The hit film
The Social Network may not have as profound an effect as the
social network, Facebook, itself. But the cinematic version has lots
of important things to say about the kind of people who make
game-changing ideas into a reality and how it impacts on those
When an idea
like FB becomes worth, at least on paper, about 50 billion dollars,
exceeds Google as the most viewed site with billions of click-throughs
and has over 500 million members, it necessitates getting a handle
on its implications. And there has been about a billion words
written about it.
So when a film
like The Social Network comes out – and successfully gives a
sense of how a shambling sequence of serendipitous events and
synchronicities converge, ebb and flow which not only affects the
people it happens to but also reshapes them – the movie becomes
important in its own right.
for all the accolades deservedly applied towards screenwriter Aaron
Sorkin and director David Fincher, it is actor Jesse Eisenberg who
has had to inhabit and give life to a simulacrum that illustrates
what makes a visionary like Mark Zuckerberg tick. If not exactly
tick, then give a sense of who this person is behind the headlines
even if this version is a fiction – not a biographical rendering.
Before all the
ballyhoo about The Social Network being an obvious candidate
for an array of awards, Oscar nominations and likely wins, there
were several opportunities to speak with its cast and creators. So
between appearances at the Soho Apple Store, Lincoln Center Film
Society's Walter Reade Theater – it had its world premiere at the
2010 New York Film Festival – and the Harvard Club (the film's
distributor Sony Pictures held a press conference there), this Q&A
with its 27-year-old star was cobbled together.
Did you do
a lot of research into Mark Zuckerberg and his world, or were you
more guided by what was in the script?
I did a lot of
research during the rehearsal process, but if I didn't and only had
Aaron's script, that would have been perfectly sufficient. I
auditioned for the movie prior to looking up Mark Zuckerberg online.
I didn't know what he looked like. I had never heard him speak. All
I had was Aaron's incredible characterization, and felt that was
more than sufficient to make the audition tape. Then we had about a
month and a half of rehearsal, and in order to feel more prepared
and to understand who this guy was. I found and watched every
interview that was online and got every picture that I could find of
him. But really, as Aaron has said, it's not really a movie about
Facebook as much as it is about these more substantive themes. And
in the same way it was not a traditional biography picture; we were
trying to do a kind of an imitation of the character of Mark
Zuckerberg, and so I was really just focusing on playing Aaron's
What is the
challenge of playing a character people may think is a big asshole?
impossible to play a role and to look at it, not only in the way
that you described it, but look at it objectively at all. I had the
unique position in that my main responsibility was to not only
understand where my character was coming from but to be able to
defend all of his positions, his behavior, and ultimately sympathize
with him. Over the course of the movie and really over the course of
this publicity experience I've developed an even greater affection
for my character. You have no choice; it's impossible to disagree
with the character that you're portraying. We shot the movie for
about five and a half months, they were very long days, and you're
spending a lot of time working hard to defend your character's
behavior. So even if the character is acting in a way that hurts
other characters, you still have to understand and ultimately
sympathize with all of that behavior; it's just impossible to play
it any other way.
lot of people in the tech community see Zuckerberg as having a
somewhat Asperger's syndrome-like personality – not into touch, very
emotionally muted. Did that quality inform your portrayal of Mark?
don't want to diagnose him, but in Aaron's script and then, in
watching his interviews, there's a certain kind of disengagement
that you see. It's frankly not dissimilar to some disengagement that
I probably express when I'm doing interviews because they can be
incredibly uncomfortable, so to kind of attribute it to some extreme
diagnosis doesn't feel right to me. But there was a really
interesting quality that I wanted to bring out, which is this
difficulty connecting to others. Of course it makes his invention
that much more ironic and fitting, that he would create something
that connects everybody else, so it was something we tried to bring
out. It makes the character far more interesting to play, that he
has trouble connecting with others and yet feels particularly
comfortable connecting everybody else, and perfectly comfortable in
the social environment of Facebook. It was also something to make me
feel the character was really a full person, so even though he maybe
appears enigmatic, reserved or detached, there's still something
happening beneath that. [His] feeling, among many other often
conflicting emotions, is of [being] lonely. At the end of the movie,
he's a billionaire and has created something really out of nothing
almost by himself and he feels still alone.
could meet Mark Zuckerberg and speak with him, what would you like
I'd like to go
to Johnny Rockets with Mark because I like their shakes. I spent six
months thinking about him every day. I developed a great affection
for my character and of course by extension the man, and I'd be very
interested in meeting him. Fortunately, my first cousin, Eric, got a
great job working at Facebook about a month before we finished
shooting, and I'm hoping he'll facilitate an introduction one day. I
don't know what I would say. It's the kind of thing you think about
all the time but then I'd finally give the card to Lucy and say
Merry Christmas, Lucy, instead of Happy Valentine's Day.
thoroughly researching, playing and getting feedback from people
about Zuckerberg, what's your impression of him?
is really formed more from the character. I don't know the real Mark
Zuckerberg, though I was like everybody else delighted to see this
very generous [$100 million] donation he made [on Sept. 22nd, 2010,
to the Newark public schools]. In the movie the character that Aaron
created is a guy that is desperately trying to fit in and doesn't
have the social wherewithal to do so. I could certainly relate to
that. Almost to cope, he creates this incredible tool to interact in
a way that he feels comfortable. And because of his incredible
insight, 500 million other people also feel comfortable using that
tool. It's just a fascinating character and complicated in all the
right ways, so even though he maybe acts in a way that would be
hurtful to other characters, like you indicated, it's by the end of
the movie totally understandable.
first scene is so patently Aaron Sorkin – like he wrote for his show
The West Wing. Can you tell us what's happening?
