When Jesse Eisenberg calls I'm reversing a long van into a short parking space. I was expecting his call but I was also expecting the usual malarkey that goes along with interviewing Hollywood stars.
Usually, an operator calls and puts you on hold while they connect you to a PR person. The PR person is usually bubbly and happy and they ask if you're ready and you say "yes" and then they put you on hold while they connect you to the person you're interviewing.
This process can take anywhere between one and four minutes, plenty of time to park a van and walk back to your desk. Only today it's not, because it's not a bubbly and happy PR person calling. Remarkably, it's Eisenberg himself.
When his instantly recognisable voice says, "Uh, hello, it's, ah, Jesse Eisenberg here," over the van's Bluetooth I'm momentarily confused because I'm expecting a phone operator and because I'm currently reversing, the van's beeping bloody loudly making it sound like I'm at the world's worst techno rave, so I blurt out, "Hi. I'm just reversing a van," which is a fairly unconventional opening for an interview.
"Oh, I'm sorry," he says, sounding almost as confused as I am. Then he asks, "Do you want me to call back?" and I say, "No, no, it's all right. I'm parked now," because, well, I'm parked now and fumbling to get my dictaphone recording.
We're talking because today his new film, Resistance, opens in cinemas. Despite the comedy of errors that got us to this point the movie is not a joke. Instead, it's a dramatic and intense retelling of celebrated mime artist Marcel Marceau's background saving the lives of thousands of Jewish children as part of the French Resistance in World War II.
"I was in shock that this guy, who I'd only known as a mime, was so involved in stories of the Holocaust, in stories of heroism and survival," Eisenberg says when I ask how he felt learning of Marceau's wartime heroics.
"It occurred to me that anybody who survived the war had some story that would seem unbelievable. I have a family [member] that survived in Poland and when I first heard her story I thought, 'This is the most unusual, unbelievable story in human history.' Then you start hearing other people's stories and you realise that if you survived the war, especially if you were Jewish or in Poland or Europe in general, chances are there was some hero involved and some miracle. While Marceau's story is surprising because he became this world-famous mime, it's not surprising at all because there are millions of stories. There are as many stories like this as there are survivors."
Eisenberg's speaking of his cousin, who still lives in Poland. His father's family left in 1918 but he tells me his extended family stayed and died during the war. This direct connection, he says, made the story resonate strongly.
Resistance charts Marceau's journey from a self-obsessed artist who sees the war as an inconvenience blocking his shot at stardom to becoming a fully-fledged hero. It's the story of an ordinary person doing extraordinary things.
"One of the joys of watching a movie like this is you put your own constitution to the test," says Eisenberg. "Especially because it's about somebody who's not a tailor-made hero. I would hope I would react like Marceau because we can all agree that what he's doing is morally correct, he's saving the lives of innocent young victims, but we can't all with confidence say we would do the same thing. Whatever that little distinction is between those who agree and those who actually act, I don't know where that lies in a person. We probably don't know until that person is fully tested."
To learn the art of mime Eisenberg spent seven months training with a former student of Marceau's. He sweated until one day on set he realised he only had to be good enough to make the child actors laugh.
"That's what Marceau was doing. He wasn't performing at Carnegie Hall, he was performing to distract these kids whose lives were in jeopardy," he explains. "It made it that much easier and gave me permission to be more flawed and real, rather than a perfect, polished performer."
One routine Eisenberg was compelled to master was Marceau's first major performance. After the liberation of Paris in August 1944, Marceau, dressed as his famous creation Bip the Clown performed to 3000 of General Patton's American troops. Eisenberg's recreation is startling, capturing all of Marceaus's fluidity of motion and complex emotion.
"We filmed in Congress Hall in Nuremberg where Hitler was building this huge arena to give speeches and hold rallies," Eisenberg recalls. "There was a level of amazing irony to filming this scene of a Jewish person performing mime in this congress hall."
Did he feel the gravitas of that routine and of its history?
"Yeah," he quickly agrees. "It was a transcendent experience where the story of the movie and me, as a Jewish performer who lost family during the war, everything came together in this unusual way."
Then he says, "I'm sorry, I, ah, have to make another call to, uh, a radio station," and I say, "No problem," and then I press the red stop button on my iPhone and say directly into my dictaphone, whose blinking red light indicates it's still recording, "Thanks for your time, it's been a really interesting chat and, oh f***, I've just hung up on Jesse Eisenberg..."
Who: Jesse Eisenberg
What: Portrays French legendary mime artist and World War II hero Marcel Marceau in new movie Resistance
When: In cinemas today.