Before I saw “The Social Network,” I hadn’t spent much time with ex-Facebook president Sean Parker.So as the movie unfolded I wondered how true-to-life Justin Timberlake’s portrayal of the character named “Sean Parker” was.
In the past day I’ve actually gotten to spend some time in the presence of the real Sean Parker, at the DLD conference in Munich. So it has been interesting to compare my impressions of the real one with my impressions of the guy in the movie.
I should start by saying that, unlike the real-life Sean Parker–who was horrified by the movie’s portrayal–I was not concerned that the movie would wreck the real Sean Parker’s reputation.
This is not because the real Sean Parker already had a lousy reputation–on the contrary, he had a very positive, if colourful, one.
It is because being portrayed in a popular movie as a handsome, talented, and articulate billionaire who is always surrounded by beautiful women is actually not a reputational body-blow.
I also didn’t think the Justin Timberlake character in the movie was a “morally reprehensible human being,” as the real Sean Parker described him yesterday. An operator, yes. Smarmy, yes. Complicated, yes. But not “morally reprehensible,” at least not entirely.
In any event…
There is an important difference between the “Sean Parker” in the movie and the real one. And it’s a difference that’s very much to the real Sean Parker’s credit.Yes, the real Sean Parker clearly enjoys looking sharp and hanging out in cool places. (He wore a three-piece suit yesterday, for example, and threw a party in a hip Munich bar, where at one point he made a small gesture to the bartender which resulted in the quick delivery of a tall bottle of a red liqueur that is way cooler than anything I’ll ever drink). (Disclosure: His people were kind enough to invite me to the party, an invitation I gratefully accepted).
Yes, the real Sean Parker is a big-idea-producer who is often attached to the next big thing. (He’s backing Spotify, for example).
Yes, the real Sean Parker is often surrounded by beautiful women (including one who appears to be his girlfriend).
Yes, the real Sean Parker probably would probably say something like, “A million dollars isn’t cool. You know what’s cool? A billion dollars. A billion dollars is cool,” as Justin Timberlake’s “Sean Parker” did in the movie (or something like that).
But here’s the important thing:
The real Sean Parker wouldn’t say it the way Justin Timberlake said it.
Which is to say, he wouldn’t say it the way a slick thirtysomething Player (capital P) played by a bronzed Justin Timberlake would say it: Slowly, deliberately, smarmily, Machiavellian-ly–a way that is at once inspiring and alarming, as though he were going to charm you into his confidence, hitch his wagon to your star, and then screw you at the first opportunity.
Based on what I’ve seen in the past day, the real Sean Parker would say it this way:
Really fast, because there a dozen other amazingly important things to talk about in the next 30 seconds and there’s no time to waste on this one.
Really factually, because–you know what–a billion dollars is cool.
Really excitedly, because, you know, this idea of yours could be absolutely huge!
He’d also say it without the least bit of hint that the only thing he was really interested in was No. 1, which is another impression that Justin Timberlake’s Sean Parker always left you with.
In short, the Sean Parker that I’ve seen in the last 24 hours is fundamentally different from the fake one in the movie in one subtle but key way.
He’s not an arsehole.