The actor explains the trials and tribulations of emulating one of Silicon Valley's most iconic start-up founders.
Perhaps the only thing harder than trying to emulate a visionary entrepreneur may be trying to play one. Actors Ashton Kutcher and Josh Gad took the stage at a Macworld event in San Francisco on Thursday to speak about their roles as the legendary Apple co-founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak in the forthcoming film “jOBS.”
“It’s not a documentary; it’s an interpretation of events,” warned Gad, who plays Wozniak in the upcoming biopic. He acknowledged the difficulty of portraying a living character, perhaps as a nod to recent criticism from Wozniak himself regarding certain historical events.
Kutcher also described the film as an impressionistic portrayal, but emphasized an intention to stay true to the integrity of the men and their story.
“We really wanted to cover what it felt like to be an entrepreneur at that point in time, trying to build something that nobody wants you to build,” said the actor. He later joked that playing Jobs became easier as he immersed himself in more and more of the visionary’s work.
“He said so many brilliant things that you start to sound really brilliant when you talk like him,” said Kutcher with a laugh.
But there are challenges when playing a brilliant entrepreneur, as well. One of the toughest moments for both characters, Gad and Kutcher agreed, arises when Jobs accepts a commission from the game company Atari, Inc. (something that Steve Wozniak also writes about in his autobiography iWoz).
Jobs, who does not have all of the skills necessary to complete the proposed task, outsources the work to Wozniak--for a fraction of the cost. Atari offers to pay Jobs $5,000 for the commission. He then offers to split the money with Wozniak but later lies about the amount, telling his friend that Atari paid $750 for the project.
Kutcher and Gad acknowledged the strain this seems to have placed on the relationship between their two characters, both in life and on film. Kutcher, who founded the social media studio Katalyst and has worked with tech companies as an angel investor in the past, offered his own insight.
“In acting, you never judge your character and always justify everything that you do [as that character],” he said. “When I had to justify Steve’s behavior, I thought: I got a job, I knew a guy who [could do that job], I hired him for this much money and I took the rest for a profit--that’s running a business.”
It may have been easier for Kutcher to overlook potential flaws in his character, as the iconic founder was also a personal hero. When asked to describe traits that he admired in Jobs’ character, the actor cited his “unparalleled desire to make something that benefited other people” and ability to myopically focus on the pursuit of his goals.
“I thought, I can be better; I can be more like this guy,” said Kutcher of his immersion into the Jobsian school of thought.
When questioned about his preparation for the role, however, Kutcher acknowledged that he may have taken it a step too far when he adopted the fruitarian diet that Jobs espoused. The actor was hospitalized two days before filming after doubling over in pain on the set of “jOBS.” He was diagnosed with pancreatitis shortly thereafter--an experience that he described as “scary” considering Jobs’ history with pancreatic illness.
Perhaps a moral to this story is that it's okay to borrow from your heroes, as long as you don't turn into one of them.
As Gad humorously noted, “Acting is, by nature, faking. You don’t actually become that other person--unless you’re a psychopath.”
FRANCESCA FENZI reports on entrepreneurship, technology and small business news from San Francisco. Her work has previously appeared in TIME, USA Today, Pop City and The Northside Chronicle. @FrancescaFenzi