Jesse Eisenberg's Lex Luthor in “Batman v Superman” is likely unlike any other take on the supervillain audiences have seen before — and that's all completely intentional. In fact, you might not have imagined hearing Superman's most notable villain described as a pacifist before, but that's just a part of the acclaimed actor’s new take on things. In the latest superhero movie, Eisenberg’s Luthor is now a young, peppy sociopath, prone to hammy line readings and hand-clapping.
Since comic book movies have become such a main corner of the film industry, do you think people have been taking them more seriously?
I think you have to. I think you have no choice if you’re going to make one and you don’t want to be completely derivative. You have to bring in somebody, for example, like they did here with [“Argo” writer] Chris Terrio, whose background is not comic books, whose background is not in genre culture, who's interested in politics, who’s interested in theater. And [he gets] to impose his interesting worldview on [director] Zack Snyder’s incredible visual mastery and his obsession with comic books.
Along those lines, how do you turn Lex Luthor into a believable, realistic, human character?
I think it would be impossible for me to play the stock villain character because I don’t have any of those attributes. I’m not a severe-looking, brooding man. I am just somebody who — not intentionally, but probably — exudes an amount of emotion, irrespective of my personal intent as an actor. And so I think I instinctively make this character more of a tortured man rather than somebody who’s kind of a one-note, villainous bad guy.
Yes, exactly. And I think if he has any kind of campiness, it comes from his own need to hide his true feelings which are, as the movie progresses, increasingly dark.
There’s a very performative aspect to him early on. He’s really putting on a show.
I think he puts on a face of an affable, philanthropic businessman. My sense as a cynical, paranoid person is that most people who have a charming exterior are probably scary. I would sooner trust the shy guy than the guy who seems like he’s your best friend within the first five minutes of meeting you, and that’s what this character is. He immediately tries to charm people, and if it doesn’t work he immediately turns on them. He’s the kid who gets his toy taken away prematurely and turns petulant.