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Jesse Eisenberg on Sundance’s ‘The End of the Tour’ and Playing Lex Luthor in ‘Batman v Superman’

Jesse Eisenberg received an Oscar nomination for playing Mark Zuckerberg in “The Social Network,” and he takes on playing another, albeit much-lesser known, real person in “The End of the Tour,” which premieres at Sundance on Friday night. The drama, directed by James Ponsoldt (“The Spectacular Now”), retraces the five days that Rolling Stone journalist David Lipsky (Eisenberg) spent interviewing author David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel) after the publication of his novel “Infinite Jest” in 1996.

Eisenberg couldn’t make the trek to Park City this year because he’s in London shooting “Now You See Me: The Second Act,” but he spoke to Variety‘s Ramin Setoodeh about the film by phone. And he also talked — as much as he could — about wrapping the most high-profile role of his career: Lex Luthor in the Warner Bros. tentpole “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” which opens next year.

We’re doing a movie in London. Sorry about the time difference.

Isn’t it 1 a.m. there?
We work strange hours.

When did you film “The End of the Tour”?
It was last year about this time in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It was short shoot, but the days were long. It was the most arduous and exhausting experience anybody who has worked on the movie has ever had. We would shoot scenes all day long in Minneapolis, take a plane back to Michigan and film more. There was nothing that went again my union, but within the confines of what my union allows, it was unbelievable. It was the coldest winter on record in western Michigan and you’re filming outside in the snow. That all sounds horrible, but in a way there’s a certain momentum that comes with that kind of shoot.

Were you familiar with the memoir on which “The End of the Tour” is based?
I was not familiar with the book, but I was of course familiar with David Foster Wallace’s books, which I read in college and really loved. I was friendly with the playwright Donald Margulies, who wrote the screenplay and supports playwrighting in New York.

Which David Foster Wallace books did you read in college?
I read “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again.” I read “Consider the Lobster.” I ended up reading some short stories.

What about “Infinite Jest?”
I had never read it. For the movie, I had started it. I have still not finished it. I would like to, but the way my schedule was at the time, it was impossible to sit down with something that required that kind of attention.

Did you talk to the journalist David Lipsky about playing him?
Yeah. The first thing when I signed on for the movie was to understand more than anything what the emotional experience of that week was like. The movie takes place in the course of five days, and it’s told largely in a flashback my character is having. It’s a very confusing time. My character has published a book to little acclaim and goes to interview and be the interested party, rather than the interesting party, to this other guy who was on top of the world at the time. There’s a coming-of-age quality to it — he goes there trying to simultaneously win this guy over and catch him in some kind of pretentious expose.

As an actor, you’ve been interviewed by journalists a lot. Did that inform the performance?
When I read the script my first thought was, “I know what this person is trying to do.” I’ve been on the other end of it. I had recently been interviewed, and I could see the article was predetermined in a way that I would not be happy with. Not that I would read them anyway. I mean, with no disrespect to what you do. I don’t read about myself.

You don’t Google yourself?
I don’t. I imagine most people don’t. I can’t imagine that there’s any good feeling that comes from it.

Is Jason Segel’s performance as David Foster Wallace different than his previous work?
I don’t know. I haven’t seen him in much, but he’s phenomenal in this. It’s a lived-in person rather than a mannered copy.

You just wrapped playing Lex Luthor in “Batman v Superman.” Is your head still shaved?
I can’t say anything about this stuff. They want all this to be a surprise.

Do you think you’ll play Lex again in a “Superman” sequel?
I would love to. It’s a great group and director, and the most ideal character to play.

Were you a fan of “Superman” growing up?

You weren’t?
I never minded him.

Did you watch the movies at all?
Oh, just to understand the context of this one. But no, not as a child.

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