IAR INTERVIEW: Ashton Kutcher Talks 'Jobs'

Wednesday, 14 August 2013 08:51 Written by  iamrogue
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IAR INTERVIEW: Ashton Kutcher Talks 'Jobs'

It's one thing for a well-known actor to portray a real-life figure of worldwide importance when the subject of the cinematic biography is from a bygone age.  It's a whole different can of worms when that actor plays a public figure who is fresh in the audience's mind and, in many respects, in their daily lives.

That's exactly the challenge faced by Ashton Kutcher (Two and a Half Men) as the star of Jobs, in which he plays Steve Jobs, the Apple co-founder, chairman, and CEO who utterly changed the face of personal computing and how we communicate with one another.  Probably the single most venerated captain of industry on Earth by the time of his death in 2011, Steve Jobs continues to loom large in our culture.

With Jobs, hitting theaters nationwide this Friday, director Joshua Michael Stern (Swing Vote) and screenwriter Matt Whiteley endeavor to present a dramatic biography of the tech luminary's life that avoids hagiography while retaining the qualities that made Jobs himself such a captivating and successful personality.  The film does this not by encapsulating his entire life, but by starting out with Jobs before dropping out of college and continuing through the introduction of the first iPod.

Playing a sprawling supporting cast of real-life characters are Josh Gad (The Internship), Dermot Mulroney (Stoker), Leslie Ann Warren (In Plain Sight), Ahna O'Reilly (Fruitvale Station), J.K. Simmons (Spider-Man), Lukas Haas (Brick), Ron Eldard (Super 8), James Woods (White House Down), Matthew Modine (The Dark Knight Rises), and Kevin Dunn (Transformers).

But as the title indicates, Jobs is very much on Ashton Kutcher's shoulders.  The actor recently sat down with a group of entertainment journalists, including IAR's very own New York Correspondent Katherine Tulich, to discuss the unique challenges of playing Steve Jobs, his research, changing his physicality to resemble the role, what he learned about the man, shooting a period picture, and attitudes on education.

"This character was a great opportunity for me. It was kind of a perfect convergence of my personal interest and my craft," Kutcher said of the title role in Jobs. "And also a really complicated person to play. He was an anti-hero, he was a flawed hero. It’s fun to play flawed heroes because they feel more real and they’re relatable and it makes you feel better about your flaws. I don’t really look out and say, 'Oh I want to play that person.' You get a great screenplay and you get a great team together and a great character and you just try to do it to the best of your abilities."

"I wanted to honor this guy and because I knew people that knew him I had pretty good insight into who and how he was and because he’s so well documented I kind of couldn’t afford to not resemble him," the actor said.

In order to honor Steve Jobs onscreen, Kutcher said, "I started by learning everything I could about him by reading books and watching video and listening to people tell tales and stories and the script that was an extraordinary resource. And then I started consuming the things that he consumed. I started studying the entrepreneurs that he admired and listening to music he listened to and eating the food he ate and walking the way he walked. I heard he went for hikes with his employee, he would go for a walk when he wanted to have a meeting with someone. So I just started doing that, started walking without shoes on and wearing Birkenstocks and going for one hour walks every day and try to walk like he walked and first it was five minutes, then it was ten minutes, and then you practice something you get better at it. Doing that kind of thing and making those kinds of changes to your body is a shock. When you’re not used to eating a certain way and you all of a sudden change your diet, it changes your body and your body reacts to that. At first it rejects it. Your body rejects walking the way Steve Jobs walked because you’re physiologically built to walk the way you walk and every human being on this planet has a unique gate that we could actually measure and quantify and you could use it as a security code if you wanted to. Your body actually has to rebuild to walk that way and it was uncomfortable, but I think it served a purpose."

In his research and efforts to physically evoke his subject, Kutcher said, "I think I had a similar experience of understanding as the public to a certain degree. We see this guy who gives these key notes who’s always very collected and very business and so good at explaining and simplifying things."

