INTERVIEW: Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Danny Boyle & Aaron Sorkin talk Steve Jobs
The stars and brains behind the BFI London Film Festival‘s Closing Gala Feature were out in full force yesterday at London’s May Fair Hotel.
We were lucky enough to speak with actors Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Jeff Daniels, Kate Waterston and Michael Stuhlbarg, plus director Danny Boyle and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, who talked about their new film, Steve Jobs.
To give some context, the new biopic about the Apple co-founder and CEO employs an innovative approach to filming and structure, as it is presented in three acts – each one representing the 40-minute period preceding a product launch.
Act I takes place in 1984, before the launch of the Macintosh computer. This is then followed by Act II, which explores the launch of the NeXT project, while also featuring flashbacks to Jobs’s dismissal from Apple years before. Finally, Act III skips ahead to 1998, where Jobs prepares for the launch of the iMac.
Here’s what the Steve Jobs cast and creative panel had to say about…
Kate Winslet: “Much has been made of the length of the script, and how much there was to learn, but if you’re an actor, you’re an actor; you learn your fucking lines. The pressure then really comes in not forgetting them … because you fuck everyone up if you drop a word! The whole thing unravels and turns to dog shit. So that was the pressure.”
Michael Fassbender: “I just felt very lucky that it landed on my lap. It’s a one-off that you get scripts like this … so I just thought ‘Well, there goes my break which was planned over that period of time’! But really, I just thought to myself this is extraordinary writing, and just the best script that I’ve read … All the electricity and action in this film is dialogue-driven, so that’s a rare, rare opportunity for an actor.”
Michael Stuhlbarg: “What Aaron does so beautifully is to take something so substantial and real, and to re-imagine it, and to give it a different kind of life. It’s been said that this is more of a painting than a photograph; taking the book and using it as a starting off point … and giving a suggestion of what [Steve Jobs’s] inner life was like, and what he was going through at that particular point in time.”
ON FILMING TECHNOLOGIES
Danny Boyle: “[Jobs] has changed our lives … both in an obvious way, with communication via the phone, but in so many other ways, this drive towards the digital world that we now live in … We were very lucky, as we were able to almost illustrate it.
“We shot the first act on 16mm, because it was the earliest act, but also because … [Jobs] felt like a guy fighting all these impossible forces that were stopping him getting to this vision. It felt like a rough, home-made version, as if they’d almost done it in the garage themselves.
“Then we moved to 35[mm] for the second act, which is a beautiful storytelling act, and an illusion … And then we moved to digital. The third act is set in 1998, and although the [Arri] Alexa camera, which is what we used, wasn’t generally in use then in cinema, Jobs had already got there, of course. He released Toy Story in ’96, and I remember going to see it in Leicester Square, and thinking that the world had changed … that was just an earthquake. So it was great to pay him that respect.
“Also, it helps the actors if you shoot on an inferior format, like 16mm, when they’re trying to play a bit younger than themselves!”
Kate Winslet: “Oh, it’s fabulous! I have to say, I was thrilled.”
ON RIDLEY SCOTT’s 1984 APPLE COMMERCIAL
Danny Boyle: Out of respect I rang him up and said ‘We’re using 1984’, as he shot the 1984 advert which Michael and Jeff stand in front of, but we didn’t ask his permission; the basic principle we worked to was we sought forgiveness, rather than asked permission. Which is a very sensible way to do it in this business, if you can actually get away with it!
ON THE ICONIC TURTLENECK
Michael Fassbender: “It’s funny how he came to wear a uniform at a certain point in his life. I don’t know, was he aware that that would also enter into mythological status with him? Certain people who wear uniforms like the Dalai Lama… you know, was that a conscious decision, or was it just one less decision to make in the morning when he wakes up?”
ON THE FAIRNESS OF THEIR PORTRAYAL
Michael Fassbender: “I realised we were doing a dramatisation as opposed to a biopic, and so my information was in the script. I knew nothing about the man before I started … I just tried to take my own feeling from what was in the script, and then I just watched what was available on YouTube, from interviews, to seminars, to speeches, so I can’t really say. I filled in my own blanks, but they could be totally off … You hear so many stories about him, good and bad, and there seems to be a balance there in the script, which to me seemed to have some element of the truth.”
Aaron Sorkin: “I don’t know what a ‘fair’ sense of anybody is, really. If you asked a thousand people who knew Steve Jobs for their impressions of Steve Jobs, I think you’d get a thousand different impressions. What you don’t see in this movie is a dramatic recreation of his Wikipedia page. What you see is a dramatisation of several of the personal conflicts that he had in his life, and they illustrate something. I do believe they’re fair; my conscience is clear that we haven’t done anything unfair.
“But let’s say this; generally speaking, Steve Jobs did not have confrontations with the same six people, forty minutes before every product launch that he gave. That’s plainly a writer’s conceit, just as Bob Dylan lyrics did not appear on the floor when Steve and Scully were talking about Bob Dylan … But I do think that the movie gets at some larger truths – some more important truths than what really went on in the forty minutes before product launches, which I don’t think was the stuff of drama.”
Michael Fassbender: “It’s like journalism. You have a responsibility to tell stories, and that’s your job, and if you approach it with the utmost respect, which I did – I have the utmost respect for Steve Jobs and his family – hopefully when they see it they don’t feel hurt by it, as that certainly was not my intent.”
ON WHETHER STEVE JOBS HAS BEEN AN INSPIRATION TO THEM PERSONALLY
Michael Fassbender: “For sure. The fact that he had a vision back in the mid- to late ’70s and continued striving towards that vision, and here we are all living it now; I think that’s extraordinary passion and commitment and focus. Also, having met people who were close to him, both in the workplace and also in personal relationships, [and seeing] the effect that he still has on these people … and the love that was apparent for the man.
And I just think anybody who rolls the dice like that, to have been ousted from Apple, and get back up, dust himself down, and build NeXT … but also what he did with Pixar. Much like Elon Musk, these guys who … could easily sit back and enjoy the hundreds of millions that they’re worth, but put it all back in and risk it all over again. I think that’s pretty extraordinary, and it is inspiring.”
Steve Jobs will be on general release in UK cinemas from November 13th.
Watch the trailer below.