I saw the
movie for the first time [at the premiere] and had the same reaction
to the first scene that I had when I first read Aaron's script, even
though I knew the scene so intimately, which is that after two or
three minutes of the scene you realize that it's not going to end.
And it's such a wonderful surprise because you just don't see scenes
not only of that nuance and complexity in movies, but of that length
as well. And for an actor that's kind of what you want, that's
what's really thrilling about working with a script like Aaron's. A
kind of an interesting anecdote is that David Fincher does a lot of
takes. We performed that scene 99 times. He refused to do it an
extra time to get an even 100, and it was just really exciting. It
was shot on the third day of the shoot and it was exciting for me to
kind of figure out who Mark is and have two nights – we shot it over
the course of two nights – to kind of experiment with the character.
How detached is he? How is he affected by what she's saying? And by
extension how is he affected in general by conflict? And it was
wonderful to have the luxury of the two nights to film such an
known for doing a lot of takes. What scene required the most takes
or the least you had to do, and what was your reaction to seeing the
film for the first time?
about the great amount of takes almost as though the actors are in
opposition to doing that, and every actor I know would stay there
all day if there's more film in the camera. The alternative is
sitting in the trailer. So it was an absolute blessing to do it and
we're all thrilled for the amount of time we were able to spend
actually acting and not sitting around waiting to act.
ever had a chance to just hand somebody his ass, as in that second
scene, with the lawyers?
I got in a
fight with somebody on the subway once because I asked them if they
were a vegetarian, and he said that was too personal – and I got
angry. But he wasn't a lawyer.
did your anger take?
"That's not personal." He said, "It is." I said, "I just became a
vegetarian; I was wondering if you had any tips." And he said,
"That's not appropriate to ask somebody." I said, "You work in an
animal shelter; I figured it would be." And then he took off.
shooting the half-hour conversation in the film, what were you
I had to pee
and about four hours into the meeting. I said [to David], "Listen, I
really have to pee," and he said, "That's okay, you can go do that,"
and so I did and then I felt fine. But I really can't remember what
happened prior to doing that because I was just trying to move my
legs in such a way. But [David's direction] often was, "Be more
opaque," and that's not something I was used to. In acting class
you're trained to express yourself as much as you can and it was a
challenge and an interesting one to kind of figure out how to
express these often very conflicting feelings that this character
has. He's both desperate to connect and also really struggling to,
while remaining frequently expressionless.
you finally comfortable with the scene?
To do it that
many times I didn't get increasingly more comfortable. I felt
comfortable just when the emotion kind of hit at the same time that
my character's emotion hit. There was one scene in the movie, in the
deposition room, and my character has a legal notepad – and it was a
difficult scene for me. I felt I only got two good takes. There was
number 12 and 18. I wrote it down on the pad like, "Please only use
12 and 18 when you edit the movie, and those are also the ones you
had circled." And we maybe went up to 40, so it was not like I got
increasingly more comfortable and got to a point where I really felt
it was right; It's just kind of peaks and valleys.
What was it
was like to work with Aaron Sorkin as a writer and as an actor –
after all he plays an ad executive?
I was really
thrilled to get the opportunity to read his dialogue. I've been a
fan of his for a long time. I used to videotape Sports Night
because when I would watch it when it was on TV I couldn't get all
of it; it was so fascinating I would watch it over and over again.
He's a great playwright. I've done a lot of plays, and to do a
10-page scene in a movie is very rare, but something that really is
exciting to me. And many of the scenes in the movie, while they're
not 10 pages, they're longer than traditional movie scenes. So it
was a great opportunity.
turn to David and say, "Are we really pushing this particular
moment?" Did you feel at any time that you were being unfair?
No, because I
never thought that what I was doing was critical of a person. First
of all, I thought of it as an actor acting in a scene. The fact that
it was about somebody real we had kind of already thought about and
dealt with, and we weren't focusing on that while we were shooting,
of course. I genuinely felt, and still do, that everything I do as
my character is explainable, and that's what I was hired to do: to
go through each moment and each action and interaction and all of
his behavior and find a way to not only justify it but to sympathize
with it and be able to defend it. I feel comfortable that that's
what I did.
acting give you a chance to shape your life in some way that is
comfortable to you, like it would be for Mark Zuckerberg? The guy
who is the boss, who can say, "I'm it, bitch. I am this person now
so that I can control it. I can decide to friend who I want to
friend and not the other people over there." You can create a life
for yourself in that.
why I started acting, really. For similar reasons I felt really
uncomfortable in school, and acting allowed me to interact in an
entirely contrived setting that made me feel almost
counter-intuitively much more comfortable.
Is there a
moment that particularly resonates for you about the making of this
second clip you saw where I have the monologue to that lawyer. There
were brief moments where I felt good because there were these
deposition room scenes that are peppered throughout the film. They
take place four years after the creation of Facebook, and we filmed
all of them at the end of the shooting section. I didn't realize it,
but I kind of built up a lot of frustration during the film through
my character feeling really put upon by these other characters.
During that scene and some other scenes that are similar, I was able
to kind of purge myself of that frustration and it felt really good.
people need to know going into this movie?
I'm not an
authority on this the same way that David is, but what really
interested me about the movie was that it had almost nothing to do
with the fact that it was about Facebook. The characters and the
story are incredible characters, the theme that the story covers are
classical. The fact that it's about something topical makes it more
relevant but is not relevant to the value of the story.
Are you on
I signed up
for Facebook the first day of rehearsal so I could understand what
my character was talking about, and when we started shooting and I
had to learn all those lines, I stopped using it.
keep any souvenir of your Mark Zuckerberg incarnation?
I think I stole a
hoodie from the set. I tried to take a computer but the prop guy
came after me.
TO SEE WHAT JESSE EISENBERG HAD TO SAY
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