For years now, the masses have been confusing Jesse Eisenberg and Michael Cera. In fact, Eisenberg has been called "the poor man's Michael Cera," embodying the sarcastic, disaffected alterna-teen in indie film while Mr. 'Arrested Development' hops around the mainstream fare. But it's more than just two young dudes playing similarly sarcastic characters. Less discerning moviegoers interchange the two (praising Cera's work in 'Zombieland'). Googling their names together brings up half-and-half Photoshopped pictures of the actors merged as if they were one being, the "Eisencera."
The two have been tethered to the same umbilical cord of teenage angst for a while now, but one floats poised, large scissors in-hand, waiting to snip that link and float on to bigger and better things. While Michael Cera languishes in slacker burnout, Jesse Eisenberg is ready for the big leagues. How did he avoid it?
Eisenberg might be five years older, but they both had the same modest, television start in 1999. Cera did some voice work and got to check out a 'Sixth Grade Alien,' while Eisenberg found a short-lived Fox series with Anne Hathaway called 'Get Real.' But that's where the similar trajectories end. Eisenberg might have found one more television job, acting alongside John Schneider in the (sarcasm alert) world-wide phenomenon 'Lightning: Fire from the Sky,' but he quickly moved to starring feature roles while Cera worked through phases.
You can't knock a young Canadian kid for taking a bunch of television work (especially if it involves mental murder!), nor finding his way to Hollywood by becoming the go-to name for younger versions of leads in feature films ('Steal This Movie,' 'Frequency,' and 'Confessions of a Dangerous Mind'). But Cera needs to hop off the comfort train. 'Arrested Development' made him the weird loner kid, and while each movie changes it up a wee bit -- making the actor a so-called popular athlete, or sending him to a quite crappy 'Year One' -- it's always more of the same. As awesome as 'Scott Pilgrim vs. the World' is, a character tailor-made for Cera's talents, there's a reason it was plagued with "Michael Cera fatigue." The character type has its limits. Once the breaking point is reached, even the great features will flounder.
We might not know either actor's picking process, but their rosters reveal two very different mentalities. Eisenberg's first film role, straight out of that TV movie, was 'Roger Dodger.' He jumped into the deep end, holding his own against the perfectly verbose and charismatic Campbell Scott. It established him as a prime figure of indie teen angst, but Eisenberg didn't suffer the type-casting plague. Immersed in a number of different cinematic styles and pitted against some of cinema's top talent, there was little chance for audience burnout.
'The Emperor's Club' gave him a taste of Kevin Kline, 'The Village' offered up Shyamalan, as well as Phoenix, Brody, Hurt, and Weaver, and 'The Squid and the Whale' thrust him into Noah Baumbach's world with Linney and Daniels. The latter two were Oscar-nominated, award-winning films. But he also had fun with genre fare and the one-two punch of Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson with 'Cursed.' He worked with Limp Bizkit's Fred Durst on 'The Education of Charlie Banks.' Dark comedies like 'The Living Wake' intermingled with the thrills of 'The Hunting Party.'
It's an impressive list that overshadows Cera's last three years of 'Superbad' and 'Juno' hits, followed by 'Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist,' 'Extreme Movie,' 'Paper Heart,' 'Year One,' 'Youth in Revolt,' and 'Scott Pilgrim.' Cera's choices certainly gave him the spotlight and the perk of having his name and persona be the one remembered now (rather than Eisenberg), but these films don't create a solid foundation for future success.
Maybe Cera knows that and wants to just ride the wave of popularity before dissolving into the ether like many of the '80s funny men who enjoyed their hits and then faded away. In fact, his choices may have even helped Eisenberg get to this point. Cera is the one whose name is recognized and linked to the slacker teen, while Eisenberg sneaked around unfavorable name associations. If Jesse Eisenberg wants to do something different, he doesn't have trailing woes of slacker fatigue and one-note criticisms clouding the gig before he has a chance to shine.
And shine he is. Now Eisenberg is leading 'The Social Network' and the umbilical cord is about to be cut. The film is already receiving rave reviews, and The New York Times said of Eisenberg's performance: "When Mr. Eisenberg makes Mark's face go blank, the character seems scarily emptied out: it's a subtly great, at times unsettling, performance."
Perhaps the key to avoiding slacker burnout comes down to one choice: What type of actor or comedian you want to be?
Michael Cera took the route to quick fame, content to star in both the good and the bad, play the same role, and just have fun.
Jesse Eisenberg, while quite comfortable with sarcastic laughs, wants to focus on the craft, and that seems to have made all the difference.