Let’s face it, there’s really only one true Lex Luthor. If you guessed “Gene Hackman” or “Kevin Spacey”, you would be pitifully wrong on both counts. No, the greatest depiction of Superman’s bald genius nemesis has easily been the Clancy Brown voiced version in Bruce Timm’s Superman: The Animated Series that ran in the 90’s.
And Jesse Eisenberg sure as hell ain’t no Clancy freakin’ Brown. Because of that, the skittish Eisenberg’s casting as a young Luthor in Batman v Superman has left some fans a bit worried, especially so after a recent trailer in which he acted rather foppish. Lex Luthor should never fop.
But this is the new Luthor we’re getting, and speaking to CBM, Eisenberg tried to explain some of the reasoning behind such a stark departure from the historical depictions of the character.
The character is in line with what audiences want to see now, which is a more modern, psychologically realistic concept of Lex Luthor. His motivations are multifaceted; he has a way of using language that’s specific to the way his mind works; he struggles with interesting philosophical dilemmas like that of the individual having too much power, even if that individual is using that power for good.
For instance, Superman has so far been using his powers to do some good, but is it safe to have someone like that walking the streets? It’s great that all of this happens in the context of a very exciting superhero movie.
The Social Network and Now You See Me star elaborated further, explaining that if he had stuck to the more traditional approach to Luthor it would have robbed the character of the necessary theatricality and the actor of his ability to really act.
He reminds me of one of those characters in old Greek theater who very explicitly state the philosophical dilemma at hand and put it in a way that feels in line with that character’s interests and voice. He speaks in broad themes and ideas: That’s what makes the character very theatrical and yet authentic.
This is the kind of role actors really like to play because you don’t feel like it’s a problem if you color outside the lines. I can be as funny as I want to be in the context of my character behaving poorly, and I can be as sad as I want because the character’s also going through real internal conflict. Take it as far as you want and be as theatrical as you want to be – it’s all correct.
The previous movies are interesting to watch, but they feel unrelated. This incarnation of the character is drawn so differently. I’d read the comic books, but I figured out pretty quickly there’s not much there that relates to an acting role; it’s just a different format. You know the old joke about actors—if you’re playing the messenger, you think it’s a play about the messenger—but the main characters are wonderful as well.
And speaking on main characters, the titular duo in Batman v Superman will of course be played by Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill. Eisenberg dished on what the dynamic was like between the three popular actors.
They’re both very smart, funny people. They were wonderful to work with because we were all sort of adjusting things to make the scenes as good as they could be. Henry has already played Superman in another movie so he has such a strong idea of his character.
That was fun for me because I could play with that. Ben Affleck is also very sharp. Doing this was a lot of fun because the three of us like to improvise, changing dialogue and all. But it was also strange for me: I have a lot of respect for both of them and yet my character mocks them both a lot in the movie. But that was just the nature of the thing.
I’m still not wholly convinced of Eisenberg as Luthor, but I do believe he has the potential to pull off the type of calm malevolence – tinted by the self-belief that he’s actually doing the right thing – that Luthor needs. Only time will tell though if he actually delivers, and luckily we don’t have that much time left until Batman v Superman gets here on March 25, 2016.
Last Updated: February 17, 2016