Jesse Eisenberg spent two days tied to a tree.
The star of “The Social Network” spoke about the experience during a virtual Q&A with Gershman Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival, when an audience member asked whether he did his own stunts for his latest movie.
“I don’t know if that’s a stunt or a hostage situation, but I was in the tree,” he said, referring to a scene where his character hides from Nazis in a forest.
Eisenberg joined director Jonathan Jakubowicz and “Son of Saul” star Géza Röhrig on Aug. 27 to discuss their film “Resistance.” Olivia Antsis, GPJFF’s executive artistic director, moderated the conversation.
“Resistance” is based on the true story of Marcel Marceau, the Jewish mime artist who secretly worked for the French Resistance and helped thousands of Jewish children escape from Nazi-occupied countries during World War II. Eisenberg plays Marceau, and Röhrig plays his cousin George Loinger.
The film was released on March 27 and is available to stream at resistance.movie/watch-at-home.
Jakubowicz said Marceau was reluctant to see himself as a hero and spoke about his lifesaving work modestly.
“He was the kind of survivor who felt so many people died around him and so many people did so much more than him that he didn’t think he did anything more than the right thing to do, which is helping others in the time of need,” he said.
When Antsis asked the actors how they prepared for their roles, Eisenberg said he studied mime and interviews with Marceau. Imitating the artist’s talents was a challenge.
“The difficulty of portraying somebody who’s considered the greatest at something is you have to look at least kind of credible, almost like a nascent version of that person with regards to their skill set,” he said.
Learning to mime was often difficult and lonely — Eisenberg usually rehearsed by himself in a hotel room — but his new skills helped him bond with his younger colleagues on set.
The film was partially shot in Prague, and many of the Czech children who played the rescued Jewish orphans did not speak English. Eisenberg was able to make them laugh by communicating through mime.
He said the film addressed the role that art and artists play in the face of crises, an issue he struggles with as an actor.
“I have to admit, I’m resentful of my profession because it feels kind of navel-gazing, and it’s exactly what Marceau was struggling to come to terms with but in a much more extreme environment and under more dire circumstances,” he said.
Marceau ultimately used his skills as a performer to entertain the Jewish children he saved, many of whom were traumatized by the murder of their families.
Antsis asked Röhrig, who published two poetry collections about the Holocaust, how his visit to Auschwitz as a university student impacted him.
He said what was supposed to be a one-day visit to the concentration camp turned into a month-long stay.
“I rented an apartment in the town, and I visited the place every day from opening to closing,” he said.
Röhrig grew up in Hungary during Communism and knew little of his Jewish heritage. Visiting the site spurred a desire to go to Israel and learn more about his background.
“I wanted to become like the people who were murdered there, since most of the people who were murdered there were believers,” he said.
Antsis asked Jakubowicz to discuss how he approached casting. He praised the work of “Game of Thrones” actor Bella Ramsey, who plays Jewish orphan Elsbeth, and Clémence Poésy, who plays young French Resistance fighter Emma.
He had wanted to work with Poésy for a long time and knew she would be perfect for the role when she told him that her grandmother fought in the French Resistance.
He said the riskiest choice was the decision to cast Matthias Schweighöfer, a German actor and producer known for his comedies, as bloodthirsty Gestapo agent Klaus Barbie.
“He’s a guy who’s hard to hate, but he’s so dark in the film that he really brings home what was one of my biggest goals with the movie, which is understanding that Nazis were human beings and human beings are capable of absolute evil,” Jakubowicz said.
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