Directed by Joshua Michael Stern (Swing Vote), the film co-stars Josh Gad (The Book of Mormon, Love and Other Drugs, 1600 Penn) as Jobs’ one-time partner Steve “Woz” Wozniak.
Jobs follows Jobs from his drop-out days in college, through Woz’ and his creation of Apple in his parent’s garage in the late ’70s, and into the increasingly turbulent Apple boardrooms of the ’80s, eventually chronicling Jobs’ ouster from Apple in 1985 and his triumphant return in 1996 to the company he helped create. It also co-stars Dermot Mulroney, Lukas Haas, Matthew Modine, Ron Eldard, and J.K. Simmons.
I sat down in Chicago last month with director Joshua Michael Stern and actor Josh Gad to talk about Jobs the film, Jobs and the person, and Woz, whom Gad describes as Jobs’ “Jiminy Cricket.”
Jobs opens in theaters everywhere this weekend.
Joshua Michael Stern: What surprised me the most was the single-mindedness that he kept throughout his life. That obsession or drive to bring a computer that could become like an appliance.
There’s an early story, maybe from Steve Wozniak, that Jobs was obsessed with the Cuisinart because it was something you used to chop and it just sits in your home and makes your life easier and it was so simple.
To have that single-mindedness for so many years and decades really fascinated me. So few of us have the patience or focus to just say “personal computer, personal computer, personal computer” for so many years, even after he was kicked out of his own company, coming back, still working, working, working at it until he finally achieved it to his own liking. It took a while, and there’s a lesson in that, in believing in what you want, and going and going and going until you get it.
The film works around, even embraces the mystery of Steve Jobs, the person. All the different angles like the icon/guru and the bad temper and lack of social and emotional connections.
Stern: Especially with someone like Jobs, there really isn’t very much that we know. You can read the book, which is in essence a first-person interview, which is always suspect when someone’s telling the story of their own life. And as much a people talk about him, the stories were usually like, “I worked with him for 30 years, and he never asked if I had a wife and kids.” There are a lot of those stories, but they really don’t give you the heart of the man.
There was no one seminal moment in this guy’s life that you can identify as what triggered his genius. He didn’t have the prerequisite drug-addled addiction or some horrible thing that occurred when he was young, like the Johnny Cash story. He was just a guy with adopted parents who loved him and he loved them, though he had a curiosity about his birth parents.
But in the end it was more a matter of giving a portrait of a man through moments, through a feeling of how he approached everybody and treated people and how he thought of the technology. And hopefully the sum total of the movie leaves you with an impression of the man.
It’s like Josh’s performance as Woz, which is so remarkable—this is not a movie about Woz, but in the time Josh is in this movie, whether you know every specific detail of what went on in Woz’ life, you get a sense of who Woz was and how he fit in and what he meant to Jobs, and what it meant when he left.
I was struck by the Jobs-Wozniak relationship as yet another example of a pair of mismatched geniuses who compliment and elevate each other. The obvious comparison would be Lennon and McCartney.
Josh Gad: That was an early comparison that Ashton and I made going into it, that in a way they were the technological equivalent of Lennon and McCartney. That dynamic was very apparent to us as well. I don’t want to do a direct comparison, because I know everybody has a different idea of who was responsible for what in the Beatles, but I think Ashton and I played it as a mutually beneficial relationship.
Steve Jobs was the business entrepreneur visionary who had this idea of how to take these elements and sell it to the masses. Wozniak was more of the technologically inclined creative visionary to some degree, especially at the beginning, and he had the foresight to even create these things that Jobs could exploit. I think some of that’s gotten lost in the narrative of their journey as it’s been retold through books and other films.
It was important to us to show, warts and all, what that dynamic was and how at time Wozniak was, for lack of a better word, exploited. I think we show that and it is, to the best of our knowledge, a fair portrayal.
Stern: I always thought–and Josh brought this much more to the front than was in the script–it’s as if Woz was the mad genius scientist in his little underground dungeon, creating all sorts of wonderful, magical things. Like this joke machine he was obsessed with. He’d taken that original Mac board to HP and tried to sell a lot of his stuff, to no success. One of the scenes I love the most is when Jobs comes over and Woz is just so enthralled with his joke machine. Of all the gadgets and cool stuff in the room…
Gad: That’s what he’s literally proudest of. In his book iWoz, that’s the thing he talks about the most. His prankster nature. If he could just have done that joke machine, I think he would have been absolutely satisfied.
Matt Whiteley’s original script was some 250 pages long. When you’re doing a biopic like this, covering three decades, how do you chose what to keep and what to cut?
