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Interview

Straight to 'Network'

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Straight to 'Network'
Let's get this out of the way: Jesse Eisenberg does not use Facebook. The actor may be attracting awards buzz for his performance as Mark Zuckerberg, founder of the social networking behemoth, but Eisenberg admits he just isn't too keen on online interaction. "I think Facebook's a great tool, but I don't use it," he says,

breaking into a slightly sheepish grin. "I'm mortified that anybody writes anything about me on the Internet in the first place, so I don't want to be one of those people who writes about me."

Eisenberg also does not partake of vanity Googling, message board trolling, or other virtual pastimes enjoyed by some of his more publicity-obsessed peers. But he did delve into heavy research for his performance as the ambitious, socially awkward Zuckerberg in "The Social Network," writer Aaron Sorkin and director David Fincher's portrait of the controversy-laden rise of Facebook. In addition to reading all the interviews and watching all the YouTube snippets he could get his hands on, Eisenberg explored the lesser-known aspects of Zuckerberg's life.

For instance, in reading Zuckerberg's college applications, the actor learned that the man he was about to play is an accomplished fencer. "I took fencing lessons to try to understand the way he stood," Eisenberg explains. "I saw that he had kind of a uniquely straight posture, and when I took the fencing lessons in which the real Mark excelled, I discovered that they teach you that kind of posture: You isolate the upper half of your body. I was able to employ that technique in the movie a bit."

One element of Eisenberg's performance that has attracted especially rapturous notices: As depicted in the film, Zuckerberg is not a terribly sympathetic protagonist, but the actor manages to make him undeniably engaging. The key to that, notes Eisenberg, was to think of the character "in the way that you'd think about yourself" rather than worrying about audience response. "I thought of Mark in the same way I think of myself: Trying to defend yourself, you feel threatened and vulnerable, you feel like you created something that no one else could've," he says. "That may appear as hubris, but to the creative person, it appears as entirely justifiable. Everything he does in the movie, I'm able to justify: That was my job."

Still, at moments that job was a challenge. For instance, in a climactic scene wherein Zuckerberg is confronted by ex–best friend and Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), Eisenberg struggled to stay on his alter ego's side. "My former best friend is yelling at me about squeezing him out of the company in the worst way, and I personally felt so sad for [Eduardo]," says Eisenberg. "And yet Mark wouldn't feel sad. Mark has to feel that much more emboldened by this—that he did the right thing. It was that rare thing where you kind of disagree with your character's actions and have to find some way in."

Luckily, Fincher was there to help. "He was insistent on me thinking that this guy wanted to take the company in the wrong direction and how dare he come to my place of work and embarrass me like this," recalls Eisenberg. "So that's how I started thinking of it, and then it became easier." He pauses, reflecting on the moment, then smiles a bit. "But still: I saw the movie once, and I still felt bad for Eduardo."

Though Eisenberg's performance is a hit, he remembers being extremely unsure of his initial audition. He taped himself and sent it to his agency so it could pass the tape to Fincher's office. But once he sent it off, doubt set in. "I had a flight to Seattle, and when I got in, I called my agent and said, 'Could you please not give that tape to David Fincher's office?' " he remembers. "Not only had they given the tape to his office already, but they had gotten a call that I should fly out to California. So this all happened while I was on an airplane."

So why the doubts? Simply put, Eisenberg didn't think he did a good job. "The dialogue is so complicated and fast-paced, and I didn't feel like I felt comfortable with the dialogue until after the tapes were done," he explains. "I was learning it as I was doing it, so I felt I could've done it better once I was comfortable with the unique pace of the dialogue."

Having aced the audition and the filmed performance, Eisenberg says quite a few more scripts are coming his way. But he finds he still has to actively pursue the roles he really wants. He doesn't fear typecasting, however: He'd be more than happy to play another Zuckerberg-ian role in the future. "I never read a character like this in my life; it's such a unique role," he enthuses. "He's mysterious and arrogant and insecure and brash, all at the same time. I can't imagine that this kind of role would be in another movie. But if it was, gosh, I would love to do it. It was a thrilling experience."   

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