored and respected. Of course, in the context of what [the character] ends up getting really so crazy that humor comes from it.
Without going into detail
Riley Stearns: I know it's a bit funny to say that but I do it Sincerely hope that they are entertained. I hope people go out and think about themselves, maybe end up at Casey. I think everyone has a little Casey inside of them. Maybe I could have a little more than the others. We created something very specific and we did it with a sincere love for the film.
Jesse Eisenberg: I hope people will find it funny because it is not the kind of movie you are told right now that it is funny. There are not really many signs indicating that it's very entertaining, but for us, we obviously think it's the funniest thing. So you hope that people have the same personal love that you have.
Imogen Poots: That says a lot! There is a lot to say, which is really cool. And it's fun and fun, and there's a bunch of karate that I have not seen in a movie for a very long time.
Allesandro Nivola: I hope that there is a point in the film owned by German shepherds.
Just before concluding, Jesse, you are doing Zombieland 2 right now. I know you can not say too much, but can you tell me how it's going?
Jesse Eisenberg: It's going really well. I rest on our laurels and we are really arrogant [laughs]. No the opposite. We work so hard. It's one of those movies that people loved for personal reasons. So, this is not just a hit movie. People love it for personal reasons, so you want to make sure that it is as funny and personal as the other.
Zombieland 2 is due to arrive in theaters in October. As for The Art of Self-Defense it will be deployed for the first time in some cities on July 12th. After that, Bleecker Street will develop on July 19th.