WEIRDLAND: "Holy Rollers": a naïve Chasid lost in the bright lights of a nightclub

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

"Holy Rollers": a naïve Chasid lost in the bright lights of a nightclub

Jesse Eisenberg, Justin Bartha and Ari Graynor attending 'Holy Rollers' New York City Premiere at Landmark Sunshine Theater on 10th May 2010 © Janet Mayer / PR Photos

"Eisenberg plays a much smaller role in Brian Koppelman and David Levien's drama Solitary Man, as a college student mentored in the ways of women by Michael Douglas' crafty car salesman.

We were originally going to speak with Jesse and Holy Rollers director Kevin Asch paired together, but due to timing issues, we ended up getting Jesse with his co-star Justin Bartha, a terrific comic actor in his own right going by his work in The Hangover and the "National Treasure" movies.
Although we clearly hadn't prepared any questions for Bartha, he had a lot to say about the movie, and Eisenberg certainly didn't seem to mind taking a backseat in the interview. Justin, what was your jumping on point for the movie and into this character? I'm not sure if you have any sort of New York Jewish background at all?

Bartha: The first thing I thought of, where the script was, I lived above a Hassidic family in Los Angeles for a year or two and they had this kind of son that was having, it seemed, behavioral problems. The family themselves were a bit eccentric and were always fighting and always seemed to have a lot of turmoil and would keep me up at night, and I always thought that the son was a fascinating character. The whole family was fascinating, and I had always wanted to do something with that. Jesse sent me this script, and I immediately thought of that and after we shaped the project over a couple years and did more and more research, the characters, both of them, seemed to come really clear. I think they're both very dependent on each other. Since I know have such a familiarity with Jesse and we developed these character together, the development of my character was dependent on the development of his character so it helped quite a bit knowing him.
Justin Bartha, Ari Graynor and Jesse Eisenberg at "Holy Rollers" New York Premiere on 10th May 2010.

CS: Can you guys talk about doing something a little more serious, like a Scorsese-type movie?
Bartha: We always had "Mean Streets" in the back of our mind when it came to... obviously, it's not as great as that movie, but we did have that archetype of two characters that are very specific in an insular community.

Eisenberg: How much worse is it?

Bartha: How much worse is it? It's a little bit worse.

CS: Can I quote you on that? "Not as good as 'Mean Streets'?

Bartha: But almost as good. (returns to what he was saying)... but that '70s American filmmaking in the vein of two male characters who very much have an effect on changing each other's lives, that was very much an inspiration for the development of a character-driven drama.
CS: Jesse, for some reason, people think of you more as a comedic actor though a lot of the movies you've done have been dramas that put you in funny or awkward situations. Do you see yourself as a comedic actor?
Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart in "Adventureland" (2009).

Eisenberg: I think it's irresponsible as an actor to put yourself in a genre, because you're seeing the final product not the path of it. It's up to the Blockbuster video clerk to put me in a genre, but for me, I don't see any difference between this movie and a "Zombieland." The final product may look different but for me, it's the exact same thing. You're acting in the scene every day and trying to make it real and coming from a place where if the final product is funny, it often has less to do with my intention than the producer's intention.
CS: Jesse, you've worked with a lot of first-time filmmakers, it's really quite impressive. Is there just having the freedom of collaboration or is there anything in particular that draws you to first-time filmmakers?

Eisenberg: Well, no, I just read the script. I didn't even know Kevin was directing. I just sign on to scripts that I think are good and characters that I think I can play. I don't have a technical knowledge of film enough to know that a first-time director has the learning curve to make a movie because I don't understand what it's like to make a movie..." Source:

"Andre Allen Anjos, better known as RAC, had some big news to share with us recently — he had signed on to score the upcoming Jesse Eisenberg (Adventureland and Zombieland) and Justin Bartha (The Hangover) film, Holy Rollers, about a group of Hasidic Jews smuggling 1 million ecstasy pills into the US in the late 90’s.

You can stream the entire soundtrack below — watch out for single and soundtrack standout “If You Forget Me”.

RAC x HOLY ROLLERS by Remix Artist Collective

Jesse Eisenberg at The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien on 30th September 2010

"Eisenberg — who speaks rapidly and is both droll and self-effacing — apparently doesn’t view himself as the “hot nerd” that Rolling Stone has proclaimed him to be. In fact, initially he wasn’t even sure he could pull off his leading role in “Holy Rollers”: “I didn’t think I would seem authentic”, said Eisenberg, who was raised Reform in Queens and New Jersey. “I thought the character should be played by a real Chasidic Jew, not an actor from other movies like me,” he said in a phone interview from his Manhattan home. “It takes place in a very insular Jewish community, and it would be somewhat distracting to watch an actor you’ve previously seen shooting up zombies in an amusement park.”
Jesse Eisenberg and Emma Stone in "Zombieland" (2009).

Eisenberg views “Holy Rollers” not so much as a Jewish story as one about a misguided youth trying to find his place in the world and to integrate contradictory aspects of himself.
Kevin Asch on the set of "Holy Rollers"

“Holy Rollers” draws on director Kevin Tyler Asch’s memories of the New York rave culture of the 1990s (see sidebar); Eisenberg is perfect as the fictional Chasid, he said, “because he exudes the kind of innocence Sam has coming from such an insular culture. I was so impressed by Jesse’s nuanced performance as he builds the transformation in the character — which is even more impressive given that we shot the whole movie in 18 days in the dead of winter.”

"So why did Asch choose to make his protagonist, Sam Gold (Jesse Eisenberg), a Chasidic Jew? About five years ago, he explained, “Holy Rollers” producer Danny Abeckaser told him about an Israeli who had employed Chasids to smuggle drugs into the United States. “Danny wanted to turn the story into a Jewish kind of ‘GoodFellas’, but I was immediately struck by the image of a naïve Chasid lost in the bright lights of a nightclub,” Asch said. “I thought, ‘What a journey,’ and I related to it. I personalized it right away.”

"Eisenberg was Asch’s first choice to play Sam: He had identified with the actor’s turn as a teenager braving his parents’ divorce in “The Squid and the Whale” and as a virgin overwhelmed by Manhattan nightlife in “Roger Dodger.” “You’ve played me in a couple of movies,” he quipped to Eisenberg the first time they spoke". Source:

Jesse Eisenberg and Justin Bartha attending "Holy Rollers" New York Premiere on 10th May 2010

Holy Rollers Clip - Family Business

I just interviewed briefly director Kevin Asch about his opera prima "Holy Rollers". Mr. Asch thanked me for my support of his film and he was very kind of replying a couple of questions I sent him via Facebook.

My questions were:

-How much of an autobiographical experience was reflected in your main characters Sam & Josef?

-Kevin Asch: It's not autobiographical, except running on the brooklyn bridge on E and going to nightclubs...wait yeah some of it is kinda autobiographical, but really everything about the film is deeply personal. I was instantly invested in the true events that Danny A. told me about 5 years ago and wanted to tell an honest and emotional story.

-Was Jesse Eisenberg your first choice for the casting of Sam in "Holy Rollers" and why?

-Kevin Asch: Jesse was my first choice. I was a fan from his earlier films and felt like his sensibilities would be in line with mine and I was right, but you need luck making these films and landing Jesse was by far the luckiest. Not only does he attract other talented actors, but he is wonderful to be around and made me into a better filmmaker over the two years we spent together developing the character and script.

All the best,

"Holy Rollers", an official selection at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, opens on May 21st in New York, on May 21st in Los Angeles at The Landmark 10850 West Pico Blvd., West Los Angeles, and on May 28 at various Laemmle Theatres. For more information, visit and

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