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If he had not landed a leading role in the 2002 film “Rodger Dodger,” Jesse Eisenberg would not have continued his acting career, he said at a Branford College Master’s Tea yesterday.

The 22-year-old, primarily known for playing the elder son Walt in the 2005 movie “The Squid and the Whale,” spoke on how winning the role in “Rodger Dodger” convinced him to stay in the business. Although Eisenberg had acted since childhood, he questioned his future in the film industry until securing his first major movie part as the nephew in “Rodger Dodger” after seven auditions.

“I got incredibly lucky,” he said. “If that movie hadn’t been made, I would have gone to college.”

“The Squid and the Whale,” which marked the actor’s first major role, was well-received by critics and moviegoers alike. The film, which is loosely based on the childhood of director Noah Baumbach and stars Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney, tells the story of a bitter divorce and the confusing effects it has on the two children, played by Eisenberg and Owen Kline.

Playing an embittered and confused son in the middle of an imploding family, Eisenberg said he approached the role with inspiration from a close friend who experienced a similar situation.

“It was helpful to have someone there you can kind of model,” Eisenberg said.

The actor also spoke about his preference for the medium of film. Having done stints on television, he said he “hated” TV because it wrests control of content from original creators and allows the preferences of fans to dictate the course of shows. Theater did not appeal to Eisenberg either — After a recent stage engagement, he said he wanted to “throw up every night.”

Eisenberg also provided a packed audience with anecdotes from the film industry. While filming “The Squid and the Whale,” Eisenberg admitted, his friendship with fellow cast member Owen Kline was partially motivated by his admiration for his father, actor Kevin Kline.

“I wanted to get in good with the Kline family,” he said.

Responding to several student questions, Eisenberg lamented the difficulties that aspiring actors face, noting that the older an entry-level actor is, the harder it is for him or her to enter the industry.

“It’s so competitive, yet at the same time you want to maintain integrity, so maintain integrity for a year,” Eisenberg joked.

Brandon Kuchta ’09 said he found Eisenberg’s talk enjoyable and amusing.

“I was really impressed at how someone his age could captivate the audience with his wit and humor,” Kuchta said.

Rebekah Diamond ’09 said she appreciated the insights into the film industry that Eisenberg provided.

“I’m a big fan of some of his movies, so it was nice to hear about the inside parts of the business,” Diamond said.

But some audience members criticized the audience for interacting too much with Eisenberg and distracting them from his talk.

“I was bummed because the diehard fans couldn’t stop making pretentious comments,” Aaron Reiss ’09 said.

The actor said he just returned from Maine after completing filming on “The Living Wake” and hopes to continue making movies similar to “The Squid and the Whale.”

“I think the most appealing projects are the ones where you’re involved,” Eisenberg said. “You can really like that it’s so collaborative, and that’s the most desirable thing for me.”

“The Squid and the Whale” star Jesse Eisenberg discusses a clip from one of his films at a Branford Master’s Tea Tuesday.
Han Xu
“The Squid and the Whale” star Jesse Eisenberg discusses a clip from one of his films at a Branford Master’s Tea Tuesday.

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