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Jesse Eisenberg makes his mark

Wise guy
By EUGENIA WILLIAMSON  |  October 4, 2010


Review: The Social Network. By Peter Keough.
Jesse Eisenberg's portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network glitters with exquisite rage. This performance is not without precedent — Eisenberg saved Adventureland from Kristen Stewart's diffidence, and few will forget his character's wounded arrogance in The Squid and the Whale. In his latest role, the 27-year-old confirms himself as one of his generation's finest actors — I'd like to see Michael Cera try his hand at Aaron Sorkin's dialogue.

Eisenberg's performance suggests he's a genius, and a five-minute conversation does nothing to dispel that impression. I meet him in the hospitality suite of the W Hotel a few hours before The Social Network screens at Harvard. He's taller than I expect, but not dramatically so. His bearing is on the jumpy side, especially when he's trying to make a point.

Like any number of authors, he edits himself as he speaks. Unlike anyone I've ever interviewed, he speaks parenthetically, starting on one topic, switching to another, then returning, unprompted, to the first. Over the years, he's gotten a reputation for lying in interviews.

After considering a leather couch overburdened by deliberately mismatched pillows, Eisenberg settles into an armchair the same height as my own. I ask about Harvard. He starts to answer, but then he notices the yellow helmet clipped to my purse. "Do you ride a bike?" I do. "That's cool. Me too. Is it hard to get around Boston on a bike?" No, it's fairly easy. "That's good. I live in New York City, and that's the only way to do it there, because of traffic and other things. And then you have to wait for the subway and you get impatient."

Has he ever gotten a ticket? "I got pulled over. I rode on the sidewalk once, but it was two in the morning." Then he launches into a detailed explanation of NYPD racial profiling and policy reform before returning to the film. "Anybody questioned by the police, their information is taken down. So we filmed for two weeks on the periphery of the campus, because they wouldn't let us film inside the school."

See? Parenthesis.

As for Harvard, Eisenberg wishes he could've stayed longer. Aside from some external shots, the campus was cobbled together from Johns Hopkins and a Los Angeles sound stage. "I really wish we were allowed to film more at Harvard. We really started to get in the spirit, even in the two and a half weeks that we were here."

He welcomed the introduction. "As somebody with a 1260 SAT score, Harvard remained the tower on the hill for me." It turns out he shares my disdain for the new SAT scoring model. "I like to write plays, I act in movies and plays — and the 1600 score used to be a really easy signifier, and now you have to qualify it."

Mark Zuckerberg spends much of the movie railing against Harvard's rigid class system, yet the actor maintains a healthy respect for the school. "One of the things that I thought about when I was thinking about playing Mark was that he's in an environment where every kid who was the best student at their high school has come, and so the kind of drive he has and the ambition he has may have been rare in elementary school and high school but is commonplace in this environment."

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