Celeb Spotlight: Jesse Eisenberg

Age: 22
Hometown: Queens, N.Y.
Current gig: Playing the teen son of Laura Linney and Jeff Daniels in the divorce drama The Squid and the Whale

He’s not intimidated by the A-list
Eisenberg, who started acting at 7 as Oliver Twist in a New Jersey children’s theater production, just wrapped an L.A. run in the play Orphans – starring Al Pacino. “To be an equal with Al Pacino in a play at my age, there’s no other field in the world that you can do that – you know, being with the best,” he says.

Besides the Oscar winner, Eisenberg has also worked with director M. Night Shyamalan in last year’s The Village and with Campbell Scott and Isabella Rossellini in the 2002 indie sex drama Roger Dodger. For him, working with Hollywood veterans – including his Squid costars Laura Linney and Jeff Daniels – means learning from the best of the best. So, did Pacino have any tips for him? Eisenberg says the actor’s advice boiled down to “Don’t do what I do.” “I don’t really know (what that means),” he says. “Every time he started to give advice, he said that’s the worst thing I could do.”

He’s more drama club than clubgoer
Though honored as a hot up-and-comer in Teen People’s Young Hollywood issue this year, Eisenberg draws a blank at names like Chad Michael Murray. “I don’t have so many friends who are actors,” he says. And a night out in L.A. – when he’s not home in New York City with his girlfriend, Anna, 28, who works in the nonprofit sector – usually involves going “to our respective apartments and sitting quietly,” he jokes. “I’m an outcast.”

Back in high school, after his parents – his father is a professor; his mother, a former party clown – moved to suburban New Jersey, he shunned pep rallies for the theater, landing his first Broadway gig at 13 in Tennessee Williams’s Summer and Smoke. “It was a great respite from the monotony,” says Eisenberg. “All my friends, when I was 13, would be in their forties. (But) from what I remember, it was pretty safe and chaste.”

He’s lazy – or so he says
“My job is like, the agents call me … I’ve taken no initiative in my life,” says Eisenberg, who at 15, unlike most teens, was too busy acting on TV to be glued to it (he costarred with Anne Hathaway in FOX’s short-lived dramedy Get Real). Now, besides appearing in critically acclaimed movies, he’s writing scripts, including the comedy The Vigilante, which is under consideration at a studio. And in between his own work, Eisenberg squeezes in a college class or two.

Meanwhile, the talent runs in his family: His sister is Hallie Kate Eisenberg, 13, who in the ’90s was Pepsi’s precocious curly-haired spokesgirl in a series of commercials. And she, too, had her own chance to work with Pacino, in 1999’s The Insider.

He’s just an actor
Eisenberg still hasn’t wrapped his head around his growing notoriety. “I’m not famous! Not like Tom Cruise,” he says, wondering why anyone would want to know about his personal life. And even though he says fan mail is “strange” – “I don’t really understand the appeal of a relationship with someone you don’t know” – it’s “very flattering.”

Still, he recognizes that he’s got it pretty good compared to a lot of struggling actors who get stuck in bad movies. “I’ve had a unique life,” Eisenberg says of having parents who supported his work as a child actor. And he’s thankful for his role in The Squid and the Whale. “I was fortunate. This movie was the best script I ever read.”

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