The Untold Truth Of Jesse Eisenberg's Lex Luthor

In 2016, filmmaker Zack Snyder began building out the DC Extended Cinematic Universe (DCEU) in hopes of rivaling the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) with "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice," a quasi-sequel to "Man of Steel," an introduction of Ben Affleck as Batman, and something of an origin story for the Justice League. When the film was announced at Comic-Con, the assembled crowd went nuts; by the time of the film's release, reception would be decidedly more mixed, but that didn't in any way lessen the ambitious universe advancement that seemed to be the film's prime directive.

"Batman v Superman" would prove to be the first time audiences would see a live-action Batman and Superman together in the same film. It also included a first look at Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman, a role that would eventually become something of a breakthrough icon of cinematic feminism

Looking back today, the film undoubtedly has its flaws. The script was all over the place, certain characters seemed superfluous, there was that whole goofy Martha thing — but much of the criticism seemed to focus on Jesse Eisenberg's choices as arguably the most iconic of DC supervillains, Lex Luthor. Arriving in theaters a few years after Eisenberg was nominated for an Oscar playing a distanced, brilliant, aloof Mark Zuckerberg in David Fincher's "The Social Network," Eisenberg's work as the bald baddie ranged from Zuckerberg light (at its best moments) to Zuckerberg in the wrong film (at its worst). Eisenberg would reprise the role in "Justice League" (or, more substantially, "Zack Snyder's Justice League"). 

Reflecting on Eisenberg's unique portrayal of the comic book villain, there are some interesting backstories and footnotes. Whether you loved or hated how this Luthor turned out, they provide fascinating insight into the modern-day construction of a blockbuster baddie.

He Didn't Read The Full Script

This might seem like an odd choice for an actor (or, perhaps, the filmmaker who would permit it), but Eisenberg didn't read the entire script for "Batman v Superman" before signing on.

"[It] was so dense," he said in a 2020 interview of what he did read. "There were references to things I'd never heard of, I was shocked. Because I'd never seen a superhero movie, because I live in a bubble or whatever, and so I thought it was just going to be people flying around for a hundred pages."

Although he called the script "intellectually probing," which would seem to be a good thing, Heroic Hollywood reported that Eisenberg "didn't have the chance to check out the full 'Batman v Superman' script because he only had a limited amount of time to read it." Whether he's gone back and read it in the years since is uncertain.

He Hasn't Seen The Film

In addition to never reading the script, Eisenberg has apparently never gone back and watched the film, either. Clearly, he's not a big fan of the genre — but as he said in one interview, it's nothing personal, it's just that (like a surprising amount of actors) he can't watch his own stuff.

"I don't watch anything I've been in, and I don't read reviews or analysis of movies I've been in, or my plays," he explained in 2016. "I really like thinking that you're working in this bubble and I can experience these personal emotions without thinking that it's going to be scrutinized by, in some cases, a lot of people, in some cases, a small group of people."

The New York City-born actor added: "To take that burden off yourself of thinking about how it's going to be perceived by other people or myself has kind of made me feel that much more comfortable.

Which isn't to say Eisenberg's rule doesn't have the occasional exception. A year later, while reiterating he hadn't seen "Batman v Superman," Eisenberg said in a different interview that he'd seen "Zombieland," but only because co-star Woody Harrelson "physically dragged" him to it. So perhaps Harrelson needs to drag Eisenberg over to his house, make some popcorn, and fire up some "Dawn of Justice" on Netflix.

He Hated His Disguise As Luthor

In many ways, "Batman v Superman" presented a different Lex Luthor than fans had traditionally seen in the comics, cartoon shows like "Super Friends," or perhaps most significantly, Gene Hackman's more comedic (yet cruelly calculating) take on the villain in the Christopher Reeve "Superman" films.

If someone were to describe Lex's most significant character trait, they would likely begin with his bald head. However, Eisenberg's Lex is a younger and far more hirsute man; in some cases, fans seemed to not appreciate the hair — and as Eisenberg has said, he wasn't a big fan of the wigs either. Particularly because Snyder was so secretive of this "new" look that the actor was frequently shepherded around under covers that included hats and scarves. 

