In the summer of 2013, less than two years after his death, a biographical film about Steve Jobs premiered in American movie theaters. Starring in the lead role was Ashton Kutcher, best known for replacing Charlie Sheen in the now-discontinued TV sitcom, “Two and a Half Men.”
While similar in height to Jobs according to one report I’ve read, Kutcher hardly seemed to otherwise fit the part, which would have required a gifted character actor. The public wasn’t that impressed either. According to the IMDb, it got a 5.9 rating. But it appears to have been profitable, since it reportedly cost $12 million to make and earned nearly three times that amount at the box office worldwide. The usual rule of thumb to breaking even is a take at the movieplex of at least twice the production cost.
But perhaps it was too early for a biography.
It wasn’t the first time Jobs was depicted in a film. The TV movie, “Pirates of Silicon Valley” appears to have fared better from the standpoint of public reaction. It focused on the early days of Silicon Valley and the complicated personal relationship between Jobs and Bill Gates. Noah Wyle, then known for his portrayal of Dr. John Carter in the TV series ER, was so successful at playing Jobs that he actually took on the role during a Macworld Expo keynote in New York City. Moments later the real Jobs came out, thanked him and went on with the business of evangelizing the Mac platform.
There’s yet another high-profile Jobs film in the hopper. It’s based on the best-selling authorized biography, “Jobs,” by Walter Isaacson. The screenplay was written by Aaron Sorkin, whose works include “A Few Good Men,” where Jack Nicholson famously proclaimed, “You can’t handle the truth!” On TV, Sorkin is known for such programs as “The West Wing,” and “The Newsroom.”
So we know he can write great scripts with memorable lines.
Well, for this upcoming movie, they’ve selected a German actor, Michael Fassbender, in the lead role. In passing, Fassbender stands six feet, just short of Jobs’ height. He’s probably best known to film audiences as the young Magneto in recent “X-Men” movies. So from a consummate comic book villain to Steve Jobs. A curious move, although the gifted character actor can probably play just about any role with impressive skill, so I wouldn’t sell him short.
Supporting players include other well-known movie performers that include Kate Winslet, Seth Rogan (as Steve Wozniak), and Jeff Daniels, the star in Sorkin’s “The Newsroom,” and also “Dumb and Dumber,” as John Sculley. An early synopsis states, “Set backstage at three iconic product launches and ending in 1998 with the unveiling of the iMac, the film takes us behind the scenes of the digital revolution to paint an intimate portrait of the brilliant man at its epicenter.”
If true, are they creating the climate for a Steve Jobs 2 to tell the rest of the story? Or does Sorkin and his colleagues believe that, by depicting the earlier elements of his life, perhaps with flashbacks, we’ll get a fuller picture of the man he became? Or was it done because the more recent events are still too deeply etched into the public’s consciousness?
To be sure, I suspect Fassbender, at age 38, might be more believable as a younger Jobs. I wouldn’t presume to guess until I see more than the first trailer. No doubt subsequent trailers will present more evidence of his portrayal. The film is set for release in the U.S. on October 9, 2015.
Of course, biographical films are difficult if the producers hope to deliver a product that creates an accurate picture of a character’s life. After all, it’s still show business, and events may be telegraphed or altered to fit within the roughly two-hour timeframe of a typical motion picture. In choosing actors to portray real people, it may be a juggling match of providing the look and the “spirit” of an individual without it becoming an exaggeration or caricature.
As with films about JFK and other memorable people who can still be seen in TV shows and movies of their public statements and interactions with others, you do sometimes have to close your eyes to see if the biography conveys the image of the real person. It’s quite difficult, and I have often had problems dealing with such fare. I could never, for example, accept Sir Anthony Hopkins as Richard Nixon, or the likes of William Devane, Martin Sheen, Bruce Greenwood and even Greg Kennear as JFK. Daniel Day-Lewis made for a better Abraham Lincoln since he allegedly researched the man, his look, mannerisms and voice, to provide as accurate a recreatopm as possible, even though Raymond Massey for years owned the role.
Now I have to tell you that I never finished Isaacson’s biography, and I haven’t decided whether to read “Becoming Steve Jobs,” the book that’s received the blessing of Apple’s executives. The problem is that I have watched Jobs in action far too often. I even met him briefly a couple of times at Apple events, and I have read loads of articles about his public and private behavior. We can all honor the man for his great achievements, and for laying the groundwork for Apple’s so-far highly prosperous future.
However when I read gossip, I prefer to focus on show business personalities. But maybe that’s just me.