NYFF: 'Steve Jobs' Star Michael Fassbender, Director Danny Boyle Weren't Bothered by Pre-Production Drama
The helmer and fellow star Kate Winslet talk about the "exciting," "amazing challenge" of making the movie, which consists of three acts, with the scenes taking place in real time.
Steve Jobs director Danny Boyle wasn't first director attached to the high-profile biopic about the late Apple co-founder. That was David Fincher, who exited the project amid a dispute over money and control. And Boyle — known for films like Slumdog Millionaire, Trainspotting and 127 Hours — has admitted that the Aaron Sorkin-scripted film is "so different" from the movies he's made before. Still, speaking to The Hollywood Reporter ahead of the New York Film Festival's centerpiece gala screening of Steve Jobs, the director explained that he was excited to accept the challenge of this movie.
"Just the idea that you would look at this guy, who we know so much about, but you would suddenly stop and the three times before he walks out onstage, the three product launches, you just look, in real time at the 40 minutes before he walks out on stage. It's a brilliant idea," Boyle said. "And given that it's about someone whose motto was 'Think different,' it's right and proper that it should take a different approach to analyze him. It's impossibly demanding of the performers, but we tried to mobilize the whole production so that it was as possible as it could be for them to tackle it. It's 185 pages of dialogue. Three acts, six characters, no instructions, no instruction manual of how to do it. So you have this amazing challenge. It's like a provocation to how you might make a film."
Steve Jobs had already experienced a fair amount of drama before filming began, with Fincher's exit and various high-profile actors being attached to the project before Michael Fassbender signed on. The film also switched studios when Sony put the film in turnaround and Universal picked it up. Boyle was candid about that issue but argued that he and his team tried to stay focused on the film.
"We had to go and kind of re-pitch the movie to Hollywood, to the studios. We lost one studio, and we were very fortunate Universal picked us up. We've had a really good relationship with them," Boyle said. "You have to keep your head down, really. It's very easy to get distracted in the flurry of all that. But we kept our head down and kept our eye on wanting to make the right kind of film."
Fassbender meanwhile had a refreshing perspective on the fact that he was joining a movie that Leonardo DiCaprio and Christian Bale had both been attached to before him, saying he wasn't concerned about the fact that other actors had been publicly considered for the role.
"No, I mean that sort of thing happens all the time. One is used to that," he said. "It would be really sort of egotistical to think that you're a one-off choice. Generally there are going to be three or four different choices at least that directors and producers are thinking about. So it's just the nature of the game."
In terms of what did draw him to the project, Fassbender said it was Sorkin's script and Boyle as the director. In fact, the actor relied on what Sorkin wrote in preparing to play the Apple co-founder.
"Everything was in the script," Fassbender told THR. "This wasn't a biopic; this was a dramatization. All the clothes and story and elements of the character, they weren't all in the script, but I had enough to work with there."
Apart from that, to prepare, Fassbender said he "would just watch anything I could get my hands on on YouTube with Steve in it — from interviews to seminars to speeches."
Fassbender also joked he "studied Ashton Kutcher" as part of his prep work. Kutcher played the Apple co-founder in a 2013 biopic called Jobs.
Kate Winslet, who plays marketing exec Joanna Hoffman, with whom Jobs has a close "work wife"-like relationship, adds that she wasn't nervous about embarking on a film about the tech icon.
"I had no trepidation whatsoever, and I knew that it was different. It wasn't a biopic," Winslet told THR. "Just how it was constructed to me was so incredibly exciting, there was nothing to be trepidatious about."
In fact, part of her preparation to play Hoffman, apart from learning "a bundle of Aaron Sorkin dialogue," as she described it, included "really wrapping my head around how difficult it was to be a part of something that was filmed in three acts across three different time periods set in real time."
She also spent a great deal of time with the real Hoffman.
"She was very, very generous with her stories. And I really just benefited from that, in particular, and working with her dialect, because I really wanted to capture how she spoke, how she sounded," Winslet said. "She's really nothing like me. So I really had to do as much as I could to absorb her, I think."
Another real Jobs colleague who's portrayed in the film and spent time with the cast is Andy Hertzfeld.
Michael Stuhlbarg, who plays Hertzfeld, was particularly grateful to have spent time with his real-life counterpart, meeting him during the rehearsal process.
"They brought him in and he spoke to all of us. He spent some time with me. We took some private time," Stuhlbarg explained. "He took me around Palo Alto. He took me to meet his wife. We had food, we chatted, he talked to me about what his experience was with Steve. I read his book, Revolution in the Valley, which is a wonderful book full of anecdotes about what it was like to create the Macintosh. He's a wonderful guy, and I can't thank him enough for opening himself up to me to try to play him as well as possible."
[Warning: Spoilers ahead for Steve Jobs.]
Hertzfeld is a part of all three of the film's product-launch scenes. He starts the film desperately trying to get the Macintosh to say "Hello," dealing with Jobs berating him by saying things like, "You had three weeks. The universe was created in a third of that time." But by the end, he's a key player in Jobs' relationship with his daughter, Lisa, having offered to pay her college tuition and suggested that she see a therapist, with Jobs strongly objecting to both, leading to a showdown backstage before the iMac launch.
When asked why Hertzfeld is so invested in Lisa, Stuhlbarg explained that he was just trying to do the right thing.
"He loved Steve, point blank period. He's just one of these people where if he sees a problem he just openheartedly goes to fix the problem," Stuhlbarg said. "In this case, Lisa needed money. Steve and she had some issues, so he just offered. It was completely out of the goodness of his heart. He didn't mean anything bad by it and wasn't trying to get in the way. Steve made him promise never to do that again but he ended up doing it again later on anyway … because it was the right thing to do."