Last year Jesse Eisenberg battled flesh-noshing ghoulies and teenage angst and came out on the winning side both times in the eyes of critics and moviegoers. Following on the success of “Adventureland” and “Zombieland,” Eisenberg was recruited by David Fincher (“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”) to play the staring role of Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg for a film about the passions, backbiting and legal wrangling surrounding the creation of the social networking behemoth at Harvard.
Due out in October, “The Social Network” has us so excited that we’ve named the 26-year-old Eisenberg as one of our 10 to Watch in 2010 — the folks in the movie industry we expect big things from in the next 12 months. Still in the midst of production on the film, the actor took time out to call MTV News and talk about the project, working with Fincher and co-star Justin Timberlake and when we see might see him return to zombie territory for a sequel.
MTV: Last year was a pretty big one for you, with “Adventureland” and “Zombieland.” Does it feel like with “Social Network” you’re reaping the rewards of your hard work in 2009?
Eisenberg: I don’t know that the director had seen those movies. I don’t know if he would have hired me from those movies for this role, which is different than those. The last concern of his is casting someone with momentum. I auditioned for this. I made a tape. I’m sure lots of people made tapes. I don’t see a connection in terms of a climatic career trajectory or anything.
MTV: Had you been an admirer of Fincher’s work for a while?
Eisenberg: I really don’t watch movies. I’d seen his movies a few years ago. Most of what I know about him was from people speaking about him so highly, most specifically Fred Durst, who directed me [in "The Education of Charlie Banks"] and looked at him almost as a mentor. Everybody speaks about him with such awe, and now having worked with him for the last four months, I would certainly agree he’s working in a completely unique way and in way I found very satisfying.
MTV: So what was the audition process like?
Eisenberg: I just made a tape, probably 20 pages of dialogue and sent in the tape because I live in New York City and they were casting in California. Then they called me for a meeting. It was fairly painless.
MTV: Is this the first time you’re playing a real person?
Eisenberg: I did two or three movies where I played a fictionalized version of the director. Last year I did ["Adventureland"], that was loosely based on the director’s life. But in terms of a recognizable person, this is the first time. You take as much as you can from what you see, what you like, and also tailor what you feel you want to do to the story and the script, which takes precedence over whatever kind of quirks or characterizations you want to bring to it. And the script is so wonderful — written by Aaron Sorkin, 170 pages long. The character goes from 19 to 24. It’s hard to look at interviews now with Zuckerberg, who has become the head of a big company and probably has people guiding him along the interview process, and then extrapolate what he might have been like in a dorm room at 19 with his buddies. You’re always going to the script for guidance more than anything if you’re playing a real person.
MTV: Tell me bit about the story line. What’s the core relationship?
Eisenberg: The main relationship is between Zuckerberg and the guy who bankrolled his initial endeavor and who’s his alleged best friend — although this is all up for debate within the Facebook world — whose name is Eduardo Saverin. He was a business major at Harvard and they were in the same Jewish fraternity. He’s played by Andrew Garfield. The core relationship is the two of them.
MTV: What’s it like to work with Fincher? Are there long days?
Eisenberg: The days aren’t long because he schedules them over such a long period of time. It’s, like, a 70-day shoot. The last movie I did was 18 days. The days are short, but the experience is long. He likes to do a lot of takes. For each scene, you end up doing many more takes than you’d do on another movie.
MTV: Will the film have any of the technical wizardry Fincher has become known for?
Eisenberg: I have such a lack of technical awareness, but it does seem to be very straightforwardly shot. There are some very unique technical aspects about the movie that I don’t know if I’m allowed to share. But they all serve the story, not just for the sake of doing something technical.
MTV: Have you watched any of the dailies?
Eisenberg: No, I don’t watch anything. I’m mortified by myself. Having said that, when you’re filming, you have an idea of how things are looking and it seems real straightforward.
MTV: What’s the tone? Is it a comedy?
Eisenberg: It’s certainly not a comedy. Most scenes aren’t played for jokes. This is a serious movie. Imagine what happens with something real and you’re telling it honestly. If I had to compare it to something, I’d compare it to an Aaron Sorkin creation, really compelling and clever and full of interesting facts and people who are really bright and are always having entertaining conversations.
MTV: How much instruction did Fincher give you prior to filming? Did he have you study any other movies?
Eisenberg: No, he’s confident with us working through things on set. He does so many takes, there’s time to get things right or do different things. We had rehearsals, but that was more about creating a rapport than figuring out what the themes are going to be. I don’t know why they make actors look at other movies anyway. The main thing for me was looking at videos of the guy I’m playing and seeing what I can take from it and bring to the character that has already been written.
MTV: How was working with Justin Timberlake?
Eisenberg: He plays Sean Parker, the founder of Napster, who comes in after Facebook is established and Zuckerberg becomes infatuated with him to the point where it’s like a platonic love triangle between Saverin, who bankrolled the operation and Parker, who has this Silicon Valley aura and rock star status in the dot-com world.
MTV: Were you a fan of Timberlake before the shoot?
Eisenberg: Certainly after and during. I can’t say I knew his music too much except for knowing about him because he’s so ubiquitous. But I heard such great things about working with him both personally and professionally from so many people. He’s certainly lived up to that and more — extremely professional and charming and modest, which is probably unique for someone that famous.
MTV: When you’re done with “Social Network,” do you have any plans for 2010? Any goals that you want to accomplish?
Eisenberg: I’ve been trying to do these plays I’ve written in New York and this musical I’ve written. I wrote the music and lyrics and somebody else wrote the book. There’s no character for me. We’re doing a workshop in February. It’s a satire about self-indulgence called “Me Time.” It’s about contemporary, obnoxious selfishness on the Upper East Side of New York City. I would love to get it on, but I wind up going to California to do movies. I’ve been trying to focus on those for two years, so I assume if I don’t get work as an actor, that’s where I’ll be.
MTV: Is there any momentum for a “Zombieland” sequel?
Eisenberg: I’m not sure what the latest is with that. If it was good, I think everybody who was involved in it would want to do another one because the first one turned out so well. The risk is that they’ll want to make something that is bad but popular. When I read the first script, I thought it was really great and all my wariness about being in something popular I was able to push aside. Sequels have a greater threat of being stupid.