Nonetheless, he was still surprised by some details of Jobs' worldview, explaining, "The thing that I probably least expected to find was his perspective on education. I found this speech that he gave when he was about probably twenty-five or something and he was speaking to a bunch of high school kids that were about to graduate and he encouraged them…Apparently there had been a couple of other speakers that have went before him and all these kids were preparing to go to these great schools and Steve got up in front of them and said a lot of the really successful people I know in the world, they didn’t go to school and they didn’t get a degree. They had a broad set of life experiences that enabled them to bring something valuable that people with a standardized education couldn’t bring. He encouraged these kids to maybe go to Paris and try to write poetry or fall in love with two people at one time or try LSD like Walt Disney did when he came up with the idea for Fantasia. And that maybe this standard education wasn’t the greatest means to creative solutions, but rather a diverse set of experiences in life could be the greatest education you could have. I found it to be very surprising that that would be his opinion. And I think it was an opinion that he carried and reiterated throughout his life and I think it’s a valuable one."

Though it obviously isn't a staid costume drama, Jobs is a period piece, taking place from the early 1980s through 2001.  Because this era remains so fresh in our minds, it presents a tricky situation for the filmmakers, who seek not to revel in kitsch, but instead to place the characters within the proper context.

"Recreating a period is a perspective," said Kutcher. "California in 1980 was very different than Iowa in 1980 was different than Europe in 1980 was very different than all these places and I think whenever you create a period piece of any sorts, everybody comes in with their own perspective of, well no that’s not what it was it was this. Well maybe it was that where you were, but it was this there and so I think that in doing this one of the things Josh was really diligent about was making it not about the period so that you felt it, but that wasn’t the focus. It’s similar to I think some of Steve Jobs’ ethos of when he wore his black turtle neck and his blue jeans and his shoes and it was this standard outfit that you knew you were gonna get.  Maybe that was in an effort to keep the focus on the product and not make it about him and that if he could disappear and almost become background for the product then people would actually focus on the brilliance of the creation. And I think period is the same thing. You almost want to not feel it. You want to have a sense of it, but not be focused on it."

By all accounts, Jobs was a contradictory and complex man, not a flawless techie messiah.  Kutcher found that the controversial aspects of his character were part of what made him a force to be reckoned with, explaining, "One of the first things you learn as an actor is never judge your character. We as human beings are flawed. Most of the time the decisions and choices that we make at the point and time where we’re making that decision we feel like we’re making the right decision or the right choice and we feel like we’re behaving in the right way, in a justified way. There were some things that Steve Jobs approached seemed very blunt and unkind. However it was that same blunt discernment that allowed him to create the amazing products he created. It was that same demand for perfection and demand for people to elevate their game to the best of their ability that allowed these teams to actually create these products that we all take for granted. And that my seven year old nephew can do Facetime and my eighty year old grandmother is a member of a private social network called Path and she shares photos and recipes with the family. That simplicity and ease that we take it for granted, but it takes blunt honesty and focus and determination to actually create that. I actually think some of the things that Steve Jobs gets criticized for were the very gifts that allowed him to create what he did. I think that that blunt focus actually came out of care for the consumer and the product he was creating."

The actor felt that Jobs presents a portrait of its subject that has an enduring cultural relevance. "Kids are graduating college and entering into a workforce where there are no jobs that they feel are equivalent to their level of education and I’m personally kind of tired of people looking at the world and saying, 'The world is not providing for me.' Maybe you need to provide for the world," Kutcher said. "And maybe it takes that little bit of confidence to say this guy who came from very meager beginnings and didn’t have a college education was able to build the most powerful company in the world. I think that is inspiring and necessary right now and I think that people can learn a lot from it. I also think that another ethos of Steve Jobs that even people that are running companies today could learn a lot from."

"Even when Apple became this gigantic, incredible company that was driving massive value to shareholders, he was never beholden to the shareholders, he was beholden to the consumers," he continued. "He was beholden to the innovation in an effort to make their lives better. By proxy, he made the shareholders a lot of money, but he was never going, we need to make this company more profitable. He was saying we need to make something that’s even more brilliant and even more beautiful and more wonderful for people’s lives. I think that a lot of companies become very risk averse at a certain point and they go well we’ve got you know share prices going down and we need to extract revenue out of this thing. I think that giving a bold confidence to business people everywhere and say, make an amazing product and you’ll make your shareholders a lot of money. And having boards of directors understand that and realize that and recognize that, I think that’s very big. And I think the third thing is Steve made life beautiful. He didn’t just create a business and a product that was a utility that worked. He made something artistic and he made something beautiful and he appreciated art and creativity. And I watched schools today and education programs dumping art programs for these business programs and remember the most powerful company in the world was run by an artist and that was Steve Jobs."

Jobs arrives in theaters this Friday, August 16th.

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