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Interview with Jesse Eisenberg and cast of The Spoils
Jesse Eisenberg's new comedy The Spoils is currently running at the Trafalgar Studios, following a successful run off-Broadway. Described as "a cuttingly satirical glimpse of a lost soul searching to assent the reality of his situation", this dark comedy speaks to the exasperated, self-analysing millennial generation.
The production stars Alfie Allen (Game of Thrones), Katie Brayben (Beautiful), Annapurna Sriram, Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network) and Kunal Nayyar (The Big Bang Theory), running for a strictly limited period to 13 August 2016.
We caught up with some of the lead cast mid-rehearsal for the production to find out more about the West End's latest comedy.
DOH: Dom O'Hanlon
JE: Jesse Eisenberg
DOH: What inspired you to write The Spoils specifically as a piece for the stage rather than any other medium?
JE: I really do believe that theatre is the best medium for communicating substantive information to an audience. The audience, by virtue of it being live, is more engaged, they are interactive and they cannot look at their telephones or leave. For the stuff I like to write and this long form medium, then a play is the best form. The play is a comedy and it's accessible, there are familiar elements, but I'd also say that it discusses things that are more substantive, themes such as immigration, race, privilege, capitalism – stuff I'm interested in and stuff that in the theatre fits well.
DOH: Why do you think American actors are continually attracted to performing in the West End?
JE: I grew up in New York and in New York we not only think that it's the centre of the world but also the centre of theatre. The truth is that England, and Edinburgh, is the Mecca for theatre and that has to do with the history – Shakespeare obviously – great writers but I think also that the government funds theatre here which doesn't happen in New York so you have more opportunity to see plays done with lavish extravagant productions. In New York that wouldn't happen, plays that can be extravagant tend to be overly accessible and things that I'm not interested in, so in that way London is a real wonderful hub for theatre, and can in that way be attractive for actors who maybe have been doing the same thing for a while.
DOH: You're a big fan of British theatre I've read?
JE: I love the National Theatre, the downside of being here doing a play is that you don't get to see much else. It's quite distracting when you're in a play seeing other stuff, as you don't want to be reminded of the artifice of it. You want to be able to live in the world of the play and feel that its real and not be aware of what the audience is seeing because then I think when you're back on stage that night being in a play it can feel odd. So I think I'll wait until the play is over. I get distracted watching theatre when I'm working on a play or thinking about working on a play, because you really just see what's fake about it, not that the play is bad but that it's fiction and those people on stage are reciting lines, so it's hard to engage with a play when you're working on one and I love theatre – it's my life's work and a real thrill for me.
DOH: What does theatre mean to you?
JE: Theatre means a few different things to me. As an audience member it gives me the opportunity to engage in a way that's not passive unlike other forms of popular culture. As a writer and an actor it allows me to express myself that in a way feels interactive, immediate and spontaneous, and also dangerous – in an ultimately safe way. That live element is thrilling.
|Jesse Eisenberg & Kunal Nayyar|
DOH: Kunal, you were born in London – does it feel like a homecoming returning to your birth city to perform in the West End?
KN: Totally, 32 years later! I was three years old though when I left though...so it's been a while.
DOH: Your career has taken in multiple different mediums from film to TV and stage. Which of these do you find most challenging?
KN: Stage. I just think that you have to call on parts of yourself that in other mediums you don't have to. Sometimes in film and TV you can edit around yourself to make the performance but on stage it's just you and the audience and the people on stage with you, so it's difficult.
DOH: How has your experience with comedies such as the 'The Big Bang Theory' prepared you for your role in 'The Spoils'?
KN: It's tough to say – I've been lucky to work continuously for a while, and I think with that you become a better actor. It trains you to listen, all the things you would imagine you don't get if you're not doing it constantly. It's made me more confident as an actor and all those things help you better as a performer.
DOH: So many of your fellow 'Game of Thrones' actors are currently appearing, or set to appear in the West End. What do you think is it about that show that attracts such strong actors?
AA: I think the American casting process is different from the British one – I think they pick a group of actors that they like then whittle it down. I don't know, I guess English actors are just better, aren't they? I guess there's not going to be many actors left because it's got such a huge cast. When we started it none of us were really that known, so I guess we've sort of evolved into it.
DOH: Your dad recently starred in this very same theatre in 'The Homecoming'. How do you think this play is different to Pinter?
AA: They're both dark comedies – 'The Homecoming' is unnervingly dark, this is easier to relate to. I would say that it's a way more conversational piece, and that's why it is unnerving. In 'The Spoils' it's younger and more relatable and as a performer it's really got my juices flowing.
DOH: We last spoke to you after you'd just won your Olivier Award for 'Beautiful'. How has life been since winning such a prestigious award?
KB: It's still mind blowing to me that I have an Olivier, I can't really believe it. It's been fantastic. When I won the award we were only a couple of months in, so I had the rest of the contract to do that show and it was so wonderful knowing I had this award. An amazing part to play and an amazing show. Since then I've also done a really important play at the St James Theatre, and now I get to work with the rest of the cast of 'The Spoils', which is awesome. I miss my cast mates because they were an incredible cast and we got so close. I also miss the music and singing those songs – they were an absolute joy every night. Every time I got to those songs I just loved singing them.
DOH: What initially attracted you to Jesse's play?
KB: I was attracted to this portrait of a narcissist and how he hardens throughout the play. I loved the darkness, the 'cringe-ness' of it and all the characters that orbit him and how they respond to his self-destructiveness. He writs his characters so well, they're so cleverly thought out. And they're funny! It's less about one liners and punchlines, it's more character comedy.
The London premiere of The Spoils runs at the Trafalgar Studios from 27 May to 13 August 2016.