Inside 'Jobs' with Ashton Kutcher
A look at the passionate life of an innovator and an inventor
By Bryan Reesman
Special to MSN Movies
Ashton Kutcher has surprised some critics by delivering a solid portrayal of the late Apple Computers mastermind Steve Jobs in the new biopic "Jobs," which was directed by Joshua Michael Stern and written by Matt Whiteley. The film shows us how Jobs, a college dropout with a brilliant mind, strong vision and sharp negotiating skills, started the company in his parents' garage in the mid-1970s and developed it into an amazing corporation that changed personal computer technology forever. The story being told focuses more on Jobs' personality quirks, his relationship with Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak (aka "Woz") and his ruthless ambition rather than just his creations, and we get somewhat of an inside look into the man's intense persona.
"This character was a great opportunity for me," declared Kutcher at a recent press conference. "It was the perfect convergence of my personal interest and my craft, and [he's] also a really complicated person to play. He's an antihero, he's a flawed hero, and it's fun to play flawed heroes because they feel more real and are relatable. It makes you feel better about your flaws."
Although Jobs is certainly portrayed as a visionary in the film, his nasty side also surfaces as he pushes his employees to their limits, gets rid of people he feels do not share his passion and does not properly reward those who helped him start the company. But these negative elements are part and parcel of the man who forever transformed the computer landscape.
Kutcher never met Jobs but certainly admires his work and has many friends and associates who did know him. "One of the first things you learn as an actor is to never judge your character," he said in reference to Jobs' prickly nature. "There are some things that Steve Jobs' approach seemed very blunt and unkind, however it was that same blunt discernment that allowed him to create the amazing product that he created. It was that same demand for perfection and demand for people to elevate their game to the best of their ability that allowed these teams to create these products that we all take for granted. I actually think some of the things that Steve Jobs gets criticized for were the very gifts that allowed him to create what he did. I think that blunt focus came out of care for the consumer and the product he was creating."
Stern said that during the course of his research into Jobs that he was surprised to learn that "the man who gave all these keynote speeches, that we all associate with being such a beautiful, eloquent speaker" had a difficult time explaining things to people. "There was no point of reference," noted Stern. "He had an image and a picture and was trying to find the words to articulate something that wasn't there. I always thought it was fascinating that the young Steve struggled with explaining."
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Job's perspective on education was something that surprised Kutcher. He explained how he had found a speech he gave to high school graduates when he was around 25 years old. Standing up before kids about to go off to top colleges and universities, the Apple founder extolled the virtues of the school of life over higher education. "Steve got up in front of them and said, a lot of the really successful people that I know in the world didn't go to school and didn't get a degree," said Kutcher. "They had a broad set of life experiences that enabled them to bring something valuable that people with this standardized education couldn't bring. So he encouraged these kids to maybe go to Paris and try to write poetry for awhile or fall in love with two people at one time or try LSD like Walt Disney did when he came up with the idea for 'Fantasia'. And maybe this standard education wasn't the greatest means to creative solutions, but rather a diverse set of experiences in life could be the greatest education that you could have."
In becoming the character of Steve Jobs prior to filming, Kutcher began adopting his traits, from the way he spoke to his gait. He learned through osmosis.
"Because he's so well documented, I couldn't afford to not resemble him," explained Kutcher. "I started by learning everything I could about him by reading books and watching video and listening to people tell tales and stories, and the script that was an extraordinary resource. Then I started consuming the things that he consumed. I started studying the entrepreneurs that he admired and listening to the music he listened to and eating the food that he ate and walking the way he walked. He would go for a walk when he wanted to have a meeting with someone, so I just started doing that. I started walking without shoes on and wearing Birkenstocks and going for one hour walks every day and trying to walk how he walked. First it was five minutes, then it was 10 minutes. When you practice something you get better at it."
Stern recalled how his early meetings with Kutcher were conducted during long walks, and he was unaware that the actor was already in character until he learned more about Jobs. "He lost 15 or 18 pounds for the beginning of this film," added Stern. "You see where Steve is at the beginning of the film, he's emaciated, then Ashton gained weight because we were able to shoot chronologically. It was a tremendous commitment. He went on a fruitarian diet and had to go to the emergency room right before we started shooting" -- evidently the diet wreaked havoc with his insulin levels -- "because to immerse yourself in Steve Jobs is an intense thing. So I would call him every once in a while to see if he was okay."
"Making those kind of changes to your body is a shock," confirmed Kutcher. "When you're not used to eating a certain way and all of a sudden change your diet, your body reacts to that. At first it rejects it. Your body rejects walking the way Steve Jobs walked because you're physiologically built to walk the way you walk. Every human being on this planet has a unique gait that we could actually measure and quantify and use as a security code if you wanted to. Your body actually has to rebuild to walk that way. It was uncomfortable, but it served its purpose."
One passion that Kutcher certainly shares with Jobs is his love for technology, an area in which he has also become an entrepreneur. Stern wanted the film to be detailed and as period accurate as possible, and his star ended up being his savior in many instances. "Ashton has an encyclopedic knowledge of the technology of this time," stressed Stern. "He'd walk onto a set and there would be a chip that was randomly on a table, and he would pick it up and say we have to take it off because it wasn't going to be invented for two years. We were a slave to that. In fact, at the very end of it we were so close to what the period of what it was that there was a moment that we were in the garage and there was a mistake in the set dressing. There was a Dustbuster on the wall behind Woz's back. I think it was in about 70 shots. It was about two years too early for the Dustbuster. We went in digitally and removed every Dustbuster from that wall just to make sure we were on point."
The final film, while far from a complete portrait of the man (an Aaron Sorkin penned biopic is coming soon), gives us interesting glimpses into Jobs' complicated world. Regardless of how one feels about the man, the inventor created many devices which have changed the world.
"I wanted to make this film to inspire young people to create the world that they live in," said Kutcher. "I think that was the ethos of Steve Jobs. Kids are graduating from college and entering the workforce where there are no jobs that they feel are equivalent to their level of education, and I'm personally kind of tired of people looking at the world and saying, 'The world is not providing for me.' Maybe you need to provide for the world. And maybe it just takes that little bit of confidence to say that this guy who came from very meager beginnings and didn't have a college education was able to build the most powerful company in the world. I think that is inspiring and necessary right now, and I think that people can learn a lot from it."
"Jobs" is out in theaters Aug. 16.
Having not seen the movie yet, I will have to simply guess how Kutcher did with his performance, but I have to agree with one of the previous posters that he would not be my choice of someone to play Jobs. Steve Jobs was a very intense and serious person. So much so, that he would make people very uncomfortable when he was around them. Choosing a guy who's best noted for hosting "Punked" and playing the dumb joker on sitcoms seems like a stretch to say the least. But, who knows, maybe he'll surprise us all!
DUDE! Where's my Iphone?
I would love to see the movie. Steve Jobs is a role model and an inspiration to many. I believe that Ashton Kutcher will do a wonderful job of telling us about Steve. So, I can't wait to see the movie.