The Cain and Abel of ‘Social Network’

Posted by · 1:58 pm · September 28th, 2010

As much as the film ticks certain prestige-film boxes — hell, it’s a socially conscious biopic from a respected, Oscar-nominated filmmaker — I still find myself doing something of a double-take when I hear “The Social Network” referred to as the Best Picture contender to beat. When was the last time a film so steeped in contemporary youth culture found itself in that position? (And no, “Slumdog Millionaire” does not count.)

Complementing the film’s preoccupation with a relatively recent chapter of pop culture is a bold stroke of new-generation casting: its three male principals are all under 30, and not yet tapped by the wand of major movie stardom.

The long-ubiquitous Justin Timberlake aside, it’s not hard to imagine some older Academy members puzzling over their screeners: “Who are these kids?” (Then again, those same folks might also be wondering what the hell Facebook is. It’s only mental scenes like this that give me pause when considering its awards prospects.)

For those who have been keeping up, however, it’s gratifying indeed to see these actors coming to cross-media prominence — particularly Jesse Eisenberg and Andrew Garfield, who have been asserting themselves as two of their generation’s finest for a few years now. Eisenberg’s game contributions to last year’s alphabetically balanced double-bill of “Adventureland” and “Zombieland” had already given him some mainstream cred, but many audiences will only now be making the acquaintance of Peter-Parker-in-waiting Garfield, whose best work to date has been in the British TV projects “Boy A” (for which we won a BAFTA) and “Red Riding.” (Seek them out.)

The LA Times posted twin profiles of the actors over the weekend, and interestingly, it emerges that Garfield was initially considered for the role of Mark Zuckerberg, but was rejected after David Fincher found him too emotionally accessible an actor to convey Zuckerberg’s social autism. The role of Eduardo Saverin, Zuckerberg’s wounded ex-collaborator, was deemed more suitable, and Garfield claims to be happier playing the sidelined half of what he describes as a “Cain and Abel” partnership:

[I]n terms of doing some kind of mimicry performance, it didn’t feel necessary or important … Jesse might have had a slightly different deal because people are more aware of Mark Zuckerberg’s physicality, his mannerisms … No one knows who Eduardo Saverin is, and I don’t either. Of course, the fact he’s a real-life human being, breathing on this Earth somewhere, creates a whole new dimension to my approach because you feel a greater sense of responsibility. But not that much greater because [for] any character you feel a sense of responsibility as if they were a real person.

Eisenberg addresses a similar issue, but didn’t feel hemmed in by playing the more recognizable (if hardly household-name-level) personality — his freedom of interpretation assisted by the fact that he couldn’t meet with Zuckerberg himself:

“I was hoping to meet him. To me, that was the first thing to do, playing somebody who’s not only alive, but contemporary,” Eisenberg said. “And that was an impossibility” … With only a month to prepare, Eisenberg went to Plan B: He culled images and videos of Zuckerberg. He made an audio file with excerpts of Zuckerberg’s interviews and speeches and put them on his iPod, listening constantly to get into the character’s mind-set. He knew Zuckerberg was an expert fencer with “unnaturally straight” posture, so he took lessons to work on isolating the upper half of his body.

“It wasn’t important to us that Jesse do an impersonation of Mark Zuckerberg,” Sorkin said in an e-mail. “Jesse came to work knowing the scene he had to do that day, and how he prepared — whether it was listening to Mark’s voice, fencing or standing on his head — was entirely up to him.”

Considering the Academy’s perennial fondness for scholarly physical mimicry, it’ll be interesting to see how the actors’ branch takes to a more intuitive class of biopic performance. Moreover, it’ll be interesting to see how much room they’re willing to make on their ballots for Generation Y actors — not usually their favorite demographic.

[Photo: Glamour Magazine UK]

→ 24 Comments Tags: , , , | Filed in: Daily

24 responses so far

  • 1 9-28-2010 at 3:05 pm

    snowballa said...

    I think I need to stop reading so many reviews because I was completely underwhelmed by this movie. Even the score felt overdone as if the events taking place were life and death.

