The Hummingbird Project tells the story of two high-frequency traders, cousins Vincent Zaleski (Jesse Eisenberg) and Anton Zaleski (Alexander Skarsgard), as they attempt to fight against their old boss, Eva Torres (Salma Hayek), to make millions on a fibre-optic cable deal.
What attracted you to the project?
JE: When I read it, I thought this guy [writer/director Kim Nguyen] is trying to write about second-generation Jewish immigrants, of which I am a part of. And I thought he was really getting at something in the culture that I don’t even know that he was necessarily intending. Which was the drive to assimilate into American culture. When you are hungry to assimilate, you do things that are extreme and so that’s what my family did when they came from Poland. Some people, they went to the rich neighbourhood, and got their garbage and refurbished it, and sold it to poor people. When you are hungry and trying to assimilate into a rich culture, you do stuff like that. I thought this movie was really a story of people who are so desperate to fit in, that they do this crazy thing, and only at the end do they realise the kind of absurd lengths that they went to.
Would you call it a film about an extreme road to success; and what lengths would you go to achieve success in your life?
JE: The thing that I was comparing it to when I was acting in it, is when I was so desperate to write a play and act in a play when I was younger, so I really did so much to get my plays on, almost destroying personal relationships or taxing my body past the point that was healthy. You often do things that only in retrospect you realise how dangerous it was, but at the time you are still focused on the goal. And I think that’s what this movie captures, and especially for my character going through some really tragic things throughout the movie.
AS: Anton is not driven by that. He’s not interested in success or any kind of recognition from other people or from society as a whole or money. This endeavour is very simple for him, he’s doing it because his cousin asked him to do it. And I find that quite romantic in a way. It’s this absolutely insane project but the reason he’s on this journey is because, again, it’s not about that, he doesn’t even think about the scope of it, it’s just like “oh, he wants me to do it, I’ll do it”. And then it becomes a personal challenge and that’s when he goes down the rabbit hole of trying to cut that one millisecond. But again, the end goal is not about needing to raise three million dollars to save his family or to save the house, which is usually the trope in a movie as the motivating factor for the character. I thought it was so refreshing that it’s not about that, he’s just doing it.
One of the things that the movie reminds us is that it’s not always about the goal, but to enjoy the process. Do you think that also applies to acting?
JE: I stopped watching the movies that I did ten years ago. I liked acting in them a lot more because I wasn’t thinking about the final product when I was doing them. I was just thinking about what I could do to make it interesting for myself and interesting for the character. And once I decided I don’t have to watch the thing, then all the anxiety of thinking about it while I was there disappeared. And so, in this movie, once the characters’ pursuit fails, they are so much happier. I think once you relieve yourself of a burden that you shouldn’t have placed on yourself in the first place…it’s freeing.
You have played many hyper-intelligent characters. Is that something that you are consciously looking for or you just get called for those characters?
JE: No, if anything, I think I would gravitate towards a character that is not as bright. When I read this script, I think Alex and I didn’t know which parts [we were playing], they asked me to read both parts, and I liked the part I played, because he is the dumber one. He’s the hustler. So, if given the opportunity I would like to play that. The movie that I just finished two weeks ago [The Art of Self-Defense], my character is also not bright and I just like that because you get sent a lot of scripts for doing a certain thing so then you just try to make it interesting for yourself looking for something else, and sometimes that means doing a smaller role or a less good movie even, but it gives you a fun opportunity to change yourself.
What are your rules when you are creating a character; are you looking for certain features or certain objects?
AS: I don’t really have a process. I guess I do, but there’s no one, two, three steps. What I try to do is, I read it and once I respond to the material and if it’s like “I am going to do this”, then I read the script once a day, and I find that I discover new things each time I read it. And slowly the character will form in my mind and I will see it and I will get tons of ideas and most of them will be shit. But then you will remove those and hopefully you will have the foundation of the character after a couple of days. I just keep reading and slowly it will shape from the inside out. For this, I would pick, “oh, I’m on a dirty road when I was in the hotel”, and that would give me ideas for other aspects of the character. And the hair or lack of was something… But also psychological stuff – I was inspired by a friend that I have in Sweden in terms of socially awkward.
The Hummingbird Project is in cinemas April 25, 2019