Jesse Eisenberg Grilled on Doing It to Mark Zuckerberg

The “Social Network” star on talking fast, embarrassing anti-depressant stories and why he didn’t color his hair orange

David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin have talked about what a natural Jesse Eisenberg was at delivering Sorkin's dense, mile-a-minute dialogue in "The Social Network."  And a conversation with the 27-year-old actor will convince you that there's good reason for that.

Eisenberg isn't anti-social or awkward like Mark Zuckerberg, his real-life character and founder of Facebook, but the words spill out of him in torrents – even when Sorkin isn't writing the dialogue.

Jesse EisenbergFincher's film has turned the indie-bred Eisenberg into a serious Best Actor contender, and already landed him awards from several critics groups and the National Board of Review. 

Zuckerberg is a pretty public figure. How careful were you to pick up his mannerisms, his style?
It was important to me initially, but I soon realized that it was not important to David. I asked him if I could dye my hair red to look like Mark, and he said, "You need to think about what it's like to start this company and to be 23 and be defending it. You need to think about what it’s like to be in awe of somebody who might be a little bit dangerous, and what it's like to have to cut a friend out of a company. You should be focusing on the psychological aspects of the character, rather than the outward appearance or vocal style of the character."

It's a lot more interesting to go into the psychology of somebody so unique, rather than to do some kind of mimicry.

So, in the end, do you think the movie is honest, and fair to Zuckerberg?Jesse Eisenberg
I have no idea. First of all, I've only seen the movie once. But I don’t know the real story. I wasn’t in those rooms. My only concern, really is the character of Mark: did I do the character justice? Is the character consistent? Is the character acting in a way that feels authentic? Are the character's desires and hopes and conflicts all evidenced in what I did?

And that's kind of hard to judge, because I have all this other stuff in my head about what I intended to do and what I thought I was doing and how I thought what I was doing would be perceived. So its impossible for me to think about how the real person would feel, and to gauge the accuracy of what we were doing.

Fincher's known for doing 40 or 50 takes. How do you not think, "What am I doing wrong?"
You think that the first scene, and then right away you realize, oh, this is just how he works. And then it becomes immediately enjoyable, because you have a wonderful opportunity to experiment.

The first scene we did 99 times, and that gave us the opportunity to try different characters out. There's the character of somebody who's really emotionally detached, or somebody who's maybe more personable. There's a character who's more aggressive, a character who's very passive. And having 99 different shots to try different things is great – you can spend 20 takes trying to get something right, even if the idea is wrong.

In the DVD commentary, you talk about doing a running scene when you had a pill stuck in your throat.
That's true. I swallowed several pills without water, and then I had to run through the snow. Yeah. Whoa. I should not have said that, probably. (Laughs)

Are you sorry you told the story?
Uh … No, I guess it’s probably OK. It's just that I talked about putting an anti-depressant inside an herbal remedy pill. I don’t want to take pills, but I was taking an anti-depressant. And I was too nervous to ask anybody for water, because it was the first day of the shoot. And then after that I asked people for so many things, because I was throwing up and had to shoot more.

Andrew Garfield and Jesse Eisenberg

Did you feel at home with Aaron Sorkin's style of writing right away?
I suppose that in many ways I was ready for his dialogue. My background is in theater, where the kind of writing that Aaron is doing is not as rare as it is in film. Long scenes, subtle emotional shifts within a scene, fast dialogue, clever speeches —

Are there particular and specific challenges to saying so much, so fast?
I think you want to understand what you're saying so well that when you say it it's not just you being clever. In Aaron's writing, there's so much happening underneath. The words themselves are facile, but there's a thinking process that is happening there, if you look for it.

As an actor, you'll find the thought process woven into the dialogue. And so the trick is to understand it so well that you can find the thoughts.

So how do you get to that point?
What I like to do a lot of times is improvise a little bit during rehearsal. You don’t change the dialogue when you're shooting, but I like to improvise in rehearsal, because it forces me to understand what the character is saying.

One of the things Andrew Garfield and I would do is improvise together in character, with him playing kind of the doting mother and me the detached, annoyed younger brother. It established for us how our characters interacted with each other outside of the movie.

Let's talk about all the accolades you're getting. Can you enjoy them, or do you try to ignore them?
Well, I try to not know about it. I mean, it's impossible to not know about the awards that I've been given, but it's possible to ignore the ones that you haven't  been given.

I didn’t realize that every major city, and even some of the minor cities, have their own critics awards. And it's such an honor to hear that you've been named best actor in the city – but then I think, my goodness, if every city that size has an award, then I've lost many more than I've won. So it's maybe just the nature of my defective personality that I find this overwhelming.

I think there's only one city so far that hasn't named "The Social Network" best movie.
I didn’t know what. Where is that? And what other movie could they have picked?

San Diego. They picked "Winter's Bone."
They probably haven't seen our picture. Can we send them screeners?