Jesse Eisenberg—The Social Network, Roger Dodger—9/20/10

/content/interviews/318/1.jpgJesse Eisenberg made his film debut in Roger Dodger, an American independent that paired him with Campbell Scott. Subsequent films included The Emperor's Club, The Village, The Squid and the Whale, Cursed, The Education of Charlie Banks, The Hunting Party, Adventureland and Zombieland. Having made his professional debut as a Broadway understudy in Summer and Smoke, Eisenberg remains committed to the stage. He also has penned plays and screenplays that should see the light of day soon. Eisenberg is the man of the moment as the star of The Social Network, in which he plays polarizing Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg. Eisenberg met the press during a barnstorming college tour that saw him (along with Andrew Garfield, Armie Hammer and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin) visiting Stanford and U.C. Berkeley; I spoke to him at Berkeley's Claremont Hotel. A primary topic of conversation was the preparation to play Zuckerberg.

Jesse Eisenberg: He’s obviously not involved in the movie, so I wasn’t able to meet him. My cousin Eric, who is a great computer programmer, he works at Facebook. He got a job, while we were shooting the movie, at Facebook, so he works up here now. So I’m hoping to meet him—[if] for nothing else, to meet my cousin’s boss. I treated the character like any other character in a movie. The character of Mark in this movie is really Aaron Sorkin’s version of Mark, so that’s really what I was asked to play. We were discouraged explicitly from doing a kind of impression…but before each role, I try to do as much preparation as possible, just so you kind of feel comfortable on set, like you’ve done everything you possibly could to be in the position of acting in this big movie, and it’s a great opportunity. So I read everything I could find about Mark. I took fencing lessons because he’s a fencer. I had every video of him converted to mp3 so I could have him on my iPod before each scene. This was all to kind of help me focus. I don’t know what impact or direct result it has in the final product, but I guess that’s less of my concern...

Groucho: Obviously there’s an irony in playing this guy who’s so busy creating the tool for social connection that he neglects his own social connections.

Jesse Eisenberg: Yeah.

Groucho: Can you talk about the internal logic you formulated for some of the key choices he makes, because obviously you can’t really know for sure, but you have to make a choice as an actor in order to portray each scene.

JE: Yeah. I don’t think he necessarily neglects social interaction. I think he just feels alienated by it. And I think he feels kind of uncomfortable interacting in the way he sees everybody else interacting, especially at college, especially at Harvard, where he just views the exclusivity of these final clubs that he kind of secretly wants to…and of course the dramatic irony of this guy who feels alienated by society creates his own society, and is able to interact in a way he finally feels comfortable, which is online. Not only online, but in a way that doesn’t fully account for all the nuance of being in a room with somebody else. So in that first scene, he can’t understand why this girl…why she doesn’t want to be there, why she’s upset. Because he goes to a superior school and because he’s promised her that he’ll involve her in his activities, which are, of course, going to be more exciting than the activities she’s going to be involved in. And in a similar way Facebook, his creation, kind of mirrors that checklist relationship a bit. I’m not on Facebook, so I can’t—I don’t know really where it is right now, but at least insofar as the initial creation is concerned, which is what I was discussing in the movie, it mirrors that checklist relationship, in a way.

G: Simplified.

JE: Yeah, simplified. Y’know, I like the Beatles, and you like the Beatles, and we’re friends. And that’s kind of I think how he—I think that’s how he feels comfortable interacting…

G: Because of the nature of the narrative, and also David Fincher’s technique of doing many takes, there had to have been times where you were playing someone else’s perception of the character, I would imagine. Is that accurate?

JE: Umm—

G: As opposed to your own personal take?

/content/interviews/318/5.jpgJE: 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 told from kind of like 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 Garfield 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 storylines—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, the characters that much more nuanced. I mean, no one goes into a situation thinking they’re wrong—I mean, well, maybe people do, but that’s too bad…

G: The way you’ve talked about acting before made it sort of sound like “occupational therapy” for you.

JE: Oh yeah. (Chuckles.)

G: Can you talk about how acting suits your personality and why you stuck with it?

JE: Yeah, I mean, similar to Mark in the movie, I had a difficult time in school and trouble kind of interacting with other kids. I used acting as a way to get out of school and also feel more comfortable outside of my skin. And in the same way, Mark creates this online environment where he feels much more comfortable interacting with other people through the Facebook tool. You know, I kind of, in a similar way, used theater in that same way. You know, feel more comfortable interacting with people through a character or through a story. Because it’s a more prescribed and specific setting, and not one of my own making. In the same way, Facebook is kind of this—

G: Construction.

