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Interview: Aaron Sorkin (''The Social Network'')

The screenwriter on hackers, Harvard, and getting even
By EUGENIA WILLIAMSON  |  October 5, 2010

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Aaron Sorkin is one dapper guy. I immediately recognized him outside the W Hotel – he drips Hollywood. He was wearing a crisp blue shirt and tortoiseshell glasses – an outfit befitting the world’s most famous screenwriter.

READ:Complete Phoenix coverage of The Social Network

The hospitality suite they arranged for interviews was bedecked with strange artifacts: a snake skeleton, a Hirst-like glass skull, and a hideous oil painting of a naked female back. “For the ladies,” Sorkin said in a louche voice as he pointed out each tchotchke.

Sorkin’s script for The Social Network zings – he makes hackers sound like they belong at Algonquin Round Table. This should come as no surprise to fans of The West Wing, or anyone who’s picked up a magazine in the last few weeks. I asked him about hackers, Harvard, and getting even.

In the production notes, one of the things you mention was something that initially drew you to write this script was its reflection of 20th-century American stories.
It wasn't Facebook that drew me to this story. I've never known much about Facebook. I got a Facebook page when I signed up for this and took it down when we were done. Of course I knew about Facebook, but I knew about Facebook like I know about a carburetor. I can't pop the hood of my car and tell you what it does. For me it was the ancient themes in the story: friendship, loyalty, betrayal, power, class. These things that great masters were writing about. The idea of presenting that kind of very classical story against such a contemporary background was very appealing.

What do you think of Harvard? What's been your interaction with it?
Harvard to me, like it is to a lot of people, is a mythical place. It's where you wanted to go to school when you were applying to colleges. And now that I'm the father of a nine-year-old daughter, it's where you want your kids to go to school. It's an incredible place, some of the brightest, most interesting people come study here, come teach here. I can't think of anyplace better to spend 18 to 21.

That's a generous assessment of it. Do you consider the Harvard inThe Social Networkto be a meritocracy?
I do. The fifth line of the movie is, "How do you distinguish yourself in a population of people who all got 1600 on their SAT?" The need to stand out – which is actually the opposite of what Mark wanted; he wanted to fit in. But in order to fit in, to get into one of these clubs, he had to be noticed. He had to do something, in his words, substantial. What he doesn't realize at the time, he's looking for a lot more than that, and he'll find a lot more than that. For a guy who never sat at the cool kids' table, who's always had his nose pressed up against the glass of the social life of college, he invented a way to allow people to re-invent themselves socially. Which is really what's happening.

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