The Art of Deception

Jesse Eisenberg had to learn a trick or two for his performance in ‘Now You See Me’

jesse

Jesse Eisenberg is a magician, for he has seen the future. Of magic. And it is awesome.

Eisenberg plays Daniel Atlas in “Now You See Me,” out Friday, a film about four magicians from different disciplines who team up to steal from the rich and give to everybody. The magic in the movie is a blend of actual illusions — the actors underwent intense training before shooting began, and “magic coaches” were on the set every day — and CGI trickery, but even the fake moments are awfully close to being real.

“We had the best magicians in the world” working on the film, Eisenberg says, “and they all said the magic we were doing in the movie were things people were working on now but hadn’t figured out how to do. All the magic we were working on was stuff that people would be doing in five years.”

Atlas, the team’s sleight-of-hand guy, is a swaggering performer who straddles the line between likably arrogant and eye-rollingly annoying.

“My character is the kind of guy who, at 5 years old, realized he didn’t have any friends, and then turns to magic,” the 29-year-old actor says. “I think he’s been doing his act more than not doing his act, so that he spends more time in this persona than not in the persona. He’s developed this arrogance because he thinks he’s earned the right to kind of condescend.”

Atlas is the type of character you root for even though you wouldn’t want to hang out with him at a bar. Or hang out with him and watch TV. Or hang out with him at all.

“I don’t think about characters as likable or unlikable,” says Eisenberg, which makes sense considering he’s best known for his Oscar-nominated role as pushy, kind of smug Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in “The Social Network.” “If an audience doesn’t like a character, that’s something for them to deal with; I’m just trying to play a character authentically. My character is the best magician in the world, so it’s hard for me to justify any moments of humility.

“If I can play a character who has enough conviction about what they do, then it matters less if the character is nice to people.”

Kristen Page-Kirby covers film for The Washington Post Express.
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