The new ‘Steve Jobs’ movie almost wasn’t made, and now that it’s finally coming out, it’s generating lots controversy.
Director Danny Boyle and writer Aaron Sorkin are facing pushback from Apple executives and Steve Jobs’ widow, Laurene Powell Jobs, who reportedly called actors to dissuade them from playing Jobs. Apple CEO Tim Cook has called filmmakers like Boyle “opportunistic,” while design chief Jony Ive said he “found it sad” that Jobs’ persona has been “hijacked by people with agendas.”
Boyle’s movie does have an agenda, but he’s quick to say that it’s not “a hatchet job” or “deification” of Jobs.
In an interview with Tech Insider, Boyle says the movie is more accurate than people realise: “Listen, you can’t lie. Not about someone as powerful as him. If we were lying or slandering, you wouldn’t be watching the movie because I’m sure they [Apple] would have cut us to pieces with their teams of lawyers and their power. So actually it is very responsible, and there is ultimately an essence of truth in it.”
Boyle says it’s important to allow artistic interpretations of powerful people: “These people are shaping our lives. It’s really essential that artists continue to address all sorts of portraits of them.”
He also pointed out the strangeness of Apple coming after him: “It’s ironic that the movie begins with Jobs trying to tear down the most powerful tech company in the world, IBM, and here we are trying to defend ourselves against the most powerful tech company in the world.”
Read our full interview, with mild spoilers, below:
Tech Insider: There’s so much fascination around Steve Jobs and his persona. Why do you think we’re fascinated by these tech pioneers like Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg?
DB: Drama loves uncompromising figures. Because we want to see that bravery. And then the amazing thing about drama is that you humanize them and you bring them down to Earth again. That’s the Shakespearean approach.
In terms of a drama, which is what ours is, he was very uncompromising. That’s what makes it drama isn’t it? Because that’s where you get the friction. And the friction is sometimes kind of delightful to experience; when it’s with his mate Woz [Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, played by Seth Rogen], or with his business betrayer Sculley [former Apple CEO John Sculley, played by Jeff Daniels]. But when it’s with his daughter, of course it’s heartbreaking.
So, what you want to try and do is make an uncompromising film. And in order to do that, you have to show the great stuff about him as well because he was uncompromising in order to achieve great things, which he clearly did. We are living in his legacy so much. No one can deny that.
He did get self-knowledge. He did achieve recognition. He says — beautifully, it’s a great line — that he made beautiful things in the world but he himself is “poorly made.” That’s why we’re attracted to him. All the other stuff, yeah great. But in terms of drama, we wanted to make an uncompromising film about an uncompromising man.
TI: That goes right to my question about that line, “I’m poorly made.” It’s an interesting choice of words on Sorkin’s part, given how Jobs stressed making products that are the best in the world. What do you think that line signifies and why is it important to the movie?
DB: It’s a bit of an infinite line isn’t it? You can only belittle it by talking about it. It’s so well formed in itself.
When you get there [in the movie], I hope that, because of the experience of the film and because of the performances, you realise that all those other people aren’t just kind of like depth charges being set off. They’re leading him to where he needs to get.
The shape of that third section, the iMac section, is that they begin to pull him apart. He literally begins to be pulled apart at the seams. It happens at his greatest moment. A lot of people will argue that later moments were greater. That moment, the iMac, was the serious breakthrough because it opened the door for everything else. There was no controversy. It was cool. It was sexy. Everyone desired it. And it brought the internet into everyone’s home.
You couldn’t literally go to bed with it yet. It was a bit bulky. (laughs) Now we lie in bed with them. It’s the last thing we do before we go to sleep, the first thing we do when we wake up. Some people have them on through the night monitoring what’s happening to them. Psychologically you think, “well that’s interesting.”
So that big blue thing was a bit bulky, but the origins of the intimacy were there, the truly personal attachment.
TI: There are many liberties taken in the script with regard to what really happened. Does it worry you that people may watch this movie and see it as a historical representation of Jobs? It seems like Apple certainly worries about that.
