Entering the mind of an icon in ‘Steve Jobs’

by

Special To The Japan Times

With roles in films such as “300,” “Inglourious Basterds” and the “X-Men” series, Michael Fassbender, 38, is no stranger to action.

“I’ve learned to enjoy action movies,” he tells The Japan Times. “They’re more difficult than they look, with the special effects and assorted physical, emotional and patience demands made on the actors involved. Still, I can appreciate the result. And I am more patient now.”

While the German-Irish graduate of Drama Centre London admits to a fondness for action flicks, it has been his work in dramatic films that the Oscars have taken note of. He was nominated for his supporting role as a harsh slave-owner in 2013’s “12 Years a Slave” and nabbed a best actor nomination for “Steve Jobs,” in which he plays the man behind computer company Apple — a much buzzed-about role in Hollywood that had several high-profile names floating around it early on.

“I can only say that Mr. (Leonardo) DiCaprio’s and Mr. (Christian) Bale’s loss or losses are my gain,” Fassbender says with an air of satisfaction. “Everyone asks about the script, Aaron’s brilliant script. You read it and you go, ‘I’ve got to be part of this.’ The chance to play such a character — I mean, a real-life individual — like Steve Jobs? It’s a modern-day Hamlet.”

“Steve Jobs,” directed by Danny Boyle and adapted by Aaron Sorkin from Walter Isaacson’s best-selling biography, depicts a conflicted and alienating man who was publicly celebrated for his technological leadership and innovations. A film about the man behind the Mac and the iPhone, however, couldn’t be based solely on a resume and so Sorkin gives major focus to the turbulent relationships with the two main women in Jobs’ life: Ex-girlfriend Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterston) and their daughter, Lisa (played by three actresses at different ages).

“This is a guy who became wealthy beyond dreams of avarice,” Fassbender says, “but he didn’t want to acknowledge the child he had, and then he did. Eventually he paid her way, as he should, but he was still … niggling. The man still hesitated. He still wanted to be in control of aspects of his daughter’s life and even his ex-girlfriend’s.”

Fassbender doesn’t feel the need to sympathize with the characters he plays. (“If that was the case then how could you play a real villain without moving somewhat toward their foul point of view?”) But did learning details of Jobs’ life make him more or less sympathetic toward a man who became something of an icon after passing away in 2011?

“I think understanding is important. Sympathy is not,” Fassbender says. “The somewhat sad but very human fact seems to be that you pick up a biography, you read it and by book’s end you do think rather less — sometimes a lot less — of the subject. I did think less of Steve Jobs by the end of all this, but I also understood him.

“There’s the big factor of his being adopted, you can sympathize with a kid … adopted or not. But once the kid’s an adult, if that misfortune shapes his relationships with other people and makes him less of a person, and hurts other people, then sympathy isn’t called for.”

Kate Winslet, 40, is up for a best supporting actress Oscar for her role in “Steve Jobs” as employee and confidante Joanna Hoffman. Winslet, who has a best actress Oscar under her belt for “The Reader” (2008) believes Jobs was a “contributing opportunist.”

“He knew what he was doing for people, in terms of technology and the information superhighway and so forth, but he didn’t want to share the credit,” she says. “He didn’t want criticism. He wanted fame, acclaim, all the rest. He was a control freak … must’ve been hell to work with.”

Winslet, however, stresses this is exactly what makes Jobs a fascinating subject for a film.

“His work, personal relationships and the way he treated human beings, it’s rather like not being able to take your eyes away from an accident,” she says.

On her role, Winslet points out that “Joanna is to some degree the recipient of information actually intended for the audience. The film’s structure is play-like: three parts, each culminating in the introduction of a very significant Steve Jobs creation.”

Of course Jobs couldn’t have produced these creations on his own. Seth Rogan plays Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and Jeff Daniels plays John Sculley, Apple’s CEO from 1983 to 1993.

Daniels, 60, says Sorkin’s dialogue in “Steve Jobs” is one of his favorite things about the film.

“Do you know how refreshing it is to have lines and lines — and lines! — of dialogue?” he asks. “Ideas are given and exchanged, there is information galore. Yes, bring your attention span when you watch — and listen! — to this picture. Actors seldom get to do this nowadays.

“It’s fast and it’s pointed. It’s anything but talk for talk’s sake, and Aaron absolutely deserves the Oscar for best adapted screenplay.”

Sorkin won a Golden Globe for his screenplay, but unfortunately didn’t get a nomination from the academy.

“The other thing (that impressed me about the film) is Michael’s performance,” Daniels continues. “Yes, it’s been said he doesn’t look like Jobs. Neither would DiCaprio have. But Michael gets deep into the man’s psyche. He makes you feel you’ve had a look behind the scenes at Steve Jobs and what went on in that fascinating world that impacts virtually all of us.”

One minor mystery (and a major one to Universal Pictures) is why the film “Steve Jobs” hasn’t been as successful as the biography it was based on. Fassbender thinks that it could be that there has been a bit of Apple overkill recently.

“In the past few years there’s been so much information about Jobs that maybe the people who wanted to know about him now know all they want or need to know,” he says, before adding that Jobs’ reputation of a “negative personality” also doesn’t help.

To put it more simply, though, Daniels flatly states: “It’s a movie with minimal action and violence. It talks a lot. It’s a grown-up film. So there.”

“Steve Jobs” is now playing in cinemas nationwide. For more information, visit www.stevejobsmovie.jp.