How do you make a movie about the life of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and make it interesting? That’s the task which screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, director David Fincher and star Jesse Eisenberg faced and successfully handled in their acclaimed film, "The Social Network."
“What attracted me to this project was not Facebook,” said Sorkin, 49, who was in Japan recently with Eisenberg, 27. “It doesn’t matter whether you are on Facebook or not, whether you have even heard of Facebook or not. That is irrelevant to enjoying the movie. Its elements are as old as storytelling – friendship, loyalty, power, betrayal and jealousy. These are the same themes that have been written about for thousands of years, but set against a modern backdrop.”
The film is based on the 2009 book, “The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook, A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius and Betrayal,” about Zuckerberg and his estranged Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin. Sorkin’s script looks at the origins of the site through reminiscences during court depositions as Zuckerberg is being sued by Saverin and former classmates at Harvard, the Winklevoss twins (played by one actor in an amazing bit of digital magic), who claim he stole their idea for the social network. The film is populated by antiheroes, starting with Zuckerberg, the antisocial arrogant 19-year-old computer whiz, and Napster co-creator Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) who becomes Zuckerberg’s mentor and maneuvers Saverin out of the business.
Sorkin, best known for his work on films such as "A Few Good Men" (1992), "The American President" (1995), "Charlie Wilson’s War" (2007), as well as the Emmy Award-winning TV series "The West Wing," said he felt a lot of pressure. “When you write a screenplay about people who are still alive, you have a great responsibility in your hands because you are dealing with somebody’s life,” he said. “It’s a bit like the oath doctors take never to do harm. There is a moral compass you must follow never to make anything up that could harm this person.”
As a writer, Sorkin said that he doesn’t judge a character. “That’s up to audiences. I try to empathize with the character. In writing the character of Mark Zuckerberg, I put in characteristics that we have all felt at one time or another – being shy, feeling like an outsider, not belonging,” he said. “Then you hope that the director will bring the scenes to life and get actors who can humanize what you have written. I’ve been told that people everywhere of all ages have been leaving the theater after seeing the movie, with many different impressions.”
Bringing Zuckerberg, now 26, to life, was a big challenge for Eisenberg, who made his film debut with "Roger Dodger" (2002), and followed that up with films such as "The Squid and the Whale" (2005) and "Zombieland" (2009). “When I first read the script 18 months ago, I had never seen a picture of Mark Zuckerberg and had never read an interview with him,” he said. “To me, he was just a character in a movie. Of course, since the movie came out, he has become well known and all the characters have come to the public’s attention, so if the film were being made today, I might play the character differently.”
Sorkin said that he has met most of the characters portrayed in the movie, with the exception of Zuckerberg who has generally stayed out of the limelight, except for one appearance on Oprah. “I have to say that Mark has been a class act during this period that must have been very uncomfortable for him. I don’t think that any of us would like a movie made about us when we were 19. But I heard he did take the entire Facebook staff to see the film. The one we couldn’t find for a long time was Eduardo Saverin. He seemed to have disappeared off the face of the earth. Then his rep got in touch with us one day and asked for a private screening.”
Interestingly, Eisenberg’s cousin works for Zuckerberg. “He has sort of been the liaison between us,” said Eisenberg. “He told my cousin to tell me that I did a nice job. I was hoping for a more thorough review but that’s all I got.”
Facebook continues to grow with more than 500 million users, but not Eisenberg and Sorkin aren't among them. “I think Facebook is a smart idea, but as an actor, I don’t feel comfortable about having any more info about myself out there,” said Eisenberg, while Sorkin put it more simply. “One night a few years ago, I turned into my grandfather and decided I had enough technology in my life and didn’t need any more.”
"The Social Network" opens in Japan on Jan 15.© Japan Today