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All About Asuncion

Jesse Eisenberg and Camille Mana discuss the new Off-Broadway play about a trio of unlikely roommates.

Jesse Eisenberg
(© John Russo)
Jesse Eisenberg has become one of the film world's hottest actors, thanks to his work in such films as The Squid and the Whale, Zombieland, and The Social Network, for which he received an Academy Award nomination. However, Eisenberg is not only an actor, he's a playwright -- and he is currently co-starring with Justin Bartha and Camille Mana in his new play, Asuncion, being presented by the Rattlestick Theatre Company at the Cherry Lane. TheaterMania recently spoke to Eisenberg and Mana about this project.

THEATERMANIA: What are you looking forward to as far as audiences seeing Asuncion?
JESSE EISENBERG: The play is funny and I hope people find it funny. When I became an adult, I became interested in politics, and so the issues in the play were on my mind. The characters are lonely and turn into these nuts. These are real feelings of loneliness and alienation.

TM: I know you have been working on this play for quite some time. Do you think it was easier to get the play developed after the success of The Social Network?
JE: Actually, Rattlestick Playwrights Theater offered me this slot two years ago before the success I had with any movie. And then it was difficult to make my schedule free after The Social Network, since I have been offered other things to do. But I decided I really needed to keep a clear schedule for this.

TM: You say the characters are nuts. But are Edgar and Vinny, who are already roommates, happy when Asuncion first moves in?
JE: Yes, in the first act, we show Asuncion coming in and brightening up their day. Things become sour because the characters are irresponsible. It's fun to watch how the two characters interact with Asuncion.

TM: How did you come into contact with Camille Mana?
JE: Someone sent me Camille's reel and there was something so remarkable about her. She has a good comic sensibility, and she had things on her reel that were difficult to be funny in, but which she pulled off. I am so lucky to have someone like her be a part of this. Camille taught me things about this role that I didn't know. I based this role on a girl that I had a casual relationship with and Camille helped me alter the script.

TM: You have known Justin Bartha for a while. Why did you cast him?
JE: Justin and I met at a screen test for a movie we didn't get into. We sat in a waiting room for six hours. He has the exact same perspective that I have about things being very unstable in this industry. He is also so superbly talented, and his voice sounds like the voice I write.

Next page: Camile Mana
Camille Mana
(© Keith Munya)
THEATERMANIA: Is it true that Jesse actually offered you this role himself, without an audition?
CAMILLE MANA: Yes, it's kind of hard to believe, but it is very cool. Somehow, a tape of my work was sent to him. I didn't know anyone involved with the project. Jesse was researching Asian actresses and hadn't come up with anybody, and they reached out to me. It was strange because I have never done a role like this before. I was approached to do the play over a year ago, but then nothing ever happened. It's great that the project is finally happening! This play is very important to Jesse.

TM: Your character, Asuncion, emigrates from the Philippines and moves in with these guys, Edgar and Vinny. What kind of journey does she go on throughout the course of the play?
CM: Edgar and Vinny are two intellectual guys. Edgar is a liberal blogger and Vinny is getting a masters degree in Black Studies. When she arrives, the two men have their assumptions about her. She isn't a child, she is a three-dimensional woman; she's seen a lot and has been through a lot. They have read so much about the world, but when they get to meet Asuncion, it's up-close and personal.

TM: How cool is it sharing a stage with Jesse and Justin?
CM: It has been lovely. I have been impressed with how bright they are. They are well-read, just like their characters, and witty and sharp.

TM: What will the audience take away from Asuncion?
CM: The play looks at knowledge and experience. What's interesting for us is finding where the humor lies. It's a comedy as well. Hopefully, audiences will find the humor in it.

TM: Were rehearsals funny?
CM: Yes. One of the challenges about this piece was that we couldn't get through the scenes without laughing. It's great to see something being created right in front of you.

TM: You graduated from UC Berkeley in six semesters with a degree in Economics. When did you think about acting as a career?
CM: I was already acting prior to college. I wanted to do this since I was a little girl, even though my parents were opposed to acting as a career. So, I had two tracks. But since Berkeley was so close to Los Angeles, I was flying home a lot to go on auditions. But I never thought I would be doing a play in New York. I am thrilled, and I hope this will open more doors for me in the theater community here.

TM: You said Asuncion was different than anything you've done before. How different is she from the role of Helen you're portraying in the film Norman, which opens next week?
TM: I play the only girl in school who is a bigger outcast than Norman, and I provide the comic relief. She and Asuncion are total opposites. Helen is an offbeat, neurotic, drama club girl, whereas Asuncion is a beautiful young woman. But I am very proud of both of these roles.