Hollywood is full of fun “what if” stories, but here’s one that’s a bit unexpected. When it was announced that David Fincher would be directing a movie about Facebook written by Aaron Sorkin, there was a hefty dose of skepticism from anyone who wasn’t a Fincher/Sorkin acolyte (my faith never wavered, for the record). Prejudice against the film got even more pronounced when Fincher cast Justin Timberlake in the role of Sean Parker, which some felt was stunt casting and simply another example of a famous pop star throwing their weight around to be in the movies.
Those familiar Fincher’s sensibilities knew better, and of course not only did The Social Network go on to become one of the defining films of the 21st century, but Timberlake’s performance was also critically acclaimed. However, the role of Sean Parker could have gone a very different way, as Jonah Hill recently revealed he was up for the part—but Fincher wasn’t having it.
During a wide-ranging interview on The Bill Simmons Podcast, Hill revealed that Sony Pictures wanted him to play Parker in The Social Network, but Fincher had other ideas:
“Low-key, David Fincher, or high-key, David Fincher didn’t want me in Social Network. It was between me and Justin Timberlake for that part… Obviously [Fincher’s] the man, but he was not having me. The studio wanted me, I think, and then Justin Timberlake was amazing in it.”
Hill goes on to say he’s a huge fan of Fincher’s and harbors no ill will, but also admits that losing out on The Social Network is the one miss that hurts the most:
“Social Network is the one that I was actually like years later was like, ‘Fuck, like I’m so bummed.’… That’s a movie I watch on a loop. You can watch that movie any time.”
While that casting may seem a little weird, the timing of this lines up. When The Social Network was casting, Hill was still known mostly as a comedic actor. But while Social Network hit theaters in 2010, the following year saw Hill land an Oscar nomination for his dramatic work in Moneyball, and now the actor has firmly solidified himself as a versatile talent. So he was clearly looking to branch out around the time that he was up for the Social Network role.
Hill goes on to say that during the early portion of his career, Shia LaBeouf was the one always getting the roles, then if Shia passed the studio would go to Jesse Eisenberg, then if Eisenberg passed, Hill and Paul Dano were “fighting for scraps.” Hill names The Battle of Shaker Heights and The Girl Next Door as other films he was up for that he ultimately didn’t get. Coincidentally, 2018 sees both Hill and Dano making impressive directorial debuts with Mid90s and Wildlife, respectively. Funny how that works out.
But yeah, while Hill has proven himself adept at dramatic work, it feels like Fincher probably made the right call for The Social Network, as Timberlake’s performance is truly remarkable. Listen to the full conversation below.