FilmSeptember 30, 2010 at 3:13 am

Extended Interview: Jesse Einsenberg, Aaron Sorkin, Armie Hammer


Street: What is your relationship to Facebook?

Jesse Eisenberg: I don’t have a page but I got one in the rehearsal process of the movie just to see what the character was referring to and what he had built. And it was immediately understandable why it’s so popular. As an actor doing interviews, and you know people stop you on the street to say something, so actors I know value their privacy that much more . So that’s why most of the actors I know don’t have Facebook pages.

Street: Did you reach out to Mark Zuckerberg at all during the filming process?

JE: No, I was unable to meet him, unfortunately. I still would love to and the irony of me playing him is that my cousin who went to UPenn got a great job at Facebook as we were finishing the movie. And I visited my cousin at his various offices, so I would at some point meet Zuckerberg, because he works with him on a daily basis. So I still would like to meet him and hope to in the future when everything settles.

Street: Do you think there would be some tension in that meeting?

JE: I imagine it might be a little odd, but my job as the actor playing him in the movie was to defend him. You spend 16 hours of every day acting in the role, so you have no choice but to not only understand your character but to defend his actions. I have great reverence for him and the character, even though the reactions are kind of varied from the audience who is seeing him from an outsider’s perspective.

Street: How did you get into the character?

JE: Unlike the other actors who are playing characters who are not as public, I had so much to look at. Everyday I would watch YouTube clips that I selected and have his voice on my iPod listening to it on the set. But there never was an emphasis on doing an impression or the exact same facial expressions; it was more understanding where he was coming from and then using ourselves as a cast to bring the characters to life, rather than trying to mimic certain expressions. Having said that there were some things that I really liked about what I saw. He had a certain posture that I wanted to emulate and a certain kind of way that he held his hands that I thought was unique and interesting. And there a certain disengaged stare that you see in some of the interviews which was totally understandable; I have the same disengaged stare in interviews too because it’s such an awkward thing. [...] I also read that he took fencing classes so I took fencing classes. He was a fencer at Exeter, where he went to high school, so I took classes in California. He has a unique posture so I thought it was probably derived from his fencing.

Street: What was your favorite scene in the film?

JE: I really liked the scenes in the deposition room. We filmed those at the end of the movie, so all of this anger I had built up by feeling threatened by the other characters who I feel want something from me that I feel is inappropriate — all of that anger was able to be relieved in those scenes where I got to put those other characters in their place.

Street: What do you think are the greater social implications of the film?

JE: Normally, it’s impossible for an actor playing a role to think about the broader implications of the movie, because you’re so focused on your character’s specific experience and the broader sociological implications are not really relevant to the character. But having said that I think there are some themes that I experienced as a character that also related to these broader issues, which is the democratization of socialization. He’s able to create this network in his dorm room because he’s not let into Harvard clubs that have been around for years. And those Harvard clubs are exclusive and discriminatory. And because he was not let in for a series of meaningless reasons — whether he didn’t come from the right family or he’s not rich in the right way or not an athlete in the right way — but because of this new democratization of socialization, he’s able to create this thing from his dorm room, and it becomes much more powerful than what their thing is. That’s really a driving force for him and something that speaks to the cultural shift.

Street: Do you think there are negative implications of Facebook?

JE: It’s like anything else. The phone makes communication easy, but people prank call each other.


Street: What is your relationship to Facebook?

Armie Hammer: I don’t use Facebook, so I’ll say my relationship to it is like my relationship with anything that can be useful but at the same time can be very damaging. A lot of my friends would just get sucked into it and be on Facebook all day while they were at work. You spend eight hours on Facebook and you walk away and you’re like, “The only thing that happened was that my eyes hurt! And now I have nothing to show for my day!”

Street: How grueling was Fincher’s directing style?

AH: We shot [this one scene] 52 times before he actually said, “Cut. Print. Erase everything else before it. Okay, do it again.” And I was like “Oh my goodness, we’re starting out with one! One take now!” He would shoot 80 takes but then only take one or two takes, but he’s so visual and so smart and unreal that he’ll shoot many and just take two. He knows which two he wants, no question. Erase everything else, like he doesn’t even want it. He’s not going to edit with it. He’s not going to use it for anything. It’s gone, because he knows that those are the two good ones. He’s a genius.

Street: Do you think the Winklevoss twins would use Facebook in real life?

AH: Definitely. That’s actually how my wife met them. They reached out to my wife through Facebook. And I was like, “This is so weird! I’m typing to them on Facebook right now!”

Street: Was there extra responsibility that came along with playing a real person?

AH: I would say in most cases you do have that responsibility. Jesse had a lot more responsibility than I did because people know Mark Zuckerberg. They know what he looks like and how he talks. They’ve seen the interviews. Nobody really knows the Winklevoss twins. They know that they row and competed in the Olympics, but they don’t have public personas that we would have to tailor our performances towards. [Fincher’s exact comment] was “We’re not making a damn movie about Abraham Lincoln. No one cares which hand he eats his pie with!” We’re now making a movie of the story of this. This is our story that we’re telling, so don’t let the truth get in the way of our story.

