ComingSoon Editor-in-Chief Tyler Treese spoke with Manodrome star Jesse Eisenberg about the Lionsgate thriller. The actor discussed working with Adrien Brody and his views on the concept of masculinity in relation to the film. Manodrome is now playing in theaters and is also available digitally and through video-on-demand platforms.
“Ralphie (Academy Award nominee Jesse Eisenberg) is a man wrestling with outside forces and the demons within when he meets a mysterious family of men who welcome him as one of their own,” reads the movie‘s official synopsis. “As Ralphie struggles to define himself, pressure mounts, and a powder keg is lit that will blow a hole in the lives of everyone he touches. Joining Eisenberg is an all-star cast, including Academy Award winner Adrien Brody and the unforgettable Odessa Young. Experience a thrilling film about one man’s discovery that there is nowhere to hide from yourself.”
Tyler Treese: In Manodrome, we’re really entering Ralphie’s life at an interesting point. I think it’s really core to the story that’s being told that he is about to become a father because that’s a very vulnerable part of anyone’s life. You’re thinking about what it means to be a role model, to be a father, to be a man, and you definitely can see how you could get warped by the wrong influences during that part of your life. Can you speak to the importance of fatherhood in the movie?
Jesse Eisenberg: You’re exactly correct. That is the exact trigger for this person’s mental breakdown — or emotional, psychological breakdown, which is … my character Ralphie is somebody who has struggled forever with their own feelings of masculinity, sexuality, questions about their own feelings of being an adult or just a man in the world — questioning every aspect of themselves. Exactly as you say, he’s about to have a baby. I think this is the trigger that catalyzes his psychological breakdown. It’s because of exactly what you said: when you’re becoming a father, first of all, you have to live outside yourself. Your responsibilities are now towards somebody else — quite explicitly to a vulnerable child.
And then, also, I think it forces you to kind of question your own childhood. How are you going to correct the mistakes that you think were made in your childhood and how do you think you could raise something better than yourself? And then, of course, the fear that if I am this tortured, isn’t my child going to be just as tortured? Why would I perpetuate the cycle of awful torture on another human being? So all of these things manifest at the very worst time in my character’s life, including losing a job at a factory, questioning his own sexuality, and then, finally — the worst thing of all — he gets roped into this male cult, which confuses him and pushes on every vulnerable button he has.
I was really impressed by your performance in this role. You got very muscular, and it’s certainly a departure from what we usually see from you. It’s not a chatty role. Can you speak to the role of Ralphie, as this part challenges you both as an actor and also physically?
To me, I would do this every day, if given the opportunity. Most movies don’t really feature characters like this to begin with. Most movies are about pretty accessible people, where you’re playing somebody that the audience is familiar with. When I read the script, I thought, “Oh, this is brilliant and I’ll do anything I can to do a good job in this.” So that was the feeling. But I think I’m probably speaking for 99% of actors who are doing things that appear quite similar to them. 99% of actors went to drama school, and they started out acting because they wanted to do these kinds of roles that really asked them to go … I would say a little more emotionally into their own experiences and to their own expressions but just don’t have the opportunity to do.
So for me, I got to be in … I would say three movies like this: this one, a movie called The Art of Self-Defense, and a movie called The Double. All of these movies seemed like a nightmare. They seemed like somebody had a nightmare and then wrote it down. In the movie The Double, it was based on a Fyodor Dostoyevsky novella and does not read with logic, but it reads with emotional logic.
Then, in this movie too, when I read the script, I thought, “Oh, everything makes sense emotionally, but not all of it makes sense plot-wise. Why is my character suddenly attacking a stranger on the street or in a bathroom?” And it’s because this character feels so much shame and rage that, of course, he has to attack this person. But if you were going to describe the plotline of this movie, those things would sound more confusing.
Adrien Brody is just phenomenal in this film, too. What really stood out about him as a scene partner?
Adrien has an unusual quality, personally, which is this very engaging, warm, and also kind of mysterious quality. He has that on set. So you’re having a conversation with him at lunchtime and you think, “Oh, this guy is really drawing me in. He’s very engaging. He’s quite mysterious. I can’t exactly pinpoint what he’s thinking about now, but he is also quite warm and seems quite friendly.”
Then you’re on the set and my character, who’s this deeply confused [and] vulnerable person, is looking into that same person’s eyes. But here, he’s playing a character and having all of those same feelings: “Well, this guy seems totally engaging. While I don’t know exactly what he’s thinking, he seems more assured than I do. He seems like he knows what’s going on and it would be great to be able to live in his world rather than living in my world.” So it’s almost this weird, seamless transition, because he has all of these great qualities.
Yeah, there’s definitely that charisma and ability to draw in, which makes perfect sense for him to be the cult leader. I mean, he’d probably drag me into it too.
Yes, exactly! And the word you described, that “charisma,” which is not just energy and joy, but also mysterious and alluring.
Manodrome really explores masculinity’s good and bad parts. When you hear that phrase, what do you think it means — to be a man?
Well, luckily the phrase “Be a man” has changed from my childhood to now, so this is a great, wonderful step for society — that “Be a man” doesn’t mean just one thing. When I was a kid, I think it pretty much meant one thing, and I did not feel adequate in that regard because I went to a sports-heavy suburban school. I didn’t go to school with artsy kids, where there were multiple different ways to excel. So being a man means different things to different people. The wonderful thing about this movie is it pushes on every single button. It pushes on sexuality, it pushes on domestic life, and it pushes on the physique of what a man should look like.
And it pushes on all these buttons in ways that are both explicit and also confusing. It doesn’t try to answer these questions of like, “The good version of this person would be a good father and very strong and caretaking and have a good job.” I play a character who doesn’t have a job, who can’t take care of his partner, who most likely won’t be able to take care of his newborn child, and is struggling to turn his physique into something that is like a body armor. So this movie doesn’t answer any of those questions as much as push on all those buttons in a really effective way.
Lionsgate’s been talking about Now You See Me 3. Is that something you’ve been approached about? Would you be interested in that?
Yes, yes, yes. We’re supposed to do it early next year. I can’t wait. Unlike a movie like this where my character’s experiencing such deep rage, anxiety, and depression, my character in that is so confident and is a performer and a showman, and it’s just a breath of fresh air, as an actor, to get to live in that kind of world too.