The face of Facebook is creator Mark Zuckerberg. But the face of Zuckerberg is 27-year-old actor Jesse Eisenberg, who plays the young billionaire in the film The Social Network. Although it would be difficult to match Facebook’s membership count of more than 500 million, the movie—directed by David Fincher and written by Aaron Sorkin—seems to have earned almost as many admirers, and Eisenberg has received widespread praise, including a Golden Globe nod, for his captivating portrayal of the Facebook impresario. As the nominations started piling up for The Social Network, we caught up with Eisenberg to discuss the film, his life since it hit the big screen and his own computer skills.
How did you first hear about Facebook? JESSE EISENBERG: My cousin Eric Fisher told me about the site. He went to the University of Pennsylvania, and he was in computer science and involved in building websites. He is incredibly creative, and he was completely in awe of it.
There has been a lot of discussion about whether or not the film is an accurate portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg. Do you feel it was? JE: It’s so hard to say. What I know about Mark Zuckerberg is what everybody else knows about him, and that is only what has been made public. I never met him. We heard early on Facebook didn’t approve or wasn’t involved, so it became impossible to meet him.
How did you go about researching your character? JE: Mark wrote his college essay about fencing. I took some fencing lessons because I noticed he has a uniquely straight posture I don’t have. When I read he was a fencer, I thought his posture might be attributed to that. But it was more interesting to me what that meant psychologically—the competition, what dangers there are [with fencing].
FROM LEFT: Scenes from The Social Network: Justin Timberlake with Eisenberg; the actor with costar Andrew Garfield; Rooney Mara and Eisenberg
In preparing for the role, you listened to Zuckerberg’s voice on your iPod while driving to work. Why? JE: I got the recordings from YouTube and put his interviews into MP3s. I listened to them so I could get into the spirit of what that person would be going through, what the pressure of being on 60 Minutes was like.
Have you encountered any negative fallout from people who see the film and then associate you with the character? JE: My mother saw it, and she said her reaction was that she wanted to slap me and then hug me. That seems to be the common reaction from people over 25. It seems those under 25 see Mark as a hero.
What do you have in common with the character you played? JE: We are both socially uncomfortable. There is also the fact that when something bad happens in our lives, instead of lashing out and blaming others, we become creative. I’m most creative when I’ve been embarrassed or rejected.
Will this be your first time making the rounds of award shows? JE: I went to two award shows before—the Film Independent Spirit Awards and the National Board of Review Awards—for The Squid and the Whale. It’s nerve-wracking. I didn’t want to win because I don’t like public speaking.
Does the buzz surrounding the film and the possibility of winning awards make you nervous? JE: It’s been impossible for me to figure out the appropriate response to all this because I have nothing to relate it to. It’s uncomfortable to receive attention.
What are you looking forward to about the awards season? JE: Every time I’ve worked with people on a movie, you spend two months with them and then you tend not to see most of them again. So I look forward to seeing the people from this movie again. It’s kind of a celebration of the experience you had together.
Are you on Facebook? JE: I never use it. I’m not on it. Somebody told me there’s a page up. It’s not actually me.
In The Social Network, you worked with two of the most intense individuals in Hollywood, director David Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin. What was that experience like? JE: David Fincher is known for being very meticulous, and he is. It was a great blessing. He believes in doing scenes as many times as it takes. I’ve been a huge fan of Aaron Sorkin’s work for many years. It was a great honor to play a character he created who was so endlessly fascinating to me.
Aaron Sorkin is known for his rapid-fire dialogue. Was it a challenge to deliver those lines? JE: In my experience, the only time dialogue is challenging is when it doesn’t match the character. That was never the case with this script.
Obviously, Zuckerberg is a computer whiz. How would you rate your computer skills? JE: Very average. I just don’t have an interest in learning about computers beyond what I need to know.
Facebook changed Zuckerberg’s life. How has The Social Network changed yours? JE: I don’t really know yet. I’m just excited about being in quality projects that I like and getting the chance to play interesting characters like this one.