Mark Zuckerberg was one of the most talked about people of 2010; he was Time magazine’s person of the year. What made everyone start talking and wondering about the 26 year-old billionaire who created the social networking site Facebook, was because of the compelling portrayal they saw of Mark Zuckerberg played by Jesse Eisenberg in the movie The Social Network. On Tuesday, January 25th, 2011, the Academy Award nominations were announced and Jesse Eisenberg received his first Oscar nomination for Best Actor for his depiction of Zuckerberg.
The Social Network tells the story of how Zuckerberg created Facebook with his closest friend and co-founder Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) and how their friendship unraveled in the process; as well as the legal battles of ownership over the website that followed. The actual Mark Zuckerberg has seen the film and he suggests it is mostly a dramatization of what actually happened. Zuckerberg states, “They frame it as if the whole reason for making Facebook and building something was because I wanted to get girls. They (the filmmakers) just can't wrap their head around the idea that someone might build something because they like building things."” Zuckerberg goes on to state what the film actually got right, “It's interesting what stuff they focused on getting right, like, every single shirt and fleece that I had in that movie is actually a shirt or fleece that I own.” Overall Zuckerberg’s thoughts on the movie are, “It's a movie, it's fun [...] I can promise you, this is my life so I know it's not that dramatic. The last six years have been a lot of coding and focus and hard work, but maybe it would be fun to remember it as partying and all this crazy drama." (link)
A lot of people and critics have perceived the film’s portrayal of Mark as unflattering saying that he’s portrayed as a “borderline-autistic conniver” and that he’s hampered by sexual insecurity. Others have described Eisenberg’s Zuckerberg as “an anti-hero for our times.” The different interpretations and perceptions people have of the character of Mark Zuckerberg are due to Jesse Eisenberg’s complex and layered performance.
Most of the time when an actor is portraying a real live person they can meet the actual person and study their mannerisms and ask the person questions about their life experiences. An actor can then use this real-person as a tool to help them learn how to mimic them or as a way to help shape or guide their performance. Jesse Eisenberg didn't meet Mark Zuckerberg until after the movie was released; Zuckerberg refused to participate in the film because he didn’t approve of the script. Eisenberg did study whatever material he could get his hands on, but there wasn’t a lot.
“I got every audio clip, picture and video I could find and it helped me in the preparation process. But the script was so wonderful, the characterization by Aaron was so wonderful that there was enough to use,” Eisenberg stated.
David Fincher, the director of The Social Network, is known somewhat as perfectionist director who likes do a lot of takes. The opening 5-minute scene between Mark Zuckerberg and his girlfriend was a 10-page long script scene, and Fincher did 99 takes of the scene. Fincher said he did so many takes in order to ease the actors into the language of Aaron Sorkin's script, so the dialogue would flow naturally out of the actors. This was indeed true inJesse Eisenberg's case who was able to take all the character's fast talking ramblings and verbal quips/comebacks and make them his own. While the character of Mark may at times seem ruthless and appear to have a lot of pent up aggression in him, there are moments during these bouts of anger that you see the sadness of the character in Eisenberg's performance.
“It was immediately clear to me how things should be played and what his loneliness was and how sad he was even though his behavior appears angry,” Jesse Eisenberg says. (link)
The greatest quality about the character of Mark Zuckerberg in the film is his drive to do something great, and during the scenes where Zuckerberg is shown coding and actually creating Facebook, Eisenberg conveys the incredible drive and passion of the character. Eisenberg said he viewed these scenes of Mark coding as the equivalent of Michelangelo creating the Sistine Chapel, which he feels was how Mark felt creating Facebook. One of the most poignant scenes of the movie is when Mark first launches the facebook site. During this moment Mark goes into a trance-like state and closes his eyes, Eduardo asks Mark if he is praying, and we feel, through Eisenberg’s performance, how much the site has meant to him.
Throughout the majority of the movie, Mark Zuckerberg is seen mostly as an emotionless guy. We see him getting angry in the deposition scenes (a few times in the film) but Mark, for the most part, is a one-note character. If an actor didn’t embody this character as fully as Jesse Eisenberg did, we wouldn’t care or be as invested as we are in the movie. We see, through Eisenberg’s performance, that Mark is a guy that feels most comfortable coding. When he’s not coding, like when he’s at a party, Mark is out of his element and doesn’t know how to act socially. (In the opening scene of the movie, where Mark goes on a verbal rant about getting into a Harvard finals club and insults his girlfriend, she breaks up and calls him an “asshole”. There’s a small moment after this, where we see how hurt Mark is by these remarks.) He truly doesn’t mean to act like an asshole, that’s just how he acts in uncomfortable social situations.
In the most heartbreaking and pivotal scene of the movie, where Eduardo confronts Mark about the liquidation of his shares in the company of Facebook, we see how empathetic Mark is about what he did to his friend. Mark did what he thought was best for his company and wouldn’t allow his friendship to get in the way of running his company the way he wanted it. This is Eduardo’s most pivotal scene and actor Andrew Garfield’s highlight acting moment in the movie. Eisenberg is able to steal this scene from him as Mark, because when he does finally show some of his bottled up emotions, it’s touching to watch.
The character of Mark Zuckerberg in the movie The Social Network was quite possibly the most compelling film character to come out of 2010. Whether it’s very close to the truth of who the actual Mark Zuckerberg was or not at all, does not really matter. Jesse Eisenberg created a character that could be viewed in a variety of different ways. One person might see his performance as being a manipulative, conniving jerk who possibly planted false stories about his friend because he was jealous that he didn’t get into a Harvard club. While another person could see the same performance and see a character that was incredibly smart and passionate, who had as many strengths as he did faults.
The Mark Zuckerberg that was presented in the movie The Social Network was a fully developed three-dimensional character that one cannot classify easily. I’m hoping that on February 27th, Jesse Eisenberg can upset the favorite, Colin Firth, and win an Oscar for his performance. To some people, Jesse Eisenberg used to be known as “the other Michael Cera” because they both look alike and play similar kinds of nervous awkward characters. Now, Jesse Eisenberg has given a performance that will be the defining role of his career and Michael Cera has become the other less talented Jesse Eisenberg.