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Six Degrees of Jesse Eisenberg

One East Brunswick celebrity talks about another.

Whenever someone asks me to identify the most famous person I went to high school with, I always answer the same way.

“Me,” I say definitively.

The actual answer, of course, is Jesse Eisenberg, whose portrayal of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network has earned him a Best Actor nomination at tonight’s Academy Awards. Eisenberg (whom I refer to simply as “Jesse”) has been a fairly successful actor for the last half-decade. He had lead roles in two 2009 films, Zombieland and Adventureland, both of which were solid box-office hits (and, curiously, both feature the word “land” in their titles). Prior to his recent mainstream critical success, Jesse won acclaim for his work in smaller independent films like The Squid and the Whale and The Education of Charlie Banks.

As most of you know, Jesse attended East Brunswick Public Schools until his sophomore year, at which point he left to play the central character in Get Real, a television show that was cancelled after its first season. (This year’s Oscar co-host Anne Hathaway played his older sister on the show.) I was friends with Jesse before he left, but I won’t pretend that he and I were all that close; we were “school friends,” the kind that talked during classes but never saw each other on the weekends. During the time I knew him, his sister Hailey was actually the bigger star thanks to her role as a conduit for famous singers in a series of Pepsi commercials. (Anyone my age still refers to her as “The Pepsi Girl.” I must be getting old, however, because The Pepsi Girl graduated from East Brunswick High School last year.)

Not long before he left, I remember Jesse explaining Get Real’s premise to me during Mr. Markot’s math class. I recall being mystified by the idea that the kid sitting next to me was going to be a TV star, even though the news didn’t really penetrate beyond that superficial layer. Back then, it was hard to know what sort of career he’d have; Jesse wasn’t the best-looking kid in school (that was me), not quite the most popular (me again), and had a strange, self-deprecating humor that seemed out of sync for a young man with acting ambitions. He wasn’t even necessarily the school’s most accomplished actor – our classmate Christopher Conte had guest-starred a few times on Nickelodeon’s The Adventures of Pete & Pete. But tonight, despite all of these obstacles (whether real or imagined), Jesse will be recognized for giving one of the best acting performances of 2010.

Since we parted company a dozen years ago, Jesse and I have embarked on similar life-journeys. He acted on a TV show, I watch a lot of TV. He’s become a film star, I studied film in college. He’s been nominated for an Academy Award, I run an Academy Awards gambling pool. As you can see, he and I are basically kindred spirits, which is why I’ve kept such close tabs on his career. I even got the chance to review one his films for my college newspaper. (You can read my review of Cursed here. Sorry, Jesse.)

Have you ever heard of the game “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon”? The basic premise is that the Hollywood community is so insular that anyone can be connected to anyone else in a limited number of steps. Remarkably, I can be linked to Kevin Bacon in just four moves. Here’s how: Christopher Sacco went to East Brunswick High School with Jesse Eisenberg, who was in The Emperor’s Club with Emile Hirsch, who was in The Air I Breathe with – you guessed it – Kevin Bacon.

Apparently my negative reputation precedes me because I wasn’t able to get a hold of Jesse for the purposes of this column. This is unfortunate because I’d really like to thank him for making that whole “Kevin Bacon in four steps” thing possible. I’d also like to congratulate him on his success, but mostly I’m just curious if he remembers who I am. (My self-absorption is stunning, isn’t it?) I sincerely doubt that he does, but you never know. Jesse isn’t the only Academy Award nominee I’ve met, but whether he’s forgotten who I am or not, he remains the only one I’m on a first-name basis with. And that, Dear Readers, is awfully cool.

(While I’ve got your attention, here are my thoughts on a few of the major Oscar categories. (If you’d like to know my picks for any of the other awards, just ask.) The 83rd Annual Academy Awards air tonight at 8 p.m. on ABC.)

Best Picture
Will Win: The King’s Speech
Should Win: The Social Network
 
Best Director
Will Win: Tom Hooper, The King’s Speech
Should Win: David Fincher, The Social Network
 
Best Actor
Will Win: Colin Firth, The King’s Speech
Should Win: Colin Firth (There’s always next year, Jesse.)
 
Best Actress
Will Win: Natalie Portman, Black Swan
Should Win: Natalie Portman
 
Best Supporting Actor
Will Win: Christian Bale, The Fighter
Should Win: Geoffrey Rush, The King’s Speech
 
Best Supporting Actress
Will (Probably) Win: Melissa Leo, The Fighter
Should Win: Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit

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