Street: Have you ever rowed before this film?

AH: No. I signed on for the this and the next day they called me and were like “Congratulations, we’re so happy, This is great; we’re really happy you’re part of the project. You start rowing tomorrow morning.” Then it was every day, five days a week for three or four hours rowing. It was not easy, one of the most difficult, physically exerting things I’ve ever had to do. It was puking, draining. I showed up the first day and my rowing coach takes one look at me and was like, “Pshh, you’re not in rowing shape.” And I was, “What are you talking about? I’m in shape. I work out! It’s good.” And she’s like, “No, you’re not in rowing shape.” And I’m like, “I’m in rowing shape.” And she’s like, “Oh yeah, hop on the simulator. I was like, “Yeah, got this!” 30 seconds later I fell off the side and she was like, “Told you!” So it was definitely one of the toughest parts. But I loved it. It’s an expensive hobby and if you don’t have David Fincher paying for it, it’s out of my budget. But it’s one of those things that you wake at at 3:30 in the morning and you’re at the marina at 4:30 and you’re rowing for a couple of hours. And you’re out of the water and it’s 10 in the morning and you’re like, “I’m going to bed!” You go get food and you feel like you’ve accomplished so much before everyone else wakes up. Such a good feeling.


Street: I was watching the movie and your cameo came up…

Aaron Sorkin: You meant my awesome cameo, didn’t you?

Street: Yes, it was such an awesome cameo, and I was wondering why you chose to play that part?

AS: I didn’t. David Fincher made me. He said, “You’re playing the ad exec.” It was a fun morning, but once we got into post-production it was the only scene I wanted to cut. I’m not comfortable looking at myself on screen.

Street: How did you get attached to the story?

AS: Here’s what happened. I was given a 14-page book proposal. Ben Mezrick wanted to write a book, which he did, called The Accidental Billionarres about the founding of Facebook. And he had written a 14-page book proposal. His publisher was shopping it around at the movie studios around the same time trying to get a film deal and that’s how it wound up in my hands. Around page three, I said yes. It’s the fastest I’ve ever said yes to anything. My interest in it didn’t have anything to do with Facebook. I didn’t know much about Facebook at the time; I didn’t have a Facebook page. I’d heard of it the way I’d heard of a carburetor, but I can’t open up the hood of my car and point to it and tell you what it does. So the first thing I had to do was get a Facebook page. But what drew me to it was it seemed to me that in this story were themes that were as old as storytelling itself: friendship, loyalty, betrayal, jealousy, class. These things that Aeschylus would have written about or Shakespeare or Paddy Chayefsky. And luckily for me none of those guys were available, so I got to do it.

Street: Did any new themes emerge?

AS: Newer themes I felt presented themselves as I began writing. When I start writing, I can’t be as high-minded as fancy as thinking about themes just yet. To use the car metaphor one more time, I have to build an engine that can turn over and a drive shaft. I need the dramatic elements of plot: intention and obstacle. […] But as I was writing themes did begin to present themselves and once they do and you decide that’s a good one, then you can begin hanging small lanterns on those themes, so that you’re pointing the audience toward them. You have to keep an eye on the dials and gauges, because you never want to hit the audience over the head with the theme. One of the things that I’m proud of with this movie is it assumes that everyone in the audience is smart and right from the very beginning it makes you run to catch up with it. You almost have to sit forward in your seat. That kind of audience participation is an incredibly valuable element in storytelling.

Street: Why did you frame the film around the deposition room scenes?

AS: I knew it pretty early on and the reason why is that there were several different versions of the truth. What I knew was that two lawsuits were brought against Facebook at roughly the same time, that the defendant, the plaintiff and several witnesses came into a deposition room, swore an oath and everybody told a different story. So instead of picking one of those stories and deciding that was the truth, I decided to dramatize the fact that there were all these different stories, like Rashomon. And the way I was going to do that was by using the deposition rooms. The first words out of Mark’s mouth once we jump further to present-day are “That’s not what happened.” And that’s the signal to the audience that we are dealing in literally terms with unreliable narrators.

Street: It’s hard to find a clear protagonist in the film. Do you have a side?

AS: I do, but let me tell you why I’m not going to tell you what it is. I would rather not have my voice in the head of an audience member as they go watch the movie, kind of comparing their experience to what my expectation or experience is. Because my opinion of who the good guy is, who the bad guy is — I’d like those arguments to happen out in the parking lot when the movie is done. But I do think that no one is just one thing in the movie. The character of Mark spends the first hour and 55 minutes of the movie being an anti-hero and the final five minutes being a tragic hero. There’s a big difference between the two. There are two requirements for a tragic hero: he has to pay a price and he has to feel remorse. And I think that while he is sitting there, even before he tries to friend Erika, just a line as simple as “I’m not a bad guy.” That someone should have to make that declaration to somebody — it’s the first time in the movie that Mark gives a damn of what anybody thinks of him. We know Mark cares deeply but he had to build that suit of armor. And there’s a moment of vulnerability and that’s all we were asking for. So by the end you feel like you want to give him a hug.

