Let's get this out of the way first: While it's been affectionately dubbed ''The Facebook Movie,'' The Social Network is not about, say, people tagging photos or poking friends. ''Facebook is to this movie what bicycles were to Breaking Away. It's a part of what we're talking about,'' says director David Fincher. ''But the movie is really about kids at Harvard and their wild dreams and wild ambitions, and how in some cases those are foiled.''
Specifically, The Social Network tells the story of Mark Zuckerberg (Zombieland's Jesse Eisenberg), the 26-year-old billionaire who started the site in his dorm room and turned it into a global Web empire but not without thwarting plenty of his friends and classmates along the way. Once Zuckerberg's fortune was made, his onetime pal Eduardo Saverin (played by Andrew Garfield, who was just cast as the next Spider-Man) claimed he was forced out of the company they cofounded, while all-American twins Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (Armie Hammer and Josh Pence) accused Zuckerberg of stealing their idea.
The eventual lawsuits filed by Saverin and the Winklevosses both were settled privately formed the backbone of Ben Mezrich's 2009 exposé The Accidental Billionaires, on which The Social Network is based. When Scott Rudin (No Country for Old Men) began prepping the book for the big screen (alongside producers Kevin Spacey, Dana Brunetti, and Michael de Luca), he knew that rolling each character’s point of view into a single movie wouldn’t be easy. Enter screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing), who suggested a Rashomon-like approach: Instead of trying to put together one version of the truth about the birth of Facebook, why not show the same events from the perspectives of Zuckerberg, Saverin, and the Winklevoss twins? ''The movie is really a balanced story told from three different points of view,'' explains Eisenberg. ''It leaves the audience free to make up their own mind.'' Or, as Rudin puts it, ''it's like the way All About Eve goes back and forth, and you get five different ideas of Eve Harrington. It never has to quantify what is true.''
To that end, the filmmakers insisted that Eisenberg avoid an impersonation of Zuckerberg. Instead, the actor's task was figuring out how to empathize with the multifaceted, conflicted character in the script. ''Even if you're playing Mussolini, you have to believe that what you're doing is for the betterment of Italy,'' laughs Eisenberg. ''Zuckerberg isn't in that category. But in order to play a character that complicated, you have to find some defense for his actions.''
For the supporting role of Napster cofounder Sean Parker, the Silicon Valley VIP who introduces Zuckerberg to his high-flying lifestyle, Fincher scored a particularly buzzy casting coup: Justin Timberlake. The music superstar has so far taken only occasional roles in films like 2007's Alpha Dog and 2008's The Love Guru much to Fincher's confusion: ''You can't watch [Justin] on Saturday Night Live and not go, 'Why the f--- isn't this guy in the movie business?' '' Still, Timberlake says his days as a pop idol prepared him well for working with the famously perfectionist director of Fight Club and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. ''In one of my first meetings with David, he said, 'Don't worry, I'm not going to make you do a thousand takes,''' recalls Timberlake. ''And I said, 'Listen, man, I come from the stage. I've done the same show 200 times on tour. I have no problem with repetition.' ''
What does the real Mark Zuckerberg think of all this? The CEO never had any contact with the filmmakers, but in an ABC News interview with Diane Sawyer last month, he said he had no intention of seeing The Social Network. Rudin, for one, is sympathetic. ''I completely understand it. Who would want to have a movie made about the mistakes you made when you were 19?'' he says. ''I wouldn't. But I didn't invent Facebook.''