Recently, I was invited – along with a few other San Francisco-based journalists – to sit down and talk to Jesse Eiseberg (Zombieland) about his starring role in David Fincher’s latest film, The Social Network. Read on as he discusses the challenges associated with playing a real person, Fincher’s directing style and his tendency to be a bit neurotic.
What are the challenges in playing a living person [Mark Zuckerberg]?
Obviously, he’s not involved in the movie, so I wasn’t able to meet him. My cousin, Eric, who is a great computer programmer, works at Facebook. He got a job there while we were shooting the movie, so he works up here now [the San Francisco area]. So, I’m hoping to someday meet [Mark], if for nothing else, to meet my cousin’s boss.
I treated the character like I would any other character in any movie. He was a character created – the character of Mark in this movie is really Aaron Sorkin’s version of Mark, so that’s what I was asked to play. We were explicitly discouraged from doing impressions or mimicking [the actual people]. I was going primarily off of Aaron’s script.
But, before each role, I try to do as much preparation just to be comfortable on set. To feel like I’ve done everything possible to be in the position to be acting in this big movie. It’s a great opportunity, so I read everything I could about Mark. I took fencing lessons because he’s a fencer. I had every video of him converted to MP3’s so I could have him on my iPod to watch before each scene. This was all to kind of help me focus. I don’t know what direct impact it has on the final product.
Can you talk about some of the internal logic in some of the choices Mark [Zuckerberg] makes throughout the film? Obviously, you can’t know for sure…
I don’t think he necessarily neglects social interaction, I think he just feels alienated by it. I think he feels kind of uncomfortable interacting in the way he sees everybody else interacting, especially in college. Especially at Harvard. I think he views the exclusivity of these Final Clubs that he feels that he secretly wants to [be a part of].
Of course, there’s the dramatic irony of this guy who feels alienated by society creating his own society. He’s finally able to interact in a way in which he feels comfortable. Which of course is online. Not only online, but kind of in a way that doesn’t fully account for all of the nuance of actually being in a room with somebody else.
So, in that first scene, when he’s with this girl and he can’t understand why she doesn’t want to be there or why she’s upset – because he goes to a “superior” school and he’s promised her that he’ll involve her in these activities, which will of course be more exciting than the activities she’s going to be involved in. With Facebook, his creation sort of mirrors that “checklist” relationship a bit. You know, “I like the Beatles and you like the Beatles, we’re friends.”
That’s how he feels comfortable interacting.
Did you feel any sort of responsibility to your character’s real-life counterpart when portraying him?
Umm…no, because I felt my job was so limited to acting in the movie. I wasn’t one of the producers who has to answer to Facebook or the writer who’s creating the situation for the character to be in.
In retrospect, I’m kind of surprised that I didn’t feel a sense of anxiety about playing a real person – because I feel anxiety about everything else in the world. One would think that playing a real person who’s not only a contemporary, but who’s actually younger than me.
My job acting in the movie as that character was to defend that character’s behavior and actions. So, even though he’s acting in a way that’s hurtful to the other characters, it’s my job to understand and justify all of those behaviors. I have a great sympathy for the character and the person. That’s primarily why I don’t feel the added pressure of acting as a real person: I defend that person.
You mention that you feel anxiety about a lot of things in life, and a lot of the characters you play are very nervous people. Even Mark who projects confidence is still a very neurotic character…
I’m wondering,do you see some part of yourself in these types of characters, or what draws you to them?
Yeah, to me those characters are the one’s that feel the most authentic. That may be because I share some of those qualities or because the movies that I’m sent are from people who see that in me.
I also assume that everyone is neurotic in some way – or at least everyone interesting is neurotic. So, why would I want to play anything else? What other layers would there be besides neuroses?
With somebody like Mark, as you say, he projects this kind of confidence. Not infrequently, it comes across as arrogance in the movie, most specifically in the courtroom scenes. Of course, that has to be masking something! If it’s not, then it’s just uninteresting. For Mark, it’s masking a great feeling that the gulf between himself and comfort is vast. The gulf between him and other people feels vast – even if they consider him a friend. Eduardo [Saverin, Facebook co-founder] considers him a friend, but Mark, I think, considers him as a guy in the room.
The pivotal choice that Mark makes in the film is when he is encouraged to cut out Eduardo. What was your own take on what was going through his mind at that moment?
I think Mark kind of places a greater emphasis on the creation of and expansion and maintenance of Facebook. I think he values that more than he values any of the personal relationships he has in the movie.
So I think when Eduardo is trying to take the company in a different direction, and you know, Mark views Sean [Parker] as the way to go. I think it’s kind of a inevitable and quick decision that he makes, to have Sean handle it in whatever way Sean wants to handle it.
Andrew [Garfield], who plays Eduardo, and I were talking after the movie – we kind of viewed the relationship between Mark and Eduardo very differently. I was viewing it through Mark’s eyes, which didn’t place that great importance on their relationship or on the emotional attachment that they had for each other and the bond that they felt. Whereas Eduardo thought of Mark like a brother.
Because of the nature of the narrative, there had to be times where you felt like you were playing someone else’s perception of the character, as opposed to your own.
Yeah, I know what you’re saying, although it never felt that way. I never thought of it that way. I think because the movie is kind of told from three different perspectives. Three people get to tell their stories.
But every time we did a scene, even if it was part of Eduardo’s telling of the story, David Fincher would come up to me between each take and say, “You know, you’re right in this scene. You’re the right one.”
And then he’d go up to Andrew and say, “You know, your character’s right in this scene.”
So we all thought we were right. I think that’s probably why – aside from that being Aaron Sorkin’s idea for the movie, that all these characters are right in their own story-lines – it’s really the brilliance of David Fincher’s direction of the actors. Because if we all believe we are right, it makes the story that much more interesting and the characters that much more nuanced.
The Social Network opens everywhere this Friday, October 1.