Kutcher's 'Jobs' challenge: Make people 'see Steve'
Reviews are splitting right down the middle on “Jobs,” the new film about the mercurial Apple impresario who changed the world, Steve Jobs. And critics are equally on the fence about Ashton Kutcher, the veteran funnyman and Steve Jobs look-alike who steps outside of his comic comfort zone in playing the film's title character.
A “welcome surprise,” Screen International called Kutcher, with Variety hedging on his “carefully judged performance” and The Hollywood Reporter faintly praising his “fair imitation” of Jobs.
“I have had the good fortune of being consistently underestimated,” Kutcher says, with a hint of resignation. “I think there's value in that.”
The star of TV's “Two and a Half Men” and screen comedies such as “What Happens in Vegas” may be a bankable source of laughs. But even though, as co-star Josh Gad (who plays Steve Wozniak, the other half of the Apple brain trust) says, “Ashton's a dead ringer for Jobs — uncanny,” Kutcher knew he'd be pushing that Apple uphill to convince filmgoers that he was the curmudgeonly genius and not the cute Hollywood King of Twitter.
“He knows he has baggage” Gad says.
And that might be unfair. Kutcher, 35, is known for his tech savvy, his early adapting to social media such as Twitter and his involvement/investment in tech startups. Asking him if he ever met Jobs is not an off-the-wall question, because they traveled in the same circles.
“Almost,” Kutcher says of his best shot at meeting Jobs, who died of cancer in 2011 at the age of 56. “I ended up having to work that day, and knowing how long he was around after that, I kind of wish I'd called in sick. But I am kind of glad, on playing him, that I didn't. The people who knew him gave me this great picture of the Good Steve and the Bad Steve that really shaped my performance. Meeting him would have colored that.”
Kutcher pondered the adopted kid who grew up to be a hippy “free spirit” and yet “felt abandoned, rejected, first by his birth parents and later by Apple, this company he built.” That drove Jobs, “who wanted to find love, I think, through the beautiful things he made. People loved the elegant products that the creative side of him came up with.” That's what gave this “free spirit” his discipline, Kutcher says. “He was obsessed with perfection because he needed that love from the buying public.”
The actor didn't have to do much to match his appearance to Jobs'. But he listened to tape and watched videos, not just to get the “voice and gesticulations he did when talked to people,” but his distinctive lumbering simian walk.
“His gait was uniquely his,” Kutcher says. “Everybody in the world has a unique gait. I'm told they can do biometric measuring of people's gaits and use it as security codes, to establish your identity, if they wanted to.”
Gad says “that for about a month there, while we were shooting, you had a hard time having a conversation with Ashton Kutcher. He was lost in Steve.”
Gad, co-star of “Love & Other Drugs” didn't know much about the Two Steves — Jobs and Wozniak — before getting cast in the film as the soldering savant Wozniak, “The Woz,” the playful tech genius whose visionary hardware gave Jobs something to latch onto and sell.
“All I knew about The Woz was seeing him on ‘Dancing With the Stars,' ” Gad jokes.
But he and Kutcher had to get a handle on one of the most famous relationships in the history of American business.
“When Steve Jobs was hired at Atari, one of the reasons he got the job was that they knew that he knew Steve Wozniak,” Kutcher says. “And they knew Steve Wozniak was brilliant.”
Kutcher sees the team breaking down as “Jobs was a guy who could market things, package things. He understood building technology that was beautiful, inside and out. He understood the art of creation. He was also a leader who made people around him better.
“Woz was the guy who made things. Jobs didn't have that extreme expertise in one area that allowed him to make things. Woz had that gift, that understanding.”
Gad says he had to “get lessons in soldering” to play Woz, but Kutcher “had to remember that Steve Jobs wasn't always Steve Jobs, you know, this icon he became.” Kutcher said the most intriguing thing to play was Jobs' growing awareness of his gift, his contribution to the creative process.
“All Jobs knew was how to make it friendly, make it approachable and simple and how to make it seem like something you had to have. Today, my 7-year-old nephew uses an iPad and my 80-year-old grandmother uses it, too. They're both comfortable using that one brilliant, simple device.”
That's why Kutcher cares so very much that people accept him in this part and that he doesn't embarrass all his friends in the tech sector.
“People have a pretty strong pre-conceived notion about who I am and how I am. I've been public enough long enough that people cannot help but see me as me. And that's what they want. When they see you playing somebody else, their instinct is to kind of see through that. I wanted people to see Steve.”
Roger Moore writes about movies for McClatchy-Tribune News Service.