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EXCLUSIVE: Plugging in with Justin Timberlake, Jesse Eisenberg and the cast of “The Social Network”

By Sean O’Connell
Hollywoodnews.com: Elliot Schrage, Facebook’s director of communications, offered two suggestions to producer Scott Rudin when he and award-winning screenwriter Aaron Sorkin began researching the story of Mark Zuckerberg and the origins of the enormously popular Web site.

Schrage asked that the film be set at some college other than Harvard – where Zuckerberg and his partners attended when he came up with the idea in 2003 – and he requested that the site in the movie not be called Facebook.

“In other words, we’ll help you out if you write fiction,” Sorkin said. “But we’re not going to help you out telling the true story.”

With or without their help, “The Social Network” – penned by Sorkin and directed by meticulous filmmaker David Fincher – crackles as it recounts how Zuckerberg conceived of a Web site that replicates the social aspects of the college experience and how several people in Zuckerberg’s universe sued him for recognition (and money) as he took ultimate credit for the site’s creation.

In Sorkin’s mind, Fincher’s contemporary character study plays best as a courtroom drama because, as he puts it, “If nobody had sued Mark or Facebook, there would be no story.” But they did, and there is, and audiences hungry for gripping human conflict at the movie theaters are better off for it.

During a recent press conference for the film in New York City, Sorkin sat with the film’s stars – Jesse Eisenberg, Justin Timberlake, Andrew Garfield and Armie Hammer – to answer questions about Fincher’s vision. Perhaps because Sorkin was in attendance, conversation immediately zeroed in on his brilliantly lyrical and rapid-fire script.

“It was like being given a beautiful piano concerto, and you knew if you played it right, it would have a musicality to it. But if you dropped one word, or one syllable, it would be like hitting an off note in a great piano piece,” said Hammer, who actually plays twin characters Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss, giving him repeat opportunities to relish in Sorkin’s dialogue.

But most wanted to know more about Zuckerberg, a seemingly spiteful whiz kid who used his technical prowess to gain acceptance and amass a fortune.

“I spent six months thinking about [Zuckerberg] every day,” Eisenberg said when asked how he came to realize the man he plays on screen. “I developed a great affection for my character and, by extension, the man. I, of course, would be very interested in meeting him. Fortunately my first cousin, Eric, got a great job working at Facebook about a month before we finished shooting, and I’m hoping he’ll facilitate an introduction.

“My impression [of Mark] is really formed more from the character,” Eisenberg continued. “I don’t know the real Mark Zuckerberg, though I was delighted – like everybody else – to see this very generous donation he made [recently].

“But as I said, I developed a great affection over the course of filming and even over the course of doing this publicity tour,” Eisenberg continued. “I have been asked that, and the more I think about it, the greater affection I develop. In the movie, the character who Aaron created is a guy who is desperately trying to fit in and doesn’t have the social wherewithal to do so. I can certainly relate to that. And he almost co-creates this incredible tool to interact in a way that he feels comfortable. And because of his incredible insights, 500 million other people also feel comfortable using that tool. It’s just a fascinating character, and complicated in all the right ways. Even though he acts in a way that might be hurtful to other characters, like you indicated, by the end of the movie it’s completely understandable.”

Sorkin says he wrote with the formula of a courtroom drama in mind. He explained that the antagonist and protagonist intentionally shifts as the film goes along, but Zuckerberg emerges as a classically tragic hero by the movie’s end.

“Which means that he has paid a price and is experiencing remorse,” Sorkin said.

As far as paying a price on set, the actors say working with Fincher is worth its wait in gold … even if his reputation for strict detail is earned. Eisenberg says the director did 99 takes of the film’s opening scene, where Rooney Mara’s character breaks up with Zuckerberg in a Harvard bar. “He wouldn’t let us do that one last take to get it to 100, though,” Eisenberg joked.

“We’re always asked about the great amount of takes, as if the actors are in great opposition to doing that,” he continued. “Every actor I know would stay there all day if there was more film in the camera. The alternative is sitting in the trailers. So this movie was an absolute blessing to do, and we’re all thrilled for the amount of time we were able to spend actually acting and not sitting around not waiting to act.”

“And even more time that we get being directed by someone like David Fincher,” Hammer added.

Eventually, we discussed Facebook itself, and asked the “Social Network” cast why they believe the communal site has such a strong attraction for Web denizens.

“There’s a line that Jesse’s character has about it being a ‘Finals Club,’ except you are the president,” Timberlake said. “It’s a party and you are throwing it. I think that’s kind of the intrigue about having your own Facebook page, creating your own profile. It’s your world. And I assume that’s sort of what it is.”

Timberlake then made it painfully clear that no one in the cast is savvy with any social networking tools … Facebook, in particular.

“I’m ridiculously stupid when it comes to computers and social networking,” Timberlake confessed. “[But] I think social networking, in general, is still a hypothesis. I find that people are asking more and more … if it’s a good thing or a bad thing. I think that’s the intrigue – that we still wonder whether it’s going to create great things in the world or we’re going to waste away with it. That’s probably what’s going to get people into the theater.”

David Fincher’s “The Social Network” opens in theaters on Oct. 1.

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