Pinpointing the true genius behind history’s most revolutionary products can at times be a daunting task, as the people who contributed to the idea can long dispute who truly developed the concept. But other times, uncovering the intelligence behind the design can be quite simple, as the team passionately embraces the input of everyone who was involved. Both are the case with the new biographical film, ‘Steve Jobs,’ which is set to open in a limited theatrical release in New York and Los Angeles on Friday, before its nationwide release on October 23. The drama’s cast and crew emotionally appreciates their collective film interpretation of Walter Isaacson’s authorized 2011 self-titled biography book of the Apple co-founder. But the movie also enthralling showcases how Jobs often times alienated his colleagues, friends and family in the name of taking the credit for developing what he perceived would be the greatest computer that the world would ever use. The movie’s cast and crew, including director Danny Boyle, screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, actors Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Jeff Daniels and Michael Stuhlbarg and Issacson, recently participated in a press conference at Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater during the 53rd New York Film Festival to discuss their natural collaboration of presenting the life of the versatile computer executive.
The first act of ‘Steve Jobs,’ which is set in 1984 at De Anza Community College in Cupertino, California, follows Steve (Fassbender) as he’s about to unveil the first Macintosh. The public is eagerly anticipating the new personal computer, especially after Apple recently aired a groundbreaking commercial during the Super Bowl. But behind-the-scenes, everyone is panicking, including system-software developer Andy Hertzfeld (Stuhlbarg), who’s urgently trying to fix the fact that the computer is no longer saying hello, which Steve is stubbornly insisting on. The Apple co-founder is also upset that he has lost the cover of Time magazine that he was promised, especially since it coincides with the recent scandal involving his ex-girlfriend, Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterston), and her 5-year-old daughter, Lisa (Makenzie Moss), whose paternity he has publicly denied.
Steve’s mediator is his long-time friend, Joanna Hoffman (Winslet), who’s one of his few colleagues who can manage his moods and demands. Apple programmer Steve “Woz” Wozniak (Rogen), who co-founded the company with his friend, presses his partner to publicly give him and the team of the Apple II, which is the company’s biggest selling project, credit during the launch, a request he denies.
Act 2 then shifts to 1988 during the aftermath of the Macintosh failing to sell Steve’s projected numbers. After being fired from Apple, he’s now preparing to stage a comeback with his new educational computer company, NeXT, which has garnered more attention for its black cube design and $6,500 retail price than its capabilities. Steve, who’s about to launch the product at the San Francisco Opera House, once again argues with Woz, deliberates with Joanna over the ambiguous fates of both NeXT and Apple, and reluctantly spends time with Lisa (Ripley Sobo), who’s now 9-years-old. Steve also recounts how he was fired from Apple, which has been financially struggling in his absence, after fighting with CEO John Sculley (Daniels).
The movie concludes in Act 3, as the 43-year-old Steve has returned to Apple to help restore its former glory. Set in 1998 at San Francisco’s Davies Symphony Hall, Steve is set to launch the iMac, just as the Internet has begun gaining popularity. Sporting his signature glasses, black turtleneck, jeans and sneakers, Steve is fighting with the now 19-year-old Lisa (Perla Haney-Jardine), who’s upset that he told her that he won’t pay for her college tuition. While Joanna and Andy try to soothe the relationship between the father and daughter, Woz once again confronts his Apple co-founder with the question of why he still won’t publicly acknowledge the Apple II team. Steve is left pondering whether he’s finally capable of loving and respecting other people, even if it’s on his own terms.
Sorkin started the press conference by saying he started his process of adapting Isaacson’s book into the script for the film by reading the author’s material many times. “Before I knew what I wanted to do, I knew what I didn’t want to do, and that was a biopic. That would be the traditional cradle to grave structure, where you land on all the greatest hits of the characters as you go along,” the screenwriter admitted. “I didn’t think I’d be that good at (that structure).”
The Oscar-winning scribe added that he likes claustrophobic feelings and compressed periods of time in films. Sorkin also noted that he likes behind-the-scenes stories, “and in this case, we’re literally behind-the-scenes. So I wondered if I could take all the work that Walter had done, and dramatize the points of fiction in Steve’s life.” The screenwriter explained that he was able to accomplish that goal, and include three real-time scenes in the final film. While he didn’t initially think a studio would let him create that kind of story, he was ultimately able to craft the script that way.
Boyle also chimed in on the process of crafting ‘Steve Jobs’ into the three sections, and doing whatever it took to successfully carry that onto the screen. “We did this crazy thing-we rehearsed,” the Academy Award-winning director revealed, which garnered a laugh from the attendees at the conference. “But we’d only rehearse the first bit, and then we’d do run-throughs, so that the actors could see the other actors. Then we’d film that bit and stop, which is the weird bit. Then we’d rehearse the second bit.”
The helmer also noted that once the cast was done with Act 1, “they didn’t want to repeat that. They wanted to find a different energy.” To help maintain that diverse energy, Boyle added that he and the rest of the crew would try to find different filming locations throughout San Francisco, where the film was partially shot.