    Not any time while watching did I feel I was watching the top five acting performances of the year. Eisenberg, Garfield, Hammer and Timberlake were good, not great. The movie isn’t that deep, having left me as soon as I left the theater and went home. There’s nothing to mull over (besides some of the comedic lines from Hammer and Eisenberg). It’s lightweight and I suspect that critics are the ones doing the heavy lifting for it, similar to the verbal and written handjob they gave the equally underwhelming “Up in the Air”.

    I was offended that Max Minghella, he of Italian, Scottish and Chinese descent was cast to play an Indian man. Was Kal Penn taken? Given how many parts there are for Indian actors, did Fincher REALLY have to give it to him? What’s even sadder (but not surprising) that neither this site or any other publication comment on this. Par for course, I suppose, but disappointing none the less.

  • 2 9-28-2010 at 3:06 pm

    seanflynn said...

    I shared your initial doubts about the film’s relevance to Academy members lives. But after seeing the films, two things occurred to me:

    1) The amorality involved in the rise to fame and fortune is something they will identify with

    2) The 20-somethings in the film will remind them of their own kids.

    As for similar youth-oriented casts, the only other one to this extent (other than Slumdog) would be West Side Story.

  • 3 9-28-2010 at 3:14 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Snowballa: Do you also have a problem with Garfield playing a Brazilian immigrant? Just curious.

  • 4 9-28-2010 at 3:39 pm

    snowballa said...

    Eduardo Saverin is not of Brazilian descent, that is simply his nationality. Do your research. Divya is of Indian descent and Mingella is not. There are not enough opportunities for minority actors as is and to have parts like this taken by white actors is a bigger problem than a Brit playing a Jew (which the Saverin family is).

  • 5 9-28-2010 at 3:44 pm

    snowballa said...

    Upon further research, Andrew Garfield is Jewish as well.

    So to answer your question Guy (which I believe you’re only asking because don’t don’t consider the Mingella casting to be that big of deal), is no.

  • 6 9-28-2010 at 3:45 pm

    snowballa said...

    correction: you don’t*

  • 7 9-28-2010 at 4:01 pm

    Andrew M said...

    I don’t know @snowballa, based on the pictures on Google, they don’t look that different. I hear what you are saying, they should give more big roles to people of other descents, but maybe Mingella was just the best person they auditioned. Maybe not.

  • 8 9-28-2010 at 4:08 pm

    snowballa said...

    Andrew M: oh come on. Stop it.

    I understand why Jake Gyllenhaal is cast as the Prince of Persia. Jake is a name and he will bring people to the theatre. Do I like it? No. But I understand that decision based on finances.

    There is NO WAY you can sell me on Max Minghella. In fact, your lackadasical answer is quite insulting. Maybe Minghella is the best person they auditioned? He beat all of the other Indian actors out there? Really? Did you just really write that?

  • 9 9-28-2010 at 4:11 pm

    Andrew M said...

    Wow, I’m sorry I touched a nerve. I was just saying that MAYBE he was the best, not that he was. I agree with you on the issue, it’s just that maybe. I also put maybe he wasn’t. Maybe it was a studio choice, and in that case it was wrong. I agree they probably should of given the part to a person with the same decent of the person being portrayed, I was just putting something out there.

  • 10 9-28-2010 at 4:15 pm

    Speaking English said...

    Andrew Garfield is really impressing me. I saw him for the first time (I think?) just this last weekend in “Never Let Me Go,” and I thought he was a major standout for sure. Then last night he was on Jimmy Fallon and it was a wonderful, charming interview. He seems like a really cool and friendly person, someone you’d like to hang out with.

    Can’t wait to see his work in Fincher’s film this weekend!

  • 11 9-28-2010 at 4:16 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Snowballa: if you’re fine with an actor playing someone of a different nationality, why is playing someone of different heritage such a line to cross? It’s acting, after all. I sympathise with your point about minorities to an extent, but also think filmmakers should be free to choose the actors they feel would best embody the character — and their ethnic makeup shouldn’t be the most crucial consideration there.

    I admit the question should come into play when the actor chosen isn’t up to the task of adopting the relevant identity — Freida Pinto in “Miral,” who struggles audibly to shift her accent, is a recent example — but I don’t think there should be hard-and-fast rules about these things.

