When Ashton Kutcher was first tapped to play Steve Jobs in the movie Jobs, which opened in theaters today, I was nervous. Mostly for Ashton.
In addition to being a friend, I’m also Ashton’s fan, and celebrate his entire oeuvre. But most of his roles thus far have been lighthearted (Dude Where’s My Car? for one). Portraying Steve Jobs was his most ambitious career move yet and an impossible situation. Here we have a very well-known actor, known for a specific type of work, playing a very well-known, and very serious, public figure.
During the Q&A session after the premiere of the film at Sundance, Ashton admitted that the role terrified him. But he said he followed the advice of Jobs himself and tried to attempt the impossible. He watched many hours of video and studied Steve’s mannerisms. He predicted that people would tear him apart, picking at every little thing he did and point out what wasn’t right.
He also acknowledged that he wouldn’t be able to get everything completely right, but he badly wanted the part and to give it everything he had. He offered more insight on Quora, which you can find here.
Director Joshua Michael Stern said choosing Ashton for the role was a no-brainer because of his passion for Steve Jobs and the tech industry. He said that beyond physical likeness, he felt that Ashton deeply wanted the role and understood it. There are scenes in the movie where the uncanny likeness between Ashton Kutcher and Steve Jobs is shocking. At some point, hippie Steve grows up and transforms into more of a business man and shaves — that’s when I think Ashton looks like Steve the most. There’s also a scene where Ashton briefly plays Steve announcing the iPod. They put him in full makeup and gave him short, peppered hair.
If this were a silent movie, I would have completely believed Ashton as Steve; it was clear he studied, as he delivered on his motions and gestures. But the only thing he couldn’t get rid of, which I’m sure is hard, is his voice. You can recognize Ashton’s voice immediately and there’s no way to separate the two so that you can fully give yourself away to the character. If you are a fan of Ashton’s at all, you just can’t escape it. There are very few actors (Gary Oldman?) that I’m able to “forget” in a role because they are so good at transforming into someone else. Ashton is not one of them.
If you think about the recent movie Lincoln, you can marvel at Daniel Day Lewis’s performance and remark what a good Lincoln he was, but how would we even know? We never got to live in a time with him and see him walk up and down the hallway. We never saw him give a speech at Macworld. Steve, on the other hand, is fresh in all of our minds as are his voice and charisma.
Despite this, there were many times that I was able to suspend my disbelief and get caught up in the story. The filmmakers succeeded in getting me emotionally involved which, given I watch upwards of 60+ movies a year, is pretty hard to do at this point. Ashton did an amazing job; I hope that people try to imagine how hard that role was to take on, and give him credit for how well he did. I can’t imagine anyone really doing much better. Well, except for Steve.
If the Jobs filmmakers set out to make something entertaining, they also did a spectacular job. Jobs is inspiring and shows how difficult and isolating it can be to start a company — the long hours, the rejection, occasional wins, loss of personal relationships and the “overnight success” after struggling for years. I think it should, and will be, embraced by the startup and tech communities.
The movie will no doubt be a success with those who like Apple but really don’t know much about it, but hard-core fanboys and girls will likely take issue with some of the historical inaccuracies. There may have been technical inaccuracies, as well, but I didn’t catch them.
All filmmakers should seek to achieve historical and technical accuracy in their film making. Unfortunately, with docu-dramas, some of the ways situations are portrayed become fossilized as “truth” when people recount what happened with the story around dining room tables, which only serves to spread misinformation.
Woz watched a snippet of the film and insisted that a scene never even happened. However, discussions around these historical inaccuracies are probably good for the film in the long run, and for the audience as a whole, because they spark debate and encourage people to come out of the woodwork to give their versions of what happened. This only fuels publicity for the movie, so from a marketing standpoint, it’s a huge win.
Aside from details and inaccuracies, one problematic aspect of Jobs is that the mainstream non-tech audience member might get the impression that it is commonplace for early employees in Silicon Valley either to get no equity or dispute their equity. The movie has a heavy emphasis on some early employees that Steve Jobs insisted should not get stock grants in Apple.
In The Social Network, a primary plot point was that Eduardo Saverin didn’t receive his fair share of the company and was diluted to next to nothing during a round of funding (which from what I understand isn’t true). Compared to most companies, Apple and Facebook are corporations that were started somewhat by accident, and in those situations stuff like this can happen, i.e. Snapchat. But for every story like this, there are hundreds of others where this does not happen.
Ashton As Entrepreneur
Aside from being an actor, Ashton is an entrepreneur and investor. He was an entrepreneur prior to becoming more well-known in the tech scene and has since become a prolific angel investor in addition to co-managing a fund. I was fortunate to conduct a brief interview via email with Ashton about the film, as well as the challenges of being an entrepreneur. An excerpt is below:
TechCrunch: I know the film doesn’t always paint Steve in the best light, especially with his relationship to Steve Wozniak. Any way to discuss this somehow? If you have a response or if the filmmakers have a response of any kind to Woz’s first (negative) reaction, what would it be?
Ashton Kutcher: I think we clearly show that Woz was the creator of the germ innovation that started Apple. Had we been able to enlist Woz’s help in the creation of the film I’m sure we could have incorporated more of his perspective. But unfortunately this wasn’t the case.
TC: Was Woz consulted for the film and if so, why not?
AK: Woz was bought by Sony as a consultant for a film they may be doing. So his services were not available.
TC: I’d like to discuss the historical accuracy of the movie head on, so that I can just get that discussion over with. It isn’t a documentary and is intended to be an entertaining film but many of the hardcore Apple fans are going to freak. Do you have any commentary on that?
AK: There are some inconsistencies no doubt, getting everything right is always difficult however we attempted to tell the story of Steve’s life with in the confines of the format. We fought for historical accuracy the whole way through but also had to service the story. My job as an actor was to give people a feeling/a sense of who Steve was. When we showed the film to the original Mac team they seemed to be accepting of our interpretation and we hope the audience is too.
TC: Anything special for the TechCrunch readers?
AK: Being an entrepreneur is tough and I hope this story inspires the technology community to overcome the obstacles that will come their way and build brilliant things to make the world more connected efficient and beautiful.
Ashton has used his role as a very public figure to spread some absolutely amazing messages about building interesting things and creating your own life.
He has promoted these messages through his TV roles, movie roles and most recently in his acceptance speech at the Teen Choice awards. I guarantee you it isn’t something you’ve ever heard before on a major award show targeted towards teens. It is spectacular. Even if you end up not seeing or liking the movie, perhaps you will at least respect the broader long-term impact Ashton may have because of speeches like these. He focuses on what is most human – building your own life. Not just a business, but your own life.
Jordan Crook interviewed Ashton for TechCrunch TV earlier this month. You can watch it here.