When you think of DC Comics character Lex Luthor, actor Jesse Eisenberg is not someone who quickly comes to mind. Leading men like Gene Hackman or Kevin Spacey who played the character previously embody the physical presence, maturity, terrifyingly charm and charisma, and exemplify the campy qualities of this legendary supervillain, and Jesse Eisenberg doesn't typically personify campy or terror.
Understandably fans were very perplexed and some were even upset with the Eisenberg-Luthor casting news. The very existence of the casting choice of Eisenberg for the role of the iconic archenemy of Metropolis signals a departure from your typical Lex Luthor character by the studio and Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice director Zack Snyder who is clearly continuing to take his version of Superman in a whole new direction. Even Eisenberg himself acknowledges the unconventionality of him playing Lex.
During the New York premiere of Batman V. Superman, he said "I didn’t grow up reading comic books." Though he is quick to point out, "but when I read the script, I thought they very clearly put these iconic characters into the real world so for people like me who didn’t grow up reading it [comics] you don’t need that background, [but] it's still very exciting." Eisenberg adds that it's the originality and authenticity of this version of Lex Luther that led him to take on the role.
"In the comic books, [he] can appear campy or silly or just scary or something, but what Chris Terrio, the writer of this script, did so wonderfully is to try to create a person who is psychologically authentic, somebody who is actually troubled, someone who is actually suffering, somebody who is insecure and rageful, and all these things that you are not used to seeing in a villain."
Eisenberg also confesses it was not easy to portray the character this way. "You know he’s charming, and also terrifying, eccentric and very smart. He is almost all these very interesting, and almost in conflict, characteristics that I [had] to bring together," he says. Still, Eisenberg seems to fundamentally grasp what motivates this real world Luther by explaining, "In the movie my character looks at the destruction that Superman causes and thinks that this guy should not be able to roam free. My character thinks of Superman as a nuclear weapon on the loose and he needs to be destroyed." He even admits his character's cordial relationship to the Cape Crusader.
"We [Batman and I] have a common enemy [Superman]...so I try to enlist Batman to help me destroy Superman. So in a way, Batman and I are allies. Not friends, but allies."
As to why he likes being a villain, Eisenberg says, "I like being able to do things in a safe context that in real life would get me locked up." Jokingly he adds, "You know like punch Ben Affleck or torture Henry Cavill. These are wonderful people who should not be hurt, but in the safe context of a movie in our role it was very interesting."
So as the DC Extended Universe ramps up and rolls out at least 10 films in the next 5 years, will Eisenberg be back to reprise his role as Lex Luthor? If Eisenberg has anything to say about it, he does wish it. "Yeah, I hope so. I love this. I love the people who make this movie and they get the best actors, the best writers, the best directors to do these so for me it is kind of another role to play. I’d love to," he says.
Well, here is to hoping that Eisenberg will be back in Snyder’s next big budget DC flick, The Justice League Part One.
Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice opens on March 25, 2016, followed by Suicide Squad on August 5, 2016; 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.