Jesse Eisenberg‘s reasons for taking on the real-life story of mime Marcel Marceau in Resistance are deeply personal.
The upcoming World War II drama follows Marcel’s real-life story after his Jewish family was forced to flee his hometown during the German occupation of France when he was 16. The young performer was recruited into the resistance by his cousin Georges, the Head of the Jewish Boy Scouts of Strasburg who would go on to save hundreds of Jewish orphans by helping them escape to Switzerland.
Marcel was trained in the Paris suburbs and found his skills by helping with the children his cousin was saving. The performer started miming in order to keep the children quiet while they were escaping.
“When I learned about this story, I think I really connected to it because it’s really the story of this artist kind of finding a way to use his work for the benefit of other people,” Eisenberg, 36, tells PEOPLE. “I lost family during the war in these parts of Europe, Marcel’s father is from an area close to where my family is from and where my family died. For so many reasons the story was very potent.”
In PEOPLE’s exclusive clip of the upcoming drama, Eisenberg’s Marcel finds himself in a bustling street market while his brother Alain (played by Felix Moati) sits in a Gestapo wagon as Nazi soldiers round up prisoners.
The tense scene unfolds as Alain tries to find a means to escape before Marcel gets creative with alcohol and fire.
The commotion lets Alain and the other men in the wagon escape. The two are then picked up by a car that takes them to a secret hideout, where the driver turns and welcomes them to the resistance.
“The story is really about this performer Marcel, who is kind of like a fledgling performer doing one-man shows in small theaters,” Eisenberg explains. “And then when the war breaks out, he is asked to help entertain these kids who his cousin is saving and is reluctant at first but then grows to not only like performing for them, but he realizes that the way to save their lives is to use his art and to save them. It’s this really amazing story, against the backdrop of some horrific world events.”
The movie is directed by Venezuelan director Jonathan Jakubowicz (Hands of Stone) and also stars Ed Harris, Edgar Ramirez, Clémence Poésy and Matthias Schweighöfer.
Both Marcel and Alain survived the war, though Marcel’s father was captured by Nazi soldiers and later killed in the Auschwitz concentration camp.
Marcel went on to have a world-famous career as a mime before dying in 2007 at the age of 84.
Resistance opens in select theaters and is available On Demand on March 27.