JE: Yeah, exactly. A contrived setting wherein the illusion of relationships takes place. In the same way that plays are. So it’s not a dissimilar—yeah, I think it’s a kind of a similar—I think for Mark he kind of uses it to cope with his alienation, and I kind of used it in the same way…

G: One of my favorite roles of yours is your first film role, in Roger Dodger.

JE: Oh, thanks.

G: And I just wonder if Campbell Scott, since it’s your first film, if your experience with him sort of mirrored the film in the sense of him mentoring you—

JE: Yeah.

G: Hopefully in a more positive way in real life.

JE: (Laughs.) Yeah, yeah!

G: But can you talk a little bit about what you remember of that experience?

/content/interviews/318/6.jpgJE: Absolutely, I mean, he had a huge impact on me. He’s as close as you can get to an egoless actor as possible. And by that I mean the first thing on his mind is the betterment of the movie. And one of the last things is his own vanity. And I assumed that—‘cause that was my first movie—I assumed that all actors must share that quality. Turns out that’s not the case. You know, the movie was made for, like, a million dollars—which is, by comparison, not a lot of money for movies. And just the way he helped out in every aspect of production is something you don’t see with actors, but it’s something that I like to do. And I like to be involved as much as possible with movies. And I think that partly comes from looking at him and seeing that he’s able to act in a movie and have kind of a fulfilling acting experience while also making sure that everybody else kind of comes out well. You know, you’re only really as good as the people you’re working with. And it’s become very clear to me as I do more movies that you really want the people you’re working with to be as great as they can be. And it’ll only help you. The opposite often feels true. You know, it often feels like a competition somehow. But it’s really not. That’s coming from a bad place, and it’s an illusion. And he really tried to make sure everybody had their time…

G: Arguably the pivotal choice that Mark makes in the film is when he is encouraged to sort of cut out Eduardo [Saverin, Facebook co-founder]. What was your own take on what was going through his mind at that moment? Was there a willful denial there? Was there an actual ignorance, a blind spot?

JE: Yeah, I think Mark views kind of as a primary—yeah, 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. And so I think…Eduardo is trying to take the company in a different direction, and you know, Mark views Sean [Parker, entrepeneur] as the way to go. I think it’s kind of a quick and inevitable decision he makes, to have Sean handle it in whatever way Sean wants to handle it. You know, it’s not in the movie, but if it was, I think there’d be a meeting that Mark is not at, where they discuss what to do. And I think although Mark, of course, as in every other aspect of the company, knows what’s going on, but again I think—Andrew [Garfield] and I were—Andrew who plays Eduardo and I were talking after the movie—we kind of viewed the relationship between Mark and Eduardo very differently. You know, 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 Andrew kind of thought of Mark like a brother.

G: Yeah, and then the characters too; it mirrors the characters.

JE: Exactly, exactly. Yeah.

G: You’re also a writer, and you’re developing a number of scripts, and some are going to go into production. And you’ve also been spending some time on the road, or promoting, alongside Aaron Sorkin. And I wonder if you’ve gleaned anything from him that would be sort of useful for your own writing?

/content/interviews/318/3.jpgJE: You know, people—we’ve been doing this college tour, so a lot of writing students ask him, and I always perk up ‘cause he has such nice things to say. You know, and I really liked what he did with this movie is that it’s about something so topical, but the characters and the themes are really timeless, and so the way he explicitly set out to do that, to create a story that probably would have made an interesting movie anyway, because it’s about something that’s so current, and yet he chose to tell it in a 165-page script, with very complicated dialogue: to start a movie about Facebook, which every teenager is on, with two people talking for ten minutes at a bar. I mean, it’s audacious. In a really wonderful way. So, I mean, I—I certainly wish I was as talented as him.

G: But it’s sort of an enticement to take risks.

JE: Yes! Okay, that’s a perfect way to put it. Yeah, he takes risks for the betterment of the piece. You know, I can’t even call it a risk, ‘cause when he does it—it came together so well. Thank you so much.

Share/bookmark: Digg Facebook Fark Furl Google Bookmarks Newsvine Reddit StumbleUpon Yahoo! My Web Permalink Permalink
Sponsored Links