Two years after bringing his directorial debut “When You Finish Saving the World” to Sundance, Jesse Eisenberg is back at the festival to promote his sophomore effort “A Real Pain.” The film sees Eisenberg exploring his Polish heritage, starring alongside Kieran Culkin as two cousins who visit their grandmother’s homeland in Poland and find themselves clashing against dark chapters of their family history.

The casting of Culkin in his first major post-“Succession” film role made “A Real Pain” a must-see for many TV fans, although Eisenberg admits he had never made time for Jesse Armstrong’s HBO juggernaut before embarking on the project. Eisenberg and Culkin stopped by the IndieWire Studio at Sundance, presented by Dropbox, to talk about assembling one of the festival’s buzziest titles.

“I sent the first 20 pages to my sister, she reads everything I write, and she was just like, ‘There’s only one person who can play this part, he’s the greatest actor in the world,’” Eisenberg said when asked about the process of casting Culkin. “I did 40 seconds of research, and it was exactly right. I’ve known him for a long time and I’ve loved Kieran for a long time and we knew each other a little bit, but it just was perfect. And when people see the movie, I think their first reaction will be, ‘This is the greatest actor.’”

While Eisenberg was instantly sold on Culkin, the newly minted Emmy winner was hesitant to jump into another intense project so soon after wrapping “Succession.” Culkin told IndieWire that while he loved Eisenberg’s script, he actively looked for flaws that would give him an excuse to back out of the role. But despite his best efforts, he couldn’t find any.

“Because of the job I just came off of, I was really looking forward to free time. And I remember, I was trying to get out of doing the movie,” Culkin said. “And I thought, I’m gonna read the script for the third time, and maybe I’ll find some flaw in it, something that makes me go, ‘Oh this isn’t worth my time.’ And I read the whole thing, and the third time in a row I’m laughing out loud at the script and going ‘Dammit, I feel like I need to do this.’ I told my wife and she goes, ‘Are we going to Poland or not?’ And I’m like, ‘I think we are honey, I’m sorry.’”

As Culkin resigned himself to the prospect of traveling to Poland for an intense shoot, he realized he might have one last excuse to back out. He was unfamiliar with Eisenberg’s directorial skills and decided to watch “When You Finish Saving the World,” with the hope that he’d realize the “Social Network” star was a subpar filmmaker. But that didn’t work either, and he soon found himself packing his bags for Europe.

“I went, ‘Oh wait! I haven’t seen his first film yet!’ I’m gonna watch that, I’m gonna hate it, and I’m gonna be like ‘I’m out.’ Then I watched his movie and I loved it, so I felt like I had to go and do this one.”

The 2024 Sundance Film Festival runs January 18–28, with festival talks taking place January 19–26. See the full lineup here for the IndieWire Studio at Sundance, presented by Dropbox.

Dropbox supports and champions independent makers, crews, and teams behind the camera who bring their unique perspectives to life at the Sundance Film Festival. We’re proud that over 60% of films at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival leveraged Dropbox in their filmmaking process. It takes a monumental effort for film projects to go from ideation to completion, and Dropbox is dedicated to helping filmmakers get their projects across the finish line faster. Filmmakers used Dropbox as one organized homebase to keep video files secure, to remotely collaborate with teams around the world, and to get real-time video feedback with Dropbox Replay.

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