Jesse Eisenberg has nothing but respect for Carlos Saldanha, his director (and creator of) the “Rio” movies.
“He’s a pretty incredible guy,” says Eisenberg, on the phone from Miami, where “Rio 2” recently had a splashy premiere. (“I missed it,” Eisenberg admits in his famously earnest tone.)
Yet Eisenberg, who plays the animated film’s protagonist, Blu, a rare Blue Macaw, says Saldanha helped him enormously, by acting out the roles of all of the other characters in the recording booth.
“It’s a very labor intensive process,” he says, describing how the first “Rio” was made in various sessions over the course of several years.
“It was easier the second time around,” says Eisenberg, who adds that acting with only his voice was difficult to adapt to at first, because he naturally wants to avoid overacting or playing too broadly.
But Eisenberg favorably compares Blu, a cartoon bird, to other parts, including humans, he has played. “We were encouraged to bring our own emotional experiences,” he says, adding that the Blu, with his sense of humor and self-awareness, “has everything you want in a role.”
Character development aside, the “Rio” movies are perhaps more notable for their accurate depiction of their locations. In “Rio,” Rio de Janeiro was duplicated nearly building by building. In “Rio 2,” the rest of the Amazon and the rainforest are in the spotlight — again, drawn with impeccable accuracy.
The movie’s timely environmental message about the plight of endangered species is something Eisenberg also admires.
He says he would “love to see the story continue” and would agree to be in sequels “as long as my character has something to do.”
Meanwhile, his life as an actor hasn’t changed too dramatically since being in family movies (“Kids in the street don’t recognize me as Blu”), or even since his Oscar nomination for playing Mark Zuckerberg in “The Social Network.”
Eisenberg, 30, who won’t comment on his role as Lex Luthor in the upcoming untitled Batman vs. Superman film, says his most life-changing movie role was when, at 19, he was noticed for his performance in “Roger Dodger,” his first feature film.
After recently finishing the “really interesting experience” of filming “The End of the Tour” — starring Jason Segel as “Infinite Jest” author David Foster Wallace, and he plays Rolling Stone writer David Lipsky — Eisenberg is looking forward to just one thing: going home to New York City, a place he hasn’t been in awhile.
IF YOU GO
Starring Voices of Jesse Eisenberg, Anne Hathaway, Jamie Foxx, Leslie Mann, George Lopez, Tracy Morgan
Written by Don Rhymer
Directed by Carlos Saldanha
Running time 1 hour, 41 minutes