updated 12:10 am EST, Fri February 1, 2013
Actors intended 'the utmost love, admiration and respect'
The stars of the independent theatrical movie jOBS took the stage on the first day of the MacWorld/iWorld conference today in San Francisco, discussing their roles in the film, which premieres nationally on April 19. During their talk, Ashton Kutcher (who played Steve Jobs) and Josh Gad (Steve Wozniak) discussed their involvement, their take on Apple and the men they were chosen to portray, the accuracy of the film in general and other issues surrounding the movie, which focuses on the formative years of Apple.
As one might expect, both Kutcher and Gad are Mac users, though Gad admitted that he only came to Apple after being seduced by the iPod, and was somewhat "forced" into switching by his girlfriend. Kutcher said he had enjoyed using an Apple IIGS as a boy, and came back to the platform while in college studying engineering. He referred to Jobs as "kind of a hero" to him, which he says helped him fine-tune some of the dialogue in the script along with director Joshua Michael Stern.
Gad told the audience that he had not been very familiar with Wozniak before taking on the role. "My knowledge [of him] was, you know, Dancing With the Stars." He added later that he "adores" Wozniak now, crediting the Apple co-founder with inspiring him to better balance work and leisure after having read Woz's biography and studied his life story. "Now, I watch whales," Gad joked.
Both men directly addressed the criticism directed at the one clip that has been released, a car-park conversation between Jobs and Wozniak in which Jobs tries to convince Woz that the latter's invention of a simple, personal computer could be a game-changer. The scene, which is not based on any real conversation between the two, has drawn flak from some for the historical inaccuracy -- even from Wozniak himself.
Kutcher reminded the audience that movies often use the techniques of invented scenes, dramatic license and compressed time in order to allow detailed events to come across visually and quickly. "We weren't there [when it happened]," Kutcher said. "In filmmaking, you have to make a narrative that plays. You have to ride the arc of the entertainment of the film" adding that the important thing to judge when the full film is seen is how well the film stays true "to who the people were and how the people were."
Gad expressed his admiration for Wozniak and said that he hopes that "when [Woz] sees the movie in its entirety he will understand ... [that] this was done with the utmost love, admiration and respect." Wozniak, in fact, had similar criticisms of the movie Pirates of Silicon Valley's use of composite characters, invented dialogue and other visual storytelling shortcuts when it came out in 1999, but generally liked the overall story and actors.
Kutcher said that playing Jobs had further educated him about the importance of focus -- and that Jobs' famous "fruitarian" diet was not a sound nutritional arrangement. He said that he attempted to mimic Jobs' fruit-only diet, only to have doctors tell him he was beginning to develop pancreatitis (though he added that there may not be a direct link between the two). He noted that the relationship between Jobs and Woz was a "sort of John Lennon-Paul McCartney, once-in-a-lifetime duo who really complemented each other."
Kutcher also said that he had been struck by a quote from Jobs himself, reminding people that "everything around you that you call life ... was made up by people that are no smarter than you." Jobs was famous for pushing people into doing what they had previously thought impossible, and Kutcher said that when he heard that "[Jobs] was talking to me, and he was talking to you. He was saying 'don't settle' for what life gives you, make life better."
Gad mentioned that he actually took some programming classes as a way to prepare for his role as Wozniak. Kutcher said he noticed some anachronisms in the script and during shooting that he would ask to be resolved in an effort to make the film at least contemporaneous to the various years in which scenes were shot.
The film covers Jobs' life just before and during the creation of Apple, including his relationship with the mother of his first child, Lisa. Kutcher said he talked to people who knew Jobs -- including Allan Kay and Avi Tavanian -- watched video interviews and generally learned all he could about the iconic CEO.
Nevertheless, Gad noted, "it's not a documentary, it's an interpretation of events." Kutcher said that Gad's Wozniak will be seen as more of a prankster in the finished film, which more accurately reflects Wozniak's personality at the time. The movie also includes a scene representing an incident where Jobs essentially sub-contracted his own job to Wozniak to reduce the number of circuits needed for the video game Breakout, without telling Wozniak that Jobs would collect a bonus for every removed circuit -- effectively cheating Woz out of a few hundred dollars.
In real life, Woz forgave Jobs and chalked the incident up to Jobs' entrepreneurial nature. Kutcher approached the scene in the same way, justifying the action to himself as a means of making the character's rationale believable. He added that he learned three things from having played Jobs -- the importance of focus, in particular when it's difficult to say no to something; a respect and compassion for the consumer, manifested as a burning desire to make things that benefited others; and that it was still possible to do something others thought to be impossible.
That last lesson may serve Kutcher in good stead. Although a popular celebrity, he has been known as a serviceable actor. Given that the subject of his portrayal was someone he thought very highly of, and tried hard to do justice to (rather than just relying on his resemblance to Jobs), Kutcher may have pushed himself to achieve more than he was previously thought capable of.