Considering Ashton Kutcher became highly-identifiable from That ‘70s Show, Dude, Where’s My Car? and various other comedic works, it’s easy to forget that off camera, the guy is serious, thoughtful, and especially knowledgeable about Steve Jobs.
Admittedly, back when news first broke that Kutcher was cast as the late Apple co-founder and CEO, something seemed a bit off. Not only is the actor known for lovable and somewhat goofy performances, but he’s also so recognizable. Why would director Joshua Michael Stern run the risk of casting an actor that would have a tougher time hiding his famous persona while portraying a real person? At the New York City press conference for Jobs, Kutcher answered that question himself.
The film begins with Jobs in college - or rather, at college, but not technically enrolled in college. Despite dropping out, Jobs scores a gig at Atari. However, when his big mouth and ego lands him a nearly impossible make-or-break assignment, he turns to an old pal, Steve Wozniak (Josh Gad), for help. After Woz perfects the Atari design, Jobs’ eyes wander and land right on one of Woz’s pet projects, the beginnings of the personal computer. In true Steve Jobs fashion, he becomes obsessed and extraordinarily passionate, desperate to see the device through to its full potential.... and so he creates Apple Computers.
Many look at Steve Jobs as the creator of Apple and all things sleek, beautiful, advanced, and incredibly user-friendly. While those qualities may be true of the MacBook, iPhone, iPad, and more, it took a rather abrasive work ethic to get there. When asked about Jobs’ coarser means to groundbreaking ends, Kutcher explained:
“One of the first things you learn as an actor is never judge your character … Steve Jobs’ approach seemed very blunt and unkind, however, it was that same blunt discernment that allowed him to create the amazing products he created … It takes blunt honesty and focus and determination to actually create that so 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. And I think that that blunt focus actually came out of care for the consumer and the product he was creating.”
That response enticed Stern to chime in to highlight what compelled him to cast Kutcher:
“When you hear that answer, it sort of encapsulates the reason why a director like myself would cast him because when you’re trying to create a story about a man, the actor needs to come to the table and enter the movie with an understanding about how he wants to inhabit the skin. He needs to be able to justify the actions in a way because as he said at one point, someone’s eccentricities is that person’s normalcy … When I first met Ashton, he came into this knowing that, and I think, for me, that was the most important, inherent fact that drove the decision because he got it.”
And “getting it” not only took some serious homework, but also required that Kutcher change his lifestyle, too. Kutcher explained:
“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 the music he listened to and eating the food he ate, and walking the way he walked … Your body rejects walking the way Steve Jobs walks because you’re physiologically built to walk the way you walk and every human being on this planet has a unique gait that we could actually measure and quantify. You could use it as a security code if you wanted to. And your body actually has to rebuild to walk that way, and it was uncomfortable, but I think it served its purpose.”
As tough as it was to restructure his body to bear Jobs’ gait, it was even more demanding to adopt his diet and the effort even landed Kutcher in the hospital just as filming was about the begin.
“I went on this fruitarian diet and I read a book by this guy, Arnold Ehret, which was a book that Steve read called the Mucus Free Diet Healing System and it was kind of his dietary bible, if you will. It just talked about the value of grape sugar and that that was probably the only pure sugar that you could have in your body, and I think the guy who wrote that book was pretty misinformed. My insulin levels got pretty messed up … and it was really painful.”
In addition to nailing the physical requirements of the role, Kutcher also had to embrace Jobs’ ideals, but considering there’s so many overlaps between Jobs and Kutcher’s passions, values, and work ethics, that proved to be rather seamless.
“I wanted to make this film to inspire young people to create the world that they live in, and I think that was an ethos of Steve Jobs. Kids are graduating college and entering into a workforce where there are no jobs that they feel are equivalent to their level of education. 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, and maybe it just takes that little bit of confidence to say, you know what, 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, and I think that is inspiring and necessary right now and I think that people can learn a lot from it.”
And even beyond the conception and rise of Apple Computers, Steve Jobs was a pioneer because he always made the priority the consumer and not the company shareholders:
“He was beholden to the consumers and he was beholden to the innovation in an effort to make their lives better. And, 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 more beautiful, more wonderful for peoples lives.’”
Kutcher himself takes pride in doing the same, both in his business affairs and his daily life, too.
“I love creating efficiencies and I love solving big problems and I love working with people to create efficiencies.
I bought a house five minutes away from my work site so I didn’t have to drive in traffic. I figured out a way to organize my closet so that I can actually wake up and get dressed in the order that I like to dress, and move right down a line in my closet so I can start at one end, move to the other and by the end I’m done. I kind of have things set up so I can wake up and get out of my house in about four minutes and get to work within 12 minutes, [laughs] from the time I wake up. I try to do a lot and accomplish a lot in a short period of time so I try to create as many efficiencies as I can.”
If Kutcher goes on to accomplish even half as much as Steve Jobs, we could have some significant artistic and resourceful advancements to look forward.
Jobs will get a limited release on Friday, August 16, 2013.
Follow Perri on Twitter @PNemiroff.