The company that Steve Jobs built enjoyed an unprecedented winning streak over the last decade, culminating in Apple’s coronation as the most valuable company in history in 2012. Once the iPod found its way into seemingly every single pants-pocket in existence, a global audience salivated over subsequent toys with names beginning in a lowercase i. As such, when Jobs took the stage at the annual Macworld conference to unveil each innovation, a simple speech would not do. Rather, he had to be a performer—and a great one, at that.
The new movie, Jobs, which opens August 16, finds Ashton Kutcher with the daunting task of filling the shoes—and black turtleneck—of a revered public figure who passed away only recently. In the tech world, where Kutcher is no slouch himself, people remember Steve Jobs as a dynamic speaker who devoted as much attention and detail to his performance at those conferences as he did the products he was presenting. It was this level of devotion that Kutcher aimed to achieve in getting ready to play Jobs in the movie.
According to Carmine Gallo, author of The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs, there were three key tenets of the inventor’s performance preparation: Create the Story, Refine and Rehearse, and Deliver the Experience. Co.Create spoke with Ashton Kutcher recently to find out how he went about taking on the challenges of the role, and the way he described his process fell along similar lines. It turns out the enterprising actor approached playing Jobs the way Jobs himself might have done it.
The first thing I did was I tried to understand Steve Jobs as most people knew him, because that’s who people are going to expect. So I started looking at that icon that everybody recognized as Steve jobs—the guy in the blue jeans with the New Balance shoes and the black turtleneck and the round glasses—but I also branched out and tried to figure out how he became that guy. What were the influences in his life that actually created that person we all feel like we know, the Steve jobs that Steve jobs wanted us to know?
I started to study his influences—the artists he appreciated and the entrepreneurs that he admired and the books that he read. I tried to see the world and understand the world from a perspective that has those inputs. I also met with a lot of people he knew who were close to him and tried to get their perspective and then I just tried to honor that in my interpretation of the character.
I read every single thing I could find about him and I’ve watched hundreds of hours of video footage and I’ve got a pretty good understanding of what it took. He was a guy who is meticulous about creating products and just meticulous about presenting those products. I think a big part of his black turtleneck and his pants and his shoes and the kind of uniform look that he had was trying to take the attention away from himself and have that attention be on the product. Like other great entrepreneurs, I think he not only knew how to build great things, he knew how to sell them and present them. And if you can’t sell and present the product you’re creating, you’re going to have a hard time getting people to understand what it is or why they should have it. This role was like that, too.
One of the things you try to do when you break down a character is you try to find patterns in their behavior and their thoughts, and patterns in the things they’ve said. With the help of a team, I put together audio of various speeches he’d given through the years and tried to understand what point in time in his life he’d given these specific speeches. In order to try to find some specific patterns that he said again and again and again that I could understand his personal ethics and his personal opinion and his personal perspective on things. And by listening to this 120 hours of audio footage or audio files, I was able to pull certain things out that he repeated again and again and again or certain opinions that he repeated again and again and again in order to apply them to the perspective of the character.
Most of the audio files were of him giving speeches. I think when he was younger he was a little bit more honest when he gave speeches and a little bit less refined, because he didn’t have an awareness that it was going to be syndicated everywhere. Some of those things I found to be really valuable. We often present ourselves and we know the recorder is on and its very different from how we are in our personal life. So I found some video footage of him for the first time he was ever on a TV interview and he was kind of checking out the studio to see how things work. He was really nervous about talking. I thought that was pretty valuable, and it gave a glimpse into how he was when he didn’t think people were watching. It was a real help in rehearsing to play him, how he was and who he was when he didn’t think people were watching.
The Steve Jobs that we all know wasn’t always that Steve Jobs and the various ways he reacted to things and various ways he reacted to people in certain situations and emotional stress are a compilation of a life with a lot of experiences. In putting a character together like this, you try to figure out at what point in time in his life did this happen and at what point of his life did that happen and what did those influences do to him in the process of creating the guy we all think we know.
Whenever you take on something that you haven’t done before, people have skepticism. It’s not easy. People love to judge other people based on what they haven’t done yet, and I think with a figure like Steve Jobs, people have a preconceived notion of how he is and how I am. And like anything, if you want to take on something that people are going to have doubts about, you have to have a certain level of focus and hard work to pull it off and deliver on that, because skepticism is everywhere. Everybody is a judge today, and everybody has a tool to broadcast their judgments.
I spent three months studying everything I could about the guy so that I could actually understand who he was. I’m not very good at doing impressions and so what I tried to do was understand why Steve Jobs was the way he was, get an intuitive sense of that, and create the inputs in my life to create an output that was similar to that of Steve Jobs.
After the movie was finished, we were lucky enough to show it to some of the original guys he worked with when he was putting together the first Macs. They came up to us afterwards and the first thing they said was that those exact things didn’t happen. Those exact scenes didn’t happen. But something like them happened 100 times. And a couple of them came up to me and said "Thank you for giving us two more hours of Steve Jobs." My goal in playing the role was to honor somebody that I really admire and provide a sensibility of who and how he was and if I came up with an impersonation then I think I really failed.