Fleishman Is In Trouble: Oscar Nominee Jesse (The Social Network) Eisenberg on Gendered Double Standards That his Series Exposes (Upper East Side Manhattan Culture)

The Gendered Double Standards is Exposed in ‘Fleishman Is In Trouble’

The star of the new FX adaptation discusses why he feels embarrassed by the culture the show depicts and why he’s most comfortable playing the anti-hero.

The FX adaptation also stars Lizzy Caplan and Claire Danes.

He is on display as the face of this project, the subject of interest from other people. “I’m so embarrassed that I’m a public person in the first place,” he says. There are themes in the drama series that are triggering for an actor inclined to humility.

(L-R): Meara Mahoney Gross as Hannah Fleishman, Jesse Eisenberg as Toby Fleishman, Maxim Swinton as Solly Fleishman.
The storyfollows a divorce between Toby (Eisenberg) and Rachel (Danes) Fleishman, narrated by Toby’s friend Libby (Caplan).
Viewers are first shown the ways in which the social-climbing, wealth-obsessed wife has antagonized the altruistic husband, before the other side of the argument — the side that isn’t always shown in pop culture — is revealed.
Manhattan Upper Side
It all takes place on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, and it particularly skewers the class consciousness of New Yorkers.

“So much of this show feels embarrassingly specific to the culture I grew up with, all things I have shame around,” he says. “It can be a relief to play something familiar but it’s also exposing the things I’ve hidden in my own life — and here I am on television feeling those things in front of everybody.”

Eisenberg spoke about the onscreen exposure therapy and what Fleishman has to say about marriage.

Familiarity with book?

I started reading the book because I had read so many interesting interviews with Taffy. You’re involved in this man’s story, he’s this heroic, sympathetic guy, and then you realize that not only is this a one-sided perspective on tragic marriage but also long-standing trope in stories, that we feel bad for the man. We have different expectations for what a man should shoulder than what we think a woman should shoulder.

When it comes to issues around domestic challenges, family, and marriage, we expect more from a woman.

There’s a line at the end of the book, which I think is also in the series, that says “Toby would come close to self-awareness and then run screaming from it.” My first reaction had been that the guy is completely self-aware, but I realized that he has a sense of righteousness that clouds him from being self-aware and seeing his own contributions to the fraught in his marriage. That was interesting to me, because I don’t think of myself that way. I think of myself as not only very self-critical, perhaps more than is healthy, but I blame myself first in a situation. And sorry, I don’t mean to tout my values, I just mean this is how my brain is wired. And Toby is not wired that way.

Able to imagine yourself as him?

It’s a lot more comfortable for me to play the antihero than it is to play the charming guy.

I just tend not to think of men in that way, as put-upon, I think of them as really in control. I don’t love the idea of male sympathy, which is one of the wonderful elements of the show: It makes the viewer complicit in that sympathy because you’re thinking God, this guy’s a victim. And then by the end you realize that’s just one version of this marriage. I felt it was easier for me to play the ending episodes of the show, which are more in line with the way I view complications in relationships: that there’s no saint.

Brodesser-Akner (also series’ showrunner) is known for keen celebrity profiles?

Eisenberg (flanked by Meara Mahoney Gross and Maxim Swinton) in FX’s new series.
Eisenberg (flanked by Meara Mahoney Gross and Maxim Swinton) in FX’s new series.
LINDA KALLERUS/FX

The way the show depicts New York?

This show portrays what I call Zabar’s versus Sarabeth’s, which is fascinating. I’m sort of neither.

I was born in Queens, and when I was 5 I moved out to New Jersey, so I’ve been on the outskirts of Manhattan culture.

I’ve always had this fascination with very rich people, that they could live side by side with everyone else and have these extravagant lives. I suppose there’s a bit of cynicism because you think, “I’m an artist, I’m doing it the right way, and I hate that you have to be a billionaire to get a two-bedroom apartment now.” All that is in the show.

As my character says to his wife, “I’m a rich person everywhere in the world except the 40 square blocks you insist we live in.”