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Emma Stone gave Jesse Eisenberg scene idea for Sundance film

Emma Stone produced writer/director Jesse Eisenberg's movie "A Real Pain." File Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI
Emma Stone produced writer/director Jesse Eisenberg's movie "A Real Pain." File Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI

PARK CITY, Utah, Jan. 21 (UPI) -- Writer/director Jesse Eisenberg said producer Emma Stone gave him an idea for a scene in his movie A Real Pain, which premiered Saturday at the Sundance Film Festival. Eisenberg and Kieran Culkin play cousins on a tour of Poland.

At one point, Benji (Culkin) and Dave (Eisenberg) fall asleep on a train and miss their stop. They have to sneak onto the train going back to catch up with their tour group.

"Emma Stone, whose idea it was to have the characters sleep on the train and then have to take the other train, she's a genius, as we know," Eisenberg said after the screening.

Stone was not at Sundance, but also produced Eisenberg's previous film, When You Finish Saving the World. As actors Stone and Eisenberg co-starred in the Zombieland films.

In the film, the cousins are visiting Portland shortly after the death of their grandmother. They take a heritage tour around important sites and monuments to the Holocaust.

Jesse Eisenberg wrote, directed and stars in "A Real Pain." Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute
Jesse Eisenberg wrote, directed and stars in "A Real Pain." Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute

Benji vacillates between class clown of the tour and coping with his own episodes when the gravity of history hits him.

Culkin said he had never co-starred with his director before. At first, Culkin said, he was taken aback by Eisenberg directing him after each take they performed together.

Kieran Culkin (L) and Jesse Eisenberg star in "A Real Pain." Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute
Kieran Culkin (L) and Jesse Eisenberg star in "A Real Pain." Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute

"He'd be like, 'cut,' and start giving me notes," Culkin said. "My first thought was like b****, I've got notes for you too.' So that was an adjustment."

Eisenberg said he had the inverse problem. As director, he found his performance distracted by making sure equipment was working and the production remained on schedule.

Kieran Culkin said he got confused when his co-star started directing his performance. Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI
Kieran Culkin said he got confused when his co-star started directing his performance. Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI

"Normally when I'm acting in a movie, I just give myself over to my character," Eisenberg said. "I don't think about the schedule. I don't think about the shots. I don't think about how I'm going to look in the movie. I just enjoy living in the circus."

Eisenberg said he was inspired to use his family's history in Poland during World War II as the backstory for Benji and Dave. The modern story was Eisenberg's own idea about degrees of pain.

Both Benji and Dave are grieving their grandmother. Dave has anxieties but is relatively stable with a wife and son.

Benji has less direction in life and is lonelier, but masks a lot of it with humor, until he can't mask anymore. But, both of their angst is set against the ultimate tragedy of the Holocaust.

"I know my pain is not epic," Eisenberg said. "We're all experiencing something and then how do you reconcile that against the backdrop of historical, global, genocide, trauma, etc?"

Eisenberg also incorporated a friend's story into A Real Pain. One of the characters on the tour Benji and Dave take is Eloge (Kurt Egyiawan), a Rwandan who survived the Rwandan genocide and converted to Judaism.

There is a real Eloge, Eisenberg said, who allowed the writer/director to use the story in the film.

"I wanted to connect the Jewish experience to another more modern experience," Eisenberg said. "I think of the Holocaust as a tragedy that is ongoing in other cultures. Other cultures have experienced their own genocides."