""I had this wig on and Lex Luthor is notoriously bald and so they didn't want to reveal that my character has hair, and so I had to wear that [headscarf] for months," he told Good Morning America in 2016. "As great as it is to feel that you're playing this great role in this great movie, it's incredibly emasculating walking to your work in kind of an old handkerchief."

He Blames Editing For His Confusing Portrayal

While promoting "Now You See Me 2" in 2016, Eisenberg addressed fallout from his Luthor performance. Once again reiterating he hadn't seen the film, he nonetheless blamed it on editing.

"I was aware, because we were doing press in England and people said 'are you aware of the mixed reviews?' and I was not," he told MTV. "I don't know what anybody says. All I know is, everybody I gave my tickets to, to go see the movie premiere, they really liked it; including my parents." 

Much of the disconnect around Eisenberg's performance has been with how Darkseid seems to be the "real" villain of Snyder's DC universe, while Luthor is tangentially, only occasionally, aligned with him in motivation. Eisenberg seemed to imply that many of these decisions were made in post production.

"It's a very complicated mythology," he offered. "I was [only able to wrap my head around some of it] while we were filming. I think there were certain editorial choices that I was not aware of that they put in retroactively."

Backing up this revelation, "Batman v Superman" editor David Brenner told Pro Video Coalition in 2016 that the film's original runtime was well over 4-hours long.

"It had a long build where we had to track different characters," Brenner said of the film. "As always there was too much originally shot, so there were a lot of choices to make to get the film to play."

He Believes His Luthor is For The Modern Day Viewer

In a pair of interviews with Playboy, Eisenberg broke down additional details of his motivation surrounding the character — and his amazement over appearing on soda cans.

"The character is in line with what audiences want to see now, which is a more modern, psychologically realistic concept of Lex Luthor," he said in 2016. "His motivations are multifaceted; he has a way of using language that's specific to the way his mind works; he struggles with interesting philosophical dilemmas like that of the individual having too much power, even if that individual is using that power for good. For instance, Superman has so far been using his powers to do some good, but is it safe to have someone like that walking the streets? It's great that all of this happens in the context of a very exciting superhero movie."

As for what he brought to the role, Eisenberg added: "He reminds me of one of those characters in old Greek theater who very explicitly state the philosophical dilemma at hand and put it in a way that feels in line with that character's interests and voice. He speaks in broad themes and ideas: That's what makes the character very theatrical and yet authentic. This is the kind of role actors really like to play because you don't feel like it's a problem if you color outside the lines. I can be as funny as I want to be in the context of my character behaving poorly, and I can be as sad as I want because the character's also going through real internal conflict. Take it as far as you want and be as theatrical as you want to be — it's all correct."

As for the size and scope of being in a blockbuster film, Eisenberg said he had never experienced anything like t.

"I was on a Dr. Pepper can," he said in 2019. "It's such a strange experience, obviously, to be on a can of soda. The only thing I can compare it to is if you look at a picture of yourself, chances are you have all of these strange feelings. Just multiply those feelings. Whatever part of your face you don't like, just multiply that."

Eisenberg Doesn't Think He'll Be Back Again

When "Batman v Superman" debuted Eisenberg's take on Luthor, he seemed like he could be the big bad of this universe. After all, in the comics, he's often the only true foe who can stand toe-to-toe with the likes of Superman.

But approaching a decade later, and even after the largely accepting reviews that greeted the so-called "Snyder Cut" of "Justice League," it appears as though Eisenberg's days of menacing Clark Kent may have reached a premature conclusion.

While doing press for "Zombieland: Double Tap" in 2019, Eisenberg did an interview for alongside series co-star (and "Venom" franchise baddie) Harrelson. The pair were asked "where you're going to be playing them next," and Eisenberg responded by saying something that could be interpreted as a dig at streaming services — or, as some have come to believe, confirmation that he won't be playing Luthor again.

"Different venues. I will say, quite confidently, different venues," he replied, perhaps referring to Harrelson's theatrical release of "Let There be Carnage" in October 2021 compared to his own return as Luthor (via HBO Max) in March 2021. "His will be, like, kind of a movie that people go to and mine will be in my living room that people occasionally go to but mostly one at a time."

