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‘When You Finish Saving the World’: Jesse Eisenberg on How Directing His First Film Helped His Anxiety

The actor joined the IndieWire Studio, presented by Adobe, to talk about making the leap from directing theatre to film.

When he’s not busy being a Hollywood star, Jesse Eisenberg has always been something of a renaissance man. In his spare time between film roles he stays active as a playwright, frequently directing or starring in his own plays. He also publishes short fiction, and last year he wrote and starred in a narrative series for Audible, titled “When You Finish Saving the World.” He soon added “film director” to his list of titles when he adapted the Audible series into a film of the same name.

With “When You Finish Saving the World” making its world premiere at Sundance, Eisenberg sat down with IndieWire’s Eric Kohn as part of the IndieWire Studio, presented by Adobe, to discuss the challenges of making his debut as a film director. Theatre has been Eisenberg’s primary creative outlet, and the actor said he originally envisioned “When You Finish Saving the World” as another play. But when the limitations of the medium made that impossible, he turned to film.

“All of my plays take place in a living room. This one couldn’t, because I wanted to show what it looks like inside a domestic violence shelter to show the complexity of working in the social services sector,” Eisenberg said. “And all of that stuff seemed to lend itself to what I thought an original movie could be.

Eisenberg said there was a bit of a learning curve as he switched sides of the camera, but his past experience acting on film sets proved to be invaluable. “I love getting notes from directors,” he said. “Nitpicky notes! I love doing scenes a thousand times… And yet, as a director I always felt so hesitant to give these wonderful actors notes, because it always felt disrespectful,” he recalls. “I had to keep reminding myself that I love that.”

While he did not set out to be a film director, Eisenberg said the experience made him a better actor and he wishes he had done it sooner. “It’s kind of taken a bit of anxiety off me as an actor,” he told IndieWire. “Because I see the process from the outside so it’s less daunting. Normally as an actor on set I’m a ball of anxiety, and partly that has to do with the fact that I shelter myself so much. I don’t watch dailies, I don’t watch the movie, I don’t ask anybody how I’m doing because I’m panicked that I’m not doing well. And having directed a movie, just kind of relieving myself and puncturing the mystique of the whole process of it and the artifice of it allows me to think about it in more practical terms. So maybe I wish I would have done that sooner.”

Watch the full interview above.

Presenting sponsor Adobe — with a mission to enable creativity for all — is committed to supporting, elevating and amplifying underrepresented creators, so the world can see, learn and benefit from diverse perspectives. Learn more at Adobe.com Diverse Voices. The upcoming 2022 festival marks the fifth consecutive year IndieWire and Adobe have joined forces for the IndieWire Studio at Sundance.

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