Why Michael Fassbender Couldn't Become Steve Jobs For 'Steve Jobs'

Aaron Sorkin, Kate Winslet, and Seth Rogen reflect on the divisive Apple innovator

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​Before Aaron Sorkin knew what he wanted to do with his adaptation of Walter Isaacson's hit biography Steve Jobs, he knew what he didn't want to do: make a biopic. He wouldn't be able to make a "cradle-to-the-grave" structure play. And he couldn't picture the Apple CEO floating through the machinations of a Hollywood vehicle. Jobs had to stride, had to calculate, had to roar. So Sorkin wrote a screenplay bespoke to the man.

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Broken into a trio of acts, each 30 minutes on the dot, Steve Jobs follows the tech titan through the three pivotal product launches that defined his career. "I didn't think there was a chance the studio would let me do that," Sorkin admits, "but they did."

Speaking after the New York Film Festival screening of the film, Sorkin, director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours), and stars Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Jeff Daniels say they all saw Steve Jobs as a chance to subvert Jobs' mythic personality and Hollywood's predictable treatment of biopic-able stories. Hagiography wasn't interesting. Neither was dress-up.

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"I don't look anything like Steve Jobs," Michael Fassbender admitted, when asked about replicating a look ingrained in the collective consciousness. From Apple events to interviews to Isaacson's book cover, Jobs' mug was instantly recognizable. The mismatch worried Fassbender. He told Boyle that Christian Bale – who previously committed to star before dropping out over personal issues – looked a lot more like Jobs than he did. The director insisted he wasn't interested in portraiture. He wanted the energy, the essence. "So from the beginning, the approach was to not try to emulate that look," Fassbender said. "The only thing I did was put in brown contacts."

"Your mind goes to those images on YouTube, but we never go on stage," Boyle said. "[Jobs] is always behind the scenes […] So we were always very insistent that it wasn't about being a lookalike or [mimicking] physical mannerisms. It's Shakespearean really. He's a historical figure and a key one for our generation. There are facts that were true and lots that was dispensed with as well."

To bottle up Jobs' vivacious personality, and to amplify everything Fassbender gave to the film, Boyle directed the segments in a vacuum. Each act – Apple's 1984 Macintosh Launch, Jobs' 1988 NeXT Introduction, and 1998's iMac unveiling – was separately rehearsed and filmed so actors could avoid "repeating" individual timbres. ("We had to have Sorkinese in our back pockets; be ahead of ourselves," Winslet added.) It was a technical task, too. Boyle found three different theaters to recreate the launch events, each one with a distinct color scheme and layout, playing to the given themes of a section. The director even shot the film in different ways: 16mm film gives 1984 a grainy, "early days" feel; 35mm film captured 1988's "subterranean river of tension"; and the pristine HD camera used for 1998 evoked Jobs' love for a clean design. Winslet, who plays Joanna Hoffman, Apple's Jobs' closest confidante, said she could have done without the last uptick in quality.

"After the joys of the perfect complexion with film, they then fucked us over with the [HD]," she joked.

Rogen took the same laissez-faire approach to playing Steve Wozniak, the techie foil to Jobs' macro-sighted dreamer. Rogen met Wozniak in preparation to play the part, but he never felt beholden to what he gleaned from the real man.

"My job first and foremost was making my boss happy – Woz wasn't paying me," Rogen said with a laugh. He didn't want to get fired. And Wozniak couldn't fire him. If Boyle and Sorkin told him to forget everything about the Apple veteran, that would have been totally cool with him. "In the end, Woz is actually happy. Which is nice. I'm happy Steve Wozniak doesn't hate me."

For all the work done to distance itself from the "truth," Steve Jobs reflects Isaacson's characterizations. Fassbender's Jobs is a mad genius – emphasis on the mad. Sorkin's script captures a voice, one the actor could find in an extrapolation of reality. Like the audience, Fassbender could only watch Jobs from afar, studying footage of presentations, reading the many profiles written over the years, and absorbing the complicated reverence his coworkers continued to have for him. Each public appearance complicated Fassbender's understanding of someone who was both a cutthroat bully and once-in-a-lifetime visionary. "I lived with him for those months we were filming. December [2014] when I first got on board to April when we finished. Every sort of day was all about him … I thought so many things, what he achieved, when he got ill, how he would have dealt with it – or how he could have dealt with it. That was the man who changed all our lives. All the parts of the man are intrinsic, one to the other. I thought about him a lot. And even the stuff we weren't filming." But his real secret? "I studied Ashton Kutcher," he said.

When Fassbender felt he had crossed into Jobs' "reality distortion field," something in his gut told him to become him. Halfway through filming the second act, he asked Boyle if they should consider making him up to look like the Steve Jobs the world knew. The black shirt, the jeans, the white New Balance sneakers, the glasses. Steve Jobs' makeup person had the gray wigs on standby. Should they go for it? They decided it was the right move.

Winslet recalls the transformation. "I remember Michael saying during act three, he said to me, 'I really feel like him now.'"

"Yeah, it took that long," Fassbender joked. Anything to avoid making just another biopic.

Steve Jobs arrives in cinemas 13 November. This article was originally published on Esquire.com

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