Whatever his meaning, it does seem possible that Snyder's time managing the DCEU has come to a close. If so, it's likely Eisenberg's Luthor would also be finished.

Eisenberg and Affleck bonded over politics

In 2015, Eisenberg discussed the friendship he forged with Ben Affleck while they were shooting "Batman v Superman" — and how strange it was to become closer with someone behind the camera while in front of it belittling them for their intellectual inferiority.

"When we were doing 'The Social Network,' he was doing his movie called 'The Town' in I think it was Charlestown. We were actually filming at the same time and I remember everybody was saying, 'What? Ben Affleck is directing a movie?' Everyone was questioning him, and of course, he became such a wonderful movie director," he told Boston Magazine. "He's wonderful in ['Batman v Superman'] and such a bright guy. We share a lot of the same interests in politics and world affairs. It's not like the most common conversations to find yourself having on a movie set, so I really cherish meeting people like him, who are super interested in the rest of the world as well."

It's a Pretty Accurate Portrayal of Mercy Graves

Some might not know the name Mercy Graves from DC comics; in recent years, she's gone more mainstream thanks to appearances on shows like "Supergirl" and "Titans" — as well, perhaps, as "Superman v Batman."

In the comics, Graves was initially written as Lex Luthor's personal, unfailingly loyal, bodyguard. More recent iterations of the character have presented her as Luthor's business partner, unwilling accomplice and/or love interest.

"Batman v Superman" brings Graves back to her roots; the bodyguard is Luthor's primary confidante, although he later sacrifices her to achieve his goal. As far as portrayals of the Luthor/Graves dynamic go, it's an accurate depiction of a ruthless leader and his unfailingly (perhaps foolishly) loyal foot soldier.

He Was Originally Supposed To Play Jimmy Olsen

Believe it or not, Snyder cast Eisenberg as Luthor after the actor turned down a chance to play ... Jimmy Olsen?

Ultimately, the role of Superman's "aw shucks" photographer (made substantially grittier for the Snyderverse) went to Michael Cassidy. Instead of being a photographer from the Daily Planet, Olsen portrayed a CIA operative, undercover as a photographer with Lois Lane (Amy Adams) in the Middle East. Ultimately, he was discovered and killed during his mission.

It's hard to imagine Eisenberg as either the traditional or reimagined Jimmy. Maybe it's for the best, then, that when the filmmaker first courted him, Eisenberg resisted.

"Zack came to me, and I didn't know the character he wanted me to play. He just described something very vague," Eisenberg told Business Insider in 2016 of the Olsen role. "Zack is a more visual guy, so his explanation included a lot of things I don't excel at, including camera movements and effects. But what I left from it was I didn't think I could do a good job in that role."

As for his side of the story, Snyder defended the almost casting as a desire to feature — and then kill — a famous face.

"I thought, if it were Jesse Eisenberg and he got out and he goes, 'I'm Jimmy Olsen,' you'd be like, oh my God, we're gonna have Jimmy Olsen in the whole movie, right?' And then if he got shot, you'd just be like, 'What!? You can't do that," he told Entertainment Weekly in 2016, comparing the idea to Vivian Leigh's "Psycho" death. "I said, 'I want to do this misdirect and you'd be great. You'd be a great Jimmy Olsen ... and he's like, 'Yeah, that's cool,' and he was being very Jesse in the meeting. Introverted but constantly going, 'Okay, I see, uh-huh. So it's sort of a pop-culture redirect, you're gonna do, because of the certain status of an actor."

After Eisenberg left the meeting, Snyder turned to his wife/producer and remembers saying: "Wow, that guy is crazy ... Debbie, what about Jesse as Lex?"

At the time, a "Breaking Bad" star was reportedly in the running. But that Olsen meeting made Snyder shift his way of thinking. "We talked about the usual suspects that you would imagine; any actor who has been bald, probably," he recalled. "Bryan Cranston would have been great, right? And by the way, he's an amazing actor. Can you imagine how different the movie would be?"