Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is the most divisive superhero movie in years. Roasted by critics, cheered by some fans, booed by others and leaving still more kind of puzzled; its reception is a big change from the unanimous applause (Deadpool) or outright rejection (Fantastic Four) that tends to greet big-budget superhero releases these days — and one of the most divisive aspects has surely been Jesse Eisenberg’s radical reinterpretation of classic Superman nemesis Lex Luthor.
Lex Luthor has changed a lot over the years, with the only constant being that he’s a smart guy who really, really, really doesn’t like Superman. Originally positioned during comics’ Golden Age as a mad scientist/inventor whose various schemes were constantly thwarted by the Man of Steel, he was later retconned in the pages of Superboy to have originally been an ally to Clark Kent’s alter-ego whose friendship turned to hatred after blaming Superboy for the accident that burned off his hair. In the post-Crisis 1980s, he was reimagined as a billionaire industrialist, while in movies, TV and animated series he’s been everything from a crooked real estate tycoon to the leader of The Legion of Doom.
But when it came time to create the new Luthor for Batman V Superman, Snyder told EW he was looking for something else. And he found it when actor Jesse Eisenberg came in to read for an entirely different role. Said the director:
“I said, ‘I want to do this misdirect and you’d be great. You’d be a great [SPOILER]. And he’s like, ‘Yeah, that’s cool,’ and he was being very Jesse in the meeting. Introverted but constantly going, ‘Okay, I see, uh-huh. So it’s sort of a pop-culture redirect, you’re gonna do, because of the certain status of an actor…”
Snyder ultimately considered withdrawing the offer mid-interview, but in describing the encounter with his wife and producing partner Deborah, he hit upon a new inspiration: Cast him as Lex Luthor. At the time, mainly older and more “traditional” (in terms of villain roles) actors had read for the part, including onetime fan-favorite Bryan Cranston — whom the director continues to praise despite going in a different direction for the role:
“Bryan Cranston would have been great, right? And by the way, he’s an amazing actor. Can you imagine how different the movie would be?”
Eisenberg, of course, said yes to Lex, resulting in what could easily be one of the year’s most memorable performances in a major blockbuster. But he wasn’t too keen on the role he was originally offered and has no interest now in comparing himself to any of the Luthors who’ve come before — and he makes no bones about having never been (and not being now) a fan of the original comics:
“[Snyder] met me for, yes, something else. And I wasn’t really interested in it. But his enthusiasm about the movie and his description of the movie sounded really interesting. … When they sent me the script they asked me to play the part I play in the movie and it was such a wonderfully drawn character.”
“I’m so unfamiliar with anything surrounding it because I didn’t grow up reading the comics or watching these movies. I read a little bit out of interest, but it was meaningless.”
Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is now playing in U.S. theaters. Suicide Squad will arrive on August 5, 2016, followed by Wonder Woman on June 23, 2017; Justice League Part One on November 17, 2017; The Flash on March 16, 2018; Aquaman on July 27, 2018; Shazam on April 5, 2019; Justice League Part Two on June 14, 2019; Cyborg on April 3, 2020; and Green Lantern Corps. on June 19, 2020.