DB: I give the audience great credit for understanding that this is an abstract, especially because we chose to just use three compressed moments, rather than try to show the birth, the growth all the way through.
I think, also, that our approach is clear in that we didn’t try to make Michael Fassbender look exactly like him. It’s already announced at the beginning with confidence that this is a version of him, and I think people are able to make that differentiation for sure.
You know, it’s not a documentary. This is actually a drama, a fiction. At best, it’s kind of a Shakespearean approach where you take some of the facts and you dispense them with some of the others.
Listen, you can’t lie. Not about someone as powerful as him. If we were lying or slandering, you wouldn’t be watching the movie because I’m sure they [Apple] would have cut us to pieces with their teams of lawyers and their power. So actually it is very responsible, and there is ultimately an essence of truth in it.
I remember the first time I read it, I thought, “I believe that.” I believe that he did achieve some redemption. It does deal with the force of his personality — the sheer willpower that’s necessary to change things, the causalities along the way, the genius acknowledged.
There’s another side as well. These companies will mythologize their creators because that’s their business. Or business is to find the man in there. And people will forgive us.
TI: What’s your response to Jobs’ widow and Apple executives who have criticised the movie without seeing it? They are worried that he’s being mythologized in a way that they don’t see him as.
DB: I think the movie is very, very responsible. Certainly people should see it first. It’s ironic that the movie begins with Jobs trying to tear down the most powerful tech company in the world, IBM, and here we are trying to defend ourselves against the most powerful tech company in the world.
People should see the film. He’s not a private individual. He is a huge, and increasingly so since his passing, influential figure in literally shaping one of the most precious things we have as human beings: communication and knowledge, and the distribution of it. And therefore, I’m afraid you cannot claim impunity from peoples’ opinions of you.
We frame our work behind the scenes of three public announcements, but he was someone who insisted on star bursts of publicity. The frenzy of publicity was something he insisted on.
It’s important, particularly now, that we retain the right for responsible and free expression about these people. And I’m not just talking about him, I’m talking about Zuckerberg in Aaron’s previous film, I’m talking about the Google guys. These people are shaping our lives. It’s really essential that artists continue to address all sorts of portraits of them.
It’s not a hatchet job, nor is it a deification.
If you’re responsible, you know how powerful they are legally. You won’t get anywhere. It’s not a hatchet job, nor is it a deification. It’s an attempt to interpret a man, this extraordinary, mysterious man about whom there are so many contrary opinions.
TI: When it was announced that Michael Fassbender would play Jobs, there was a lot of criticism online in the tech community because he doesn’t look much like Jobs at all. How do you think Fassbender overcame that physical difference in his performance?
DB: The way a great actor will do it is that it’s about moving from the inside out. You know you have a script that is a tremendous piece of work, and that gives you opportunity to build from the inside out.
I don’t think I would want to get involved with something that was trying to do it the other way. You’re making the film, and your chief concern is, “Does he look like him?” And then you get into, “Do you want to do prosthetics? Do you want to do surgery? Do you want to go CG surgery?”
It’s a relief, actually, not to have that burden. Because then you can unleash the other powers in the actor, which is an uninhibited approach to playing the part. And then what begins to happen in the film is that people forget very quickly what Steve Jobs really looked like. And you get caught up in his dilemmas, his concerns, his triumphs, and his problems.
By the time that the film finishes, and I know I’m biased but many people said this, you feel like you’ve been in his presence in some way. And there’s no greater tribute to an actor than that — that somehow they have managed to capture something about him that feels honest and truthful and uncompromising.
What is extraordinary about the way it’s written is that it’s the restlessness of his mind. This is what his mind sounds like. He doesn’t actually look like him, but this is what his mind could actually sound like. And given his achievements, and the controversy around him, it’s a pretty good attempt at seeing how his mind thinks.
Steve Jobs opens in New York and Los Angeles theatres October 9. It will be in theatres nationwide October 23.
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