Actors Ashton Kutcher and Josh Gad, who are playing Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak in the upcoming movie jOBS, helped kick off Macworld | iWorld 2013 today, in a panel moderated by expo general manager Paul Kent. The two chatted with Kent about how they approached their roles in the film, what it was like visiting and recreating all of the locations and events from Apple's history, and how telling the story of the two Steves affected the actors.
Gad and Kutcher first walked through their past experiences with Apple before the film. Gad said he was a Mac newbie until recently: His wife first brought an Apple computer home and he says it "completely changed my entire view of what technology could mean." Gad mostly experienced Apple, however, through post-Mac products like the iPod and the iMac, and says he was fascinated with learning the story of how that company came about as the movie went along. His entire knowledge of Wozniak, he said, "was Dancing with the Stars" before he jumped in and really researched what Woz was all about.
Kutcher knew much more about Steve Jobs: He said he started out as a child with an Apple IIgs, went to school to study biochemical engineering with a Mac, and later in life has worked as an angel investor with technology companies. Kutcher said that Jobs is an "iconic hero" for him, and that when he first heard about the movie's screenplay and decided he wanted to get involved, he concluded that "if this story's going to get told, I want it to get told in a way that honors my hero."
Gad said Kutcher's familiarity with Apple and technology was readily apparent during shooting: At one point, while the pair were filming in the actual garage where the Apple I was built, Kutcher saw a prop in the background dressing, and told the crew to remove it from the shot. "This wouldn't have been built for another year," Gad remembered Kutcher saying. "Get rid of that."
Kent showed a short clip of the movie that had previously been seen online, and asked the actors how they approached accuracy in the film. Wozniak, in particular, has seen the clip and called out the film for some "totally wrong" storytelling. But Gad and Kutcher admitted that while the clothing or the dialogue may not have been exactly right, what they tried to do was recapture the feel of what was happening back then. "It's not a documentary," said Gad. "It's an interpretation of events."
Kutcher said he talked to many people he'd met through his investing who lived and worked alongside Jobs, and that he tried, as best he could, to capture the feel of what Steve Jobs' early Apple days were like. "You have to ride the arc of the entertainment of the film," said Kutcher, as Gad added that "we went to great lengths to capture of the essence of his journey."
Finally, Kent asked the duo what they'd gained from exploring and playing these two real-life characters. Gad said he found a lot of interest in Woz' playful side, and remembered a story from Woz' biography that talked about him working hard and then being distracted by whales outside his window. "It can't all about about work," Gad said he learned. "You can't lose the passion in the work."
Kutcher talked emotionally about the three things he'd learned from portraying Steve Jobs. Focus was one: Kutcher said that he'd heard Jobs say that "there's no virtue in saying no to things that are easy to say 'No' to," and that statement has resonated with him a lot in his own daily life. He said he also was inspired by Jobs's "compassion for the consumer." Jobs, Kutcher said, realized that rather than tempting or ripping off customers, "care is the thing that will produce the profit margins and the successful company."
Lastly, Kutcher teared up a bit as he said that "Steve believed it was possible to do something impossible." He said that studying Jobs and his life told him that we didn't have to just "settle for what life gives you. Make life better," entreated Kutcher, channeling what he'd learned from Steve Jobs.
Gad joked that his whale answer wasn't quite as brilliant in comparison to Kutcher's impassioned speech. But Kent got the last laugh: He asked Kutcher, as an investor, if he were confronted by a younger Steve Jobs, "barefoot and maybe not smelling so great," if he would have invested in Jobs' ideas. That question threw Kutcher for a loop, as he shrugged noncommittally, and the audience gave a knowing laugh. But Kutcher said that in his investing, he's always looking for ideas that solve problems, and that he hoped "I'd be wise enough" to support Jobs' vision back in the day.