Stern: It’s very interesting when you look at the script, what the doors are into it. This is the first movie out of the gate that gets into this guy’s life. I think it’s important to tell the story of how he created this product and how he found a successful business for his vision. This movie was about him and the product. I think all the other stuff about his personal life, all the human melodrama, I didn’t want to touch that, that’s not what this movie is about.
We could have spent another 20 minutes on that, but that section of his life would have been the part of the film people would have felt, after seeing it, that it could be cut. I think what people are interested in is how he had the idea, how he worked at it, how he couldn’t hold on to it with the board of directors, he couldn’t produce the things he wanted to produce.
So he was banished to the wilderness for ten years and came back more knowledgeable, almost resurrected, and knew what he had to do, the risks he had to take, and how he had to get rid of the board to do that. It was all the lessons he learned about business, and that focus on him and the company was what we wanted to stay on.
The first act is set in the hazy, sunny California sun, but then when the film heads into the offices and boardrooms, the visual tone changes.
Stern: The whole first period was Seventies, much longer lensed, lots of flares. My directive was I wanted it to look as if the frame was boundless, nothing containing it. It’s about them in a garage together, soldering things. In the next part, in the Eighties on the business campus where he created everything, it was a lot of wide frames, no flares, very contained and colder, with much wider lenses, and the characters were very isolated. When we first meet Jobs he’s amongst people, on a college campus, in India, and as the film goes on he becomes more isolated in the frame. And for the end of the film, the last 15 or so minutes when he comes back, the film becomes more colorfully rich, more saturated. That was the design.
Gad: I approached it as if I were Jiminy Cricket. At that point in our version of the story, Jobs has spiraled so far out of control that somebody needs to remind him of his own humanity.
It was incumbent on the character and me to make sure that plea resonated not only with the audience but with the character of Steve Jobs so he could cut through the bullshit of his own narrow tunnel vision of what he was doing and see that there was a wake behind him, there were victims to his “my way” approach. I felt those moments had to be as earned as possible, as full of vulnerability as possible.
Woz, the socially awkward computer geek ends up being the more human one.
Gad: One of the great qualities of Steve Wozniak as I’ve researched him and tried to get into his shoes and mindset, is his unbelievable generosity. Whether it’s giving the money to some of his peers who may have been screwed out of their profit participation, or just his overwhelming need to make people happy, to be the clown. I really took that to heart.
Stern: It was clear that Josh loved this character. As an actor you have to find the love for the person you’re portraying. There are so many small moments in this film that makes it clear he truly loves this character. When you can see the actor embody the role, it’s the most successful when they have such fondness for this person with their flaws.
Speaking of flaws, I kept wondering during the film if Jobs’ obvious human flaws—his temper, his lack of people skills and empathy–were completely failings, or if they were part of his greatness, the things that helped him achieve?
Stern: When you’re doing something as innovative and world-altering as the things he wanted to do, you have to try to explain that to others, to basically tell them what you want in a field that doesn’t exist yet. You might have the brightest engineers from MIT, which he had, and he was telling them to do things that they had no idea what he was talking about.
One of the things that came out in the early interviews, that surprised me the most about him, was how many people said that Steve in the early years had a very difficult time explaining things. He’d get his teams together and try to explain what he wanted, but because he had no point of reference for what he was saying, even though it’s obvious to us now, it frustrated him.
So you need someone who is unrelenting and will not be defeated by that frustration and fear. He was fearless about what he wanted. From that came a relentlessness that was perceived as being mercurial and agitated, as someone who did not connect with people. You could be in a room with him, having your Steve Jobs Moment that you would remember for the rest of your life, and he was looking at the table, studying its lines. He wouldn’t remember your name–he wasn’t even in the room with you. It wasn’t that he was trying to be necessarily cruel, he just kept moving, he grew.
And he didn’t have that emotional connection, that sentimentality that we often do when we create. There was no room for sentimentality because sentimentality clouds direction. It makes you say, “Oh maybe this other idea is better than mine, I don’t want to hurt his feelings.” He was unrelenting. Not to mention he probably had some sort of slight social filter problem.
The other question the film raised for me was the nature of Jobs’ “genius.” Were his ideas and insights, his creativity, his sense of design served by his ruthless business and commerce instincts, or were they serving it? Was Steve Jobs a genius and good at selling his genius, or was he simply a genius at picking out and selling the right things?
Gad: From his perspective, he manipulated people to get the most out of them. From a realistic perspective, it’s best described as “shrewd.”
Stern: In the end he was uncompromising, he never licensed anything. If anything, his regret was that he focused more on the hardware when the software is what ultimately became important.
Gad: To this day, I still get frustrated every time I can’t pull up Flash on my iPhone.