Tiger of the Week: Jesse Liebman ’03

Jesse Liebman ’03 did not come to Princeton planning to be an actor. In fact, the classics major didn’t walk onto a campus stage until his sophomore year, when he auditioned for the Triangle Club. He would go on to write, direct, and act in Triangle shows, and since graduation, he has honed his acting skills in theatrical productions and at the New Actors Workshop in New York.

This Friday, Liebman’s career takes a new turn with the release of the movie Did You Hear About the Morgans?, a romantic comedy starring Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker. Liebman plays the assistant to Grant’s character and finds himself in a budding romance with the assistant to Parker’s character, played by Elisabeth Moss. One of Liebman’s classmates alerted us to the actor’s latest role, and Liebman spoke with PAW’s Brett Tomlinson Dec. 15, the day after the New York premiere of Did You Hear About the Morgans?.

Is this your first major role in a feature film?

“It is both the first role and my first major role — the first in many ways. Otherwise, I’ve done entirely theater work since graduating from college.”

What have been your other recent highlights as an actor?

“This year has been great because I co-directed and co-starred in a version of Waiting for Godot that I was able to perform in Paris twice. So it’s been a very rewarding year with new experiences both in theater and in film.”

You were a member of the Triangle Club at Princeton. Was there anything specific from that experience that inspired you to pursue acting professionally?

“In the back of my mind, I always wanted ‘acting training.’ I don’t think I said that I wanted to be an actor, but I wanted to go through the training process. And Triangle was that type of training process. Triangle has not only this great tradition of performing arts, but each class has its own energy, most represented in the Freshman Week show. … It just seemed like everyone was having so much fun. The collaborative energy and the level of professionalism really stood out.”

At Princeton, you majored in classics and delivered the Latin Salutatory Oration at Commencement. Has your knowledge of Latin ever paid dividends in your acting career?

“For a long time, people always asked me if I was going to combine these interests [classics and acting]. I haven’t, but I think studying other languages, in particular ancient languages — I studied Latin and Greek — always made me more attuned to modes of expression in English. It made me understand a bit more about how I was formulating things, why certain expressions in English sounded better. … Now, as I read different authors and read different plays, I think I’m more attuned to the voice of the author and the way he creates expression for the characters. The way we talk is indicative of who we are.”

What has it been like promoting your first film?

“[Monday] night was the New York premiere for the film. … The red carpet was a very, very weird experience, but it was wonderful. I hadn’t really seen the movie yet, so it was exciting to see it for the first time — and also a little strange because [the filming] happened nine months ago.”

Why was the red carpet weird?

“It’s just totally overwhelming. Everybody is there to take pictures of Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker. Probably over a hundred cameras are flashing in front of you, and people are told ahead of time what your name is, so they’re all calling out your name. ‘Jesse, Jesse, look here, look here.’ You have no idea who’s talking to you … and once you give them something they want, the flashes increase. They just start popping all over the place.

“It was fun when I got to do a bunch of interviews with news outlets. … They ask questions that are normal, like ‘What’s it like to work with Hugh Grant?’ And then they started asking me about Tiger Woods, and someone asked me about male grooming tips. It’s very, very strange stuff.”

Do you have a nominee for Tiger of the Week? Let us know. All alumni qualify. PAW’s Tiger of the Week is selected by our staff, with help from readers like you.