It’s been nearly two years since Apple co-founder Steve Jobs died at the age of 56 — an early death that seemed to solidify his place as a cultlike figure for technophiles.
“Jobs,” a new film starring Ashton Kutcher in the title role, contributes to the mystique of a troubled but brilliant modern-day Edison. It details his life up to the moment he returned to a troubled Apple, a decade after its board of directors fired him from his own company — and before his turnaround of Apple cemented his status as a tech legend.
The film, which opens Friday, echoes some of the current discussion around Apple — which, while still very successful, faces questions about its fate post-Jobs.
Director Joshua Michael Stern and actor Josh Gad, who plays Apple’s other co-founder, Steve Wozniak, sat down with The Washington Post to talk about the film and its role in contributing to the burgeoning legend of Steve Jobs.
Most of the film focuses on Steve Jobs’s young life, from the point where he dropped out of college right up until he returns to Apple. Apart from a quick glimpse, viewers never see Jobs as most people knew him. What was the logic in showing just that part of his life?
JMS: I wanted to end the story where his story really begins. It’s a prehistory of the Mac.
I wanted to show how life was in the computer environment in the early ’80s and late ’70s. I had the sort of ghost scene in the beginning, where he’s introducing the iPod at the town hall to the company and you see a glimpse of his reflection. I wanted to use that to say to the audience, “Remember, this is of the Steve to be,” which gave me the ability to then flash back.
JMS: This story is the prequel to what ends up being the legend of Steve Jobs.
It’s really about the change of the computer world at the time. He took it from corporations and these huge decks to something that exists in the home, into our personal lives, for customers. As we say in the film, he made it almost an appliance in the house.
Josh [Gad], you were given a very difficult task, which is to portray Steve Wozniak, who is not only still living but a big personality and a known entity. You said you didn’t get to meet him. How did you start to research how to portray him?
JG: When I first got the job, it was about two months prior to the shoot. I was really scared; I had so much material to compare to. He’s a highly public person, and there’s all this stuff that goes back for about four decades. I tried to account for all of that stuff that you could find easily. I slavishly looked for it, went through every piece of content I could, footage and audio. I read “iWoz” [Wozniak’s autobiography] and Isaacson’s book. I studied every account of him, from other people’s interviews. I did all this work, and then I just kind of had to let it go, as you so often do as an actor. Because if you’re so absorbed in the mannerisms and the voice, you forget to be in the moment.
. . . Unlike Steve Jobs, for whom you get a varied assortment of adjectives, with [Wozniak] you get a very certain set of words: lovable, prankster, joyful, friend and loyal.
Those defined my performance. He was in many ways the conscience, sort of the chubby man’s Jiminy Cricket.
This film had a very unusual path to theaters. The producer is not from the movie industry and in fact had never made a movie before. How did this script come to your attention, and how did that background inform the way this film was made?
JG: In a way it was a poetic form of movie, the way it was outside of the system. The movie was kind of a start-up about a start-up.
JMS: Yeah, it was this investor in Texas who one day decided to have the script written, after Jobs died and there’d been talk about it in his office. I came in and read it. I was also terrified. The subject matter and closeness [to Jobs’s death] was a concern to me. But it was a challenge. . . . It was kind of succeed or fail big, you know?
Then I met with Ashton, who already came into the room kind of channeling Jobs, knowing that he’d have to show evidence of being able to handle the role. He was an interesting —
JG: And certainly controversial.
JMS: — and certainly controversial choice. There was something curious about that actor in that role, and I thought it would give us something to compete out there; something outside the box.
JG: The first day he came to set I was blown away by how much he looked like him. I think Josh was genius for taking that risk.
Knowing what you know about the technology industry and that kind of energy, you probably know, too, that they’ll be watching this movie very closely, and maybe picking it apart. What would you like the technology folks to take away from this movie?
JMS: I want them to pull away the character of Jobs and what it took to realize his vision. Everyone has something invested in the story of Steve Jobs, and there are so many scenes we could have put in.
The Xerox scene, for example [where Jobs sees a demonstration of the graphical user interface for the first time], we chose not to include that. Because it was really about the man and Apple. Once you do too much about computers — I mean, they’re inactive. Doing a movie about computers between 1978 and 1982? You can’t get much less sexy, less active than that. This is just about showing the bits and pieces.
But they did learn, like Josh learned how to solder and was struck by how it really felt, how very non-digital.
You learned to solder?
JG: Well, because we knew we would have to answer to so many critics, with such a strong image of this person. The producers were able to get me coding classes, soldering courses. I’m not as gifted a solderer as Steve Wozniak, but I at least wanted to do a good job faking it.
JMS: And he would do this thing where he’d solder between lines to just get this whiff of smoke, to punctuate his lines.
JG: Well, Wozniak was a savant, he was so gifted. His boards weren’t the messes that they really should have been. Woz’s skill and Steve Jobs’s affinity for detail meant that it had to be perfect. The lines had to be perfect, and nice and neat and straight.
I do want to ask about how you feel you balanced the portrait of Jobs between his being a hero and the fact that he had some well-known warts in his personality.
JG: We are most highly sensitive and aware of our own flaws. In the Jobs-condoned biography, he describes himself in very unflattering ways. He was a man with major contradictions. He wanted nothing to do with this little girl [Lisa] that he had clearly fathered, but then named his next device the Lisa.
JMS: All the people on the early Mac teams say that he had difficulty explaining things. Think of that, the great explainer unable to say what was in his head. I think of it like he had the cure for cancer but was unable to describe, to translate into code exactly what the difference would be for people.
A great example to leave you with is when he was making this laser-writer [printer]. One of the things about the Mac, obviously, was desktop publishing. You had early home printers, but this was different. He was into building things that were transformative.
His teams said: “You’re trying to put too much information into this product. We need a [hard drive] on the printer to do what you want it to do.” And he said, “Great!” And then they came back and said, “We’ve done it, but, Steve, this printer is going to cost $6,000.” That’s the cost of a Honda Civic at the time. Which do you think people will buy? A new printer or a shiny new Honda Civic? And Steve, of course, said —
JMS: — the printer. That’s the kind of enthusiasm he had. Of course you’re going to get the printer. Of course!
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