    (PS. Lots of Jewish Brits out there. Not sure why you seem to think those identities are mutually exclusive.)

  • 12 9-28-2010 at 4:18 pm

    snowballa said...

    Shouldn’t this be a nerve for everyone, though? Did it spoil the movie for me? No. But, should this be a bigger deal? Yes. How else can we see more diversity by pointing this out and demanding that casting agents and directors stop whitewashing parts. If this is occurring with fifth or sixth billed part like Minghellas, how can we ever expect to see more diverse A-list stars? Again, people bitch about seeing the same (white) faces, but at the end of the day, they don’t really care. As an aspiring African-American screenwriter, yes that sucks and it strikes a huge nerve.

  • 13 9-28-2010 at 4:25 pm

    juli said...

    Eduardo Saverin is not of Brazilian descent, that is simply his nationality.

    hummm, he is brazilian, period.its not just his nationality. Yes, he is descendent from Brazilians, he was born there just like his entire family.

    Yet, I se no problem in Garfield playing him (I am brazilian BTW)

  • 14 9-28-2010 at 4:29 pm

    snowballa said...

    @Guy: If we lived in an idealized world where you got jobs based strictly on your talents, then your argument stands. We don’t. Never have, never will. Giving away the few minority parts will always be a problem.

    Your postscript on Jewish Brits is disingenuous as if they had, have or will the same casting prejudices as Indians.

  • 15 9-28-2010 at 4:33 pm

    Red said...

    That, and I hardly think bringing in a guy like Minghella for a supporting role in a Fincher movie compares to the lead role of a half-assed video game adaptation that premiered in the summer as an attempt at a cash grab.

    Fincher’s not going to bring somebody just because the studio wants a big name. While he has certainly worked with his fair share of stars, Fincher did bring in a “nobody” for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which I’m sure was against the studio wishes.

  • 16 9-28-2010 at 4:37 pm

    juli said...

    This story from the early days got my attention. It seems that Eduardo really got the bad deal in the Facebook story

  • 17 9-28-2010 at 4:40 pm

    snowballa said...

    @juli: Jewish people did not just suddenly appear in Brazil. They began in Europe/North African and emigrated.

  • 18 9-28-2010 at 4:55 pm

    Justin said...

    I think American Beauty really tapped into youth culture when it came out. Obviously the movie was all about Kevin Spacey’s mid-life crisis, but I remember a TV spot running on MTV that focused completely on the three teenagers in the film. And I honestly think more teenagers liked that movie than adults when it came out.

    But I guess it still is pretty strange to see a Michael Cera-type character movie get so much Oscar talk. If it weren’t for all the current political relevance surrounding the film, then TSN might have just been this year’s Juno.

  • 19 9-28-2010 at 8:43 pm

    Room 237 said...

    I thought Garfield was born in California…

  • 20 9-28-2010 at 8:50 pm

    Room 237 said...

    Damn it, why was Lorraine Bracco, an Italian, allowed to play Karen Hill, who’s Jewish?

    Why was Orson Welles allowed to play Othello?

    Why is Leonard Rossiter, a Brit, playing a Russian in 2001?

    Why was Eddie Murphy playing an old jew in Coming To America?

    Answer: Who gives a fuck!

  • 21 9-28-2010 at 9:21 pm

    seanflynn said...

    Robert DeNiro is 3/4s German.

    Harvey Keitel is Jewish.

    Guess neither should have been cast in Mean Streets.

  • 22 9-29-2010 at 1:58 am

    Hunter Tremayne said...

    I think you’re on the money here, Guy. TSN screened last night for the PGA. Just polite applause.

  • 23 9-29-2010 at 4:14 am

    Chris said...

    Oh god just STFU Snowballa

  • 24 9-29-2010 at 5:55 am

    JJ1 said...

    I wonder if TSN is getting a bit too much buzz, insane reviews (not unlike something else we know of from July), and then may lose steam before February. I also read someone from on screening say that it left them cold as a fish. Time will tell. And I can’t wait to see it this weekend!