Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss are no strangers to the spotlight.
After waging a closely watched legal battle with Facebook Inc., the Greenwich natives and Olympic rowers know all too well what it’s like to be scrutinized in newspapers, blogs and books.
Now they’re preparing to see their story told once again –this time, on the big screen.
The upcoming David Fincher film “The Social Network” depicts the Winklevosses’ four-year legal dispute with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, a former Harvard University classmate who they say stole their idea for the popular social networking site.
The Winklevoss brothers sued Zuckerberg in 2004, saying he agreed to finish the computer code for their site, ConnectU, but repeatedly stalled and eventually created Facebook using their ideas. The lawsuit began to draw widespread media attention after Facebook was valued at $1 billion in a 2006 bid by Yahoo Inc. The legal dispute was settled in 2008 for $65 million in cash and Facebook shares, according to published reports.
That the controversial origins of Facebook, which is reported to have more than 500 million active users, would become the focus of a big-budget movie comes as little surprise to the twins.
“The whole controversy with Facebook has taken a life of its own,” Tyler Winklevoss said in a recent phone interview in July from England, where the brothers are continuing their studies. “It almost seems like a logical progression. … We didn’t go from zero to 200 miles per hour overnight.”
The film, from a screenplay based on the book “The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook, A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius, and Betrayal” by Ben Mezrich, stars Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield and Justin Timberlake.
Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss, 29 years old on Saturday, Aug. 21, are played by male model Josh Pence and actor Armie Hammer, respectively, with Hammer’s face superimposed on Pence’s body using CGI technology.
The movie will be released in theaters on Oct. 1.
The twin brothers say they have not seen the film yet, but have viewed the trailers and read the screenplay, which is heavily based on news articles, interviews and other public documents.
“I thought the trailer captured the controversy quite well,” Tyler said. “It’s obviously a dramatization to some extent. (But) the movie appears to be up to date with the journalistic record.”
Tyler said it was not until the filmmakers had finished shooting most of the scenes for “The Social Network” that he and his brother actually got to meet the actors who portrayed them.
Hammer and Pence deliberately did not meet the brothers beforehand because of concerns that the actors might not respond as well to the filmmaker’s directions for portraying their characters, according to Tyler’s and Cameron’s understanding.
The way the twins ended up connecting with the actors: Facebook.
As it turned out, Cameron and Tyler shared mutual friends on Facebook with Hammer’s fiancee, actress Elizabeth Chambers, who sent the brothers a “friend request” earlier this year.
“Of course it’s ironic,” Cameron Winklevoss mused of the Facebook introduction during a recent phone interview from Long Island, where he was training.
When the brothers finally met up with Hammer and Pence for dinner while visiting Los Angeles in April, it was the actors who seemed to be the most star-struck, the twins recalled. Having spent months portraying people whom they’d never met, Hammer and Pence had a wealth of questions for the twins– What were their daily routines? What was their training regimen for rowing?
“Obviously it is somewhat surreal to meet the person who portrays you,” Tyler said of the encounter. “But I think it was
more of a thrill for them. They really wanted to know who we were.”
For the twins, the experience provided some reassurance that the actors were truly dedicated to portraying them as accurately as possible– including when it came to their rowing exploits.
“(Pence) was a rower at Dartmouth (University), so he knew a lot about the sport already,” Tyler said, noting that both actors had also undergone rigorous physical conditioning.
The brothers, both Brunswick and Greenwich Country Day school graduates, who have been rowing since they were 15 years old, were U.S. national pairs champions in 2005 and 2007. They finished sixth in the men’s pairs final at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
“I know they researched meticulously” for the roles, Tyler said of Hammer and Pence.
Whether the film, as a whole, is faithful to the brothers’ real-life story remains an open question.
The brothers say they have learned firsthand that there are often widely varying degrees of accuracy in the way print and online media outlets present their stories to audiences.
Hollywood is no exception.
“There’s obviously the reality, and there’s what people write and perceive, and what their opinions are, and often there’s a gap there,” Tyler said. “We are used to that gap being big and small.”
Cameron hopes the movie accurately reflects a broader social dynamic between its characters– those who are guided by principle and integrity, versus those who view life as a zero-sum game, he said.
“If the movie is looking to reflect reality, then you have to ask yourself: How did I live my life?” Cameron said. As long as the film is accurate, “I don’t think we have too much to be worried about.”
Either way, the brothers said they aren’t getting too hung up about the film.
This fall, they plan to finish a one-year MBA program at Christ Church college in Oxford, England. After that, they plan to continue training in the states for rowing competitions, in hopes of returning to London for the 2012 Olympics. They said their longer-term futures likely involve business.
“There are so many things I want to do right now, it would be foolish to confuse a movie as something more,” Tyler said. “Some parts are going to be true, others are going to be less true.
“At the end of the day, it’s a movie.”
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