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Eisenberg talks about tics and '30 Minutes or Less'

Charles Ealy

Jesse Eisenberg, whose new movie "30 Minutes or Less" opened Friday, doesn't seem like a movie star. He's fidgety, soft-spoken, introspective and polite.

"I've always felt on the fringes of the movie industry, either by choice or not," Eisenberg says during a stop in Austin to promote his movie. "I started out doing independent movies in New York, and I feel more comfortable doing those. It's been by accident that I've been in some of these bigger movies. I certainly haven't pursued them."

By "bigger movies," the 27-year-old New York native means "30 Minutes" and 2010's "The Social Network," which earned him an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

In "30 Minutes," he's no Zuckerberg, no titan of technology. He's Nick, a "pizza delivery guy who's living a mundane life," Eisenberg says. "He has not really made all the right decisions, and he lives a kind of isolated life."

All of that changes when Nick makes what he thinks is a regular delivery, only to be kidnapped by two small-time criminals, who strap a bomb on his chest and tell him they'll blow him up if he doesn't rob a bank for them in nine hours. Nick turns to his best friend, Chet (Aziz Ansari), for help.

"They deal with his crazy situation the way that regular guys would. They buy toy guns and spray-paint them black to make them look real. They refer to 'Point Break' on how to rob a bank. They drink five-hour energy drinks so that they can stay alert," Eisenberg says. "The comedy of the movie comes out of these regular slacker guys having to do this insane thing."

As Eisenberg talks, he nervously runs his hands up and down one of several water bottles on a table in front of him and acts as though he might start rearranging them.

When his fidgeting is pointed out, Eisenberg just shakes his head and says: "I have a lot of unplaced energy. One of the helpful things about acting is that it lets me release it in a healthy way. I knew that after doing this movie, I would sleep well and get all of the anxiety out."

But as he continues to fidget, it's clear that his anxiety is making a comeback.

"Doing a lot of interviews makes you think twice before signing up for a movie. Some of the stuff is really bad, as you might imagine," he says, referring to scripts that he receives. "So you don't want to do something that you don't want to be associated with."

He decided to do "30 Minutes" in part because he would be working with a familiar director, Ruben Fleischer, who worked with Eisenberg on 2009's surprise hit "Zombieland."

But he also liked the script. "It's rare to read a comedy that's funny and have real characters who don't change simply because of the plot," he says.

He had the same reaction to the script by Aaron Sorkin for "Social Network," he says. After reading it, he says, "I made a tape at my house and sent it to the director (David Fincher). They flew me out (to California) and I got the part."

"I'm glad I was in something that people like so much," Eisenberg says. But he wasn't thrilled at being nominated for an Oscar.

"It's a stressful experience. It feels like a lose/lose situation," he says. "If you win, you have to make a speech, and that can go wrong, like you don't thank the right person. And if you lose, you lose."

Plus, "I don't like dressing up," he says. "I feel like a child. I just feel stupid. I don't want to seem ungrateful. It's just that I have a pessimistic way of looking at things."

Such angst should serve him well while filming Woody Allen's upcoming movie, "The Bop Decameron," which, like other recent Allen movies, revolves around a European city. This time, it's Rome.

"I think he's the greatest director of all time," Eisenberg says of Allen. "I can't really say anything about the role I'm playing. But I won't be Woody's stand-in. Woody will be in the movie."

Eisenberg says Allen "has made my favorite movies of all time, my top five: 'Crimes and Misdemeanors,' 'Husbands and Wives,' 'Hannah and Her Sisters,' 'Manhattan,' 'Annie Hall.'" He also says he's a fan of Allen's latest, "Midnight in Paris."

When told that he shares some of Allen's nervous intelligence, Eisenberg sighs, then says: "I can't help how I am. It's not by design."

cealy@statesman.com; 445-3931