Street: Script is 162 pages.

AS: To my own defense, I write almost all dialogue. The boat race is the first time ever I’ve had an entire page of no dialogue. Dialogue takes more room on the page and less time on the screen than action. Here’s what’s cool about David Fincher. The script was 162 pages, and that’s going to make a studio really nervous. Fincher from the moment he said yes said “I don’t think any pages need to come off.” Our very first day working together he brought a stopwatch with him and he told me to read out loud each scene at the pace that I heard it when I was writing. So he timed the first scene in the bar at 5 minutes and 7 seconds. When we got to rehearsal if it was 5 minutes and 55 seconds he would say, “No, this scene is 5 minutes and 7 seconds. Do whatever you need to make it 5 minutes and 7 seconds. That’s the way the scene plays.” And once he put all those numbers together, the final cut is one hour and 57 minutes. Not a word was cut.

Street: Culturally or historically significant?

AS: I think if you sit down to write anything and think to yourself that it’s going to be important, you’re probably getting off on the wrong foot. You shouldn’t have those things in your head. You’ve got to stick to the task at hand: a good story well-told. If it rises to the level of being culturally significant, I’m incredibly flattered and amazed. It’s not something that’s writeable and not something you can try to do.

Street: Role of humor in the film?

AS: Any time you can tell a serious story funny you’re doing yourself a favor. It stems from insecurity on my part to be honest with you. Feeling when I began writing in my early 20s that I just didn’t have the gravitas to just write pure drama, that I was going to need to make it funny once in a while as a signal that I wasn’t suggesting that anybody take me very seriously. Now it’s become, frankly, a writing habit of mine. I enjoy telling a serious story funny whether it’s this or Charlie Wilson’s War or episodes of the West Wing. I think it’s nice for the audience and it keeps it away from feeling that I’m asking you to eat your vegetables.

Street: Much of your early work was political. Was it hard transitioning from that for this project?

AS: I know that I’ve written about politics a lot. But my background is entirely in theater. I have no education in politics and I’m not sophisticated when it comes to politics. When I was writing the West Wing I had a fantastic group of tutors that would teach me every week what I needed to know to write about a certain issue. When I write about politics, it’s not because I have a political agenda; it’s because of two reasons. There are a lot of great stories there, and it seems to suit my style of writing. I write very romantically and idealistically and big, and when you are writing about these types of subjects, it allows that. But I enjoy writing about all sorts of things.

The closest thing I’ve had to a political agenda is when I was in sixth grade and I had a crush on a girl in my class. She was volunteering at the local McGovern campaign headquarters, so I thought it would be a good idea if I did too. We were stuffing envelopes and one weekend they put us on a bus and took us to White Plains, which is the county seat in Westchester, because the Nixon campaign was coming through and we were all holding up signs that said “McGovern for President.” A 163-year-old woman came up behind me and grabbed the sign out of my hand and whacked me over the head with it and stomped on it. My only political agenda is hoping that that woman is still alive and that I’m driving her out of her mind.

Street: What is your opinion on Facebook?

AS: I think that if the goal is to bring us closer together, it’s doing the opposite. I think that it’s pushing us further apart. I understand the attraction. It allows you to reinvent yourself from the privacy of your room. It allows you to do a re-write and a polish on yourself. I get that because that’s what I do. And I would like nothing more than for people to think of me as being as clever and witty and smooth as a lot of the characters that I write; and as good-looking as Rob Lowe and as folksy as Martin Sheen. I would like to be able to live my life sliding pieces of paper under the door of scenes and having somebody sliding a meal back the other way. So I understand the attraction of being able to make a wall post that is charming. A wall post that I saw recently has just stuck with me. It’s from a girl who wrote “Had a girls’ night last night. We had five desserts. Better hit the gym this morning.” And I thought, that’s Carrie Bradshaw. She’s not talking to anyone; she’s writing. She’s not writing to one person; there’s an audience out there. And that’s how she’s presenting herself. “I’m the girl next door. I’m that single girl in the city that you see on NBC sitcoms that everybody likes so much. I’m doing a rewrite on myself.” It’s an insincere form of socializing. I have more to say on the subject; I’m just not going to say it now because again I want people going in with as blank a slate as possible.

Street: How did you feel when Mark Zuckerberg took the West Wing off from his Facebook list of favorite TV shows?

AS: He put it back up! I don’t blame him one bit for taking it down. Guys, would any of us want a movie made about the things we did when we were 19 years old? Certainly not me. I was flattered both times. Listen, I wouldn’t blame him if he made a dartboard out of my face. Even though it was not my intention that I was going to get Mark Zuckerberg. I would have no reason to. I have never met nor spoken with Mark. There’s nothing about him that I don’t like. There was a story to be told there. This isn’t a war between the movie and Facebook.

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