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The Social Network – How star Jesse Eisenberg developed a great affection for the character he portrays

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The Social Network - Jesse Eisenberg and Joseph Mazzello
Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) and Dustin Moskovitz (Joseph Mazzello) © 2010 Columbia Pictures

In the new movie The Social Network, director David Fincher and writer Aaron Sorkin explore the moment at which Facebook, the social phenomenon that changed how the world communicates, was invented.

Jesse Eisenberg portrays Mark Zuckerberg, a brilliant Harvard student who conceived a website that redefined our social network overnight. But Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), and the Winkevoss twins (Armie Hammer and Josh Prnce) all have their own version of the Facebook story – which becomes a multi-level portrait of 21st Century success.

Jesse Eisenberg spoke of the project, which is already receiving Oscar buzz, at the press junket for the movie in New York.

What kind of research did you do for the role?

The Social Network - Andrew Garfield and Jesse Eisenberg
Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) and Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) © 2010 Columbia Pictures

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, and 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 rehearsal to feel more prepared and to understand who this guy was. I found every interview and watched every video that was online and got every picture that I could find of him. But as Aaron says, it was not really a movie about Facebook as much as it is about these more substantive themes, in the same way it was not a traditional biography picture where I’m trying to do an imitation of the character. And so I was just focusing on playing Aaron’s characterization of Mark Zuckerberg.

After thoroughly researching and getting feedback from people about Mark Zuckerberg, I’d like to know what your impression of him is?

The Social Network - Jesse Eisenberg, Brenda Song and Andrew Garfield
Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg), Christy (Brenda Song) and Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) © 2010 Columbia Pictures

My impression 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 donation he made yesterday (he gave $100 million to the Newark, New Jersey, high school). And as I said, I developed a great affection over the course of filming and even over the course of doing this publicity tour. I’ve been asked that and the more I think about it the greater affection I develop for him.

In the movie the character that Aaron created is a guy who is desperately trying to fit in and doesn’t have the social wherewithal to do so. I could certainly relate to that. And 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 might be hurtful to other characters, by the end of the movie it’s totally understandable.

If you could meet Mark Zuckerberg, and speak with him what would you say to him and where would you like to go?

The Social Network - Andrew Garfield and Jesse Eisenberg
Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) and Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) © 2010 Columbia Pictures

I’d like to go to Johnny Rocket’s with Mark because I like their (milk) 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. I would 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 that you think about all the time, but I can’t imagine what that would be like.

What was it like saying Aaron’s dialogue?

I saw the movie for the first time last night 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 was that after two or three minutes of the scene you realize 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 thrilling about working with a script like Aaron’s.

What was David Fincher like to work with?

The Social Network - Rooney Mara and Jesse Eisenberg
Erica Albright (Rooney Mara) and Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) © 2010 Columbia Pictures

David made a statement that the money for this film went into the ‘time’ for us to make it. How amazing is that for a director to say, ‘I want time for my actors to act and for me to watch and direct them.’ He’s one of the bravest directors you could ever be lucky enough to work with in that way. I’ll say this as well, he does not get bored easily and when I say easily, I mean at all.

Every take he would find something that was so specific, there was no question in your mind what he was trying to get you to accomplish, what he wanted to see through your character. I’ve never seen someone so hyper-smart.

What was the biggest challenge of playing a character that many people think is an ass?

It’s impossible to play a role and look at it, not only in the way you describe, but look at it objectively at all. My main responsibility was to not only understand where my character was coming from, but be able to defend all of his positions and his behavior and ultimately sympathize with him.

Over the course of the movie, and 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 about five and a half months, and 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 that behavior, it’s impossible to play it any other way.