Winslet also chimed in on the exciting process of maintaining the energy on the set of ‘Steve Jobs.’ “It was terrifying,” she admitted, before noting that “I remember all of us walking into the room on Day 1 of rehearsal, just for our simple read-through.” The Oscar-winning actress, who laughed as she admitted that she hoped no one else on the cast and crew would look down on her accent, added that she and Fassbender hugged each other. “I remember it as though we were almost collapsing on one another.” The Academy Award-nominated actor laughed as he then jumped in, saying he was thinking, “Okay, you can let go of me now.” Winslet explained that the hug was really about the two of them getting through filming together.
“What Danny did that was keen to the process was that he pulled everyone into the rehearsals,” the two-time BAFTA Award-winning actress added as she praised the drama’s director. “So it wasn’t just a case of who was available…when possible, which was a majority of the time, all the actors, no matter how big or small their roles, were in that space together,” Winslet revealed. She added that Boyle gave all of the actors permission to play the roles the way they wanted to, and “make all the mistakes we needed to before we walked onto the set” during the rehearsal process. “We would try things in rehearsal, and (immediately) know if things were going to work…So it was very necessary to have that process, in order to keep up the pace that Aaron had created,” she added.
Fassbender was then asked how the role changed to fit his perception of Jobs when he signed on to portray the co-founder, chairman and CEO of Apple Inc. The actor revealed that he didn’t know much about the title character before he set out to play him, “but I obviously knew who he was. I’m not very interested in technology; I use it pretty poorly. So everything was new to me, to be honest.”
The lead actor added that “The one thing that stuck with me was meeting the people who knew him…and how much of an impression he made on these people,” the lead performer explained. He added that he was able to meet Sculley, Hoffman, Wozniak and Hertzfeld. “Since he passed away, you could see that he was still very much present in their lives. Even if their relationships were difficult, there was a sadness and love there for him.”
Boyle was then asked about casting a biographical film like ‘Steve Jogs’ that’s based on people who society’s familiar with, especially after he previously helmed movies about real-life people that not as many viewers know. “There was a lot of tension in that process, because people know about him through his public performances,” the filmmaker noted. “But what Aaron did was create a beautiful metaphor about what was going on behind-the-scenes at these three product launches. The story goes beneath the surface of what we think we know about (Jobs),” he added. “We were very insistent with everyone from the beginning was that we didn’t get a look alike, and that it wasn’t about physical mannerisms…We wanted to show the man and what he was like with his own people.”
Rogen then contributed to the inquiry of trying to capture Wozniak’s physicality by saying, “My response was to my boss, who was Danny; Woz wasn’t paying me. I was hired by these guys (gesturing to Boyle and Sorkin), so they’re the ones who I needed to please. If they happened to say, ‘Forget everything about Woz, (because) it’s better for the movie,’ that would have been fine with me.” But the Golden Globe-nominated actor added that he thinks the computer programmer of the Apple I and II is happy with the overall film, as well as his portrayal of him. “I’m happy that Steve Wozniak doesn’t hate me…but in the end, I don’t think that accuracy is necessarily the thing that portrays someone the best….I think an artist’s take on someone is just as valid and informative as what they were actually like.”
Fassbender then brought humor and laughs to the conversation by stating in a deadpan voice, “I studied Ashton Kutcher,” referring to the former ‘That ’70s Show’ star’s portrayal of the Apple co-founder in the 2013 biopic, ‘Jobs.’ The lead actor of the new adaptation of the Apple CEO’s life also said that he didn’t think much about how he would have portrayed the title character until the end of his life, if the film continued his story that far.
But the actor explained that he “did watch footage of (Jobs) past the point of where we were filming. I kind of lived with him for those months that we were filming, which was from December (2014), when I first got on board, to mid-April (2015), when we finished filming. So every day was all about him…I was either reading the script or I was listening to YouTube clips of him… so he was kind of in and around me the whole time. When we finished, I washed it all away.” Fassbender added that he thought all about what Jobs achieved in his life. “He’s the man who thought he could change all of our lives, and he did.”
Also discussing the overall look for the lead character in the biographical drama, Fassbender admitted, “Obviously I don’t look anything like Steve Jobs, and that was the first thing I said to Danny. I said, ‘Christian Bale looks a lot more like Steve Jobs than me,'” referring to the fact that the Academy Award-winning actor was originally considered for the title role when David Fincher entered negotiations to direct the film before Boyle did. But Fassbender added that Boyle “wasn’t interested in that. He wanted to get the energy and essence of the man and go with that. So from the beginning, the approach was not to just try and emulate that look. Basically, the only thing I did was put in brown contacts.”
Fassbender also revealed that halfway through the second act, he worked with the makeup, costume and hair departments to capture some of the more iconic pieces of Jobs’ look. While they weren’t initially sure if they were going to use such things as the grey wig they created, the actor appreciated the fact that they had options to create different looks for the title character. Also, “Danny and I started talking about getting his more iconic look, including the glasses, the black turtleneck, the jeans and the New Balance. We thought the audience would want that. That developed organically throughout the third act.”
Winslet jumped in and asked her co-star, “Don’t you remember how happy you were doing that? I remember sometime during Act 3, Michael said to me, ‘I really feel like him now,'” which Rogen laughed about. The supporting actor added, “Yes, it took him that long.” Fassbender ended the conference by laughing as he said, “On the last day, I said, ‘Okay, I get it now!'”
Watch a clip, and check out Shockya’s exclusive photos, from the ‘Steve Jobs’ press conference at the 53rd New York Film Festival below.
Written by: Karen Benardello