Before I launch into any discussion of the biopic JOBS, starring Ashton Kutcher as Steve Jobs and Josh Gad as his long-time partner in business Steve Wozniak, I have to come clean about what exactly I was walking into when I agreed to sit down with Gad and the film's director Joshua Michael Stern, whose last film was the smartly made SWING VOTE.
Back in late 2010, I wrote a review of a film called LOVE & OTHER DRUGS under the headline "LOVE & OTHER DRUGS is a great relationship movie almost single-handedly ruined by one performance, says Capone!!!" The performance in question was that of comedic actor Josh Gad, who played Jake Gyllenhaal's man-child brother, who happened to be named Josh. In the review, I said such things as "[H]e nearly, single-handedly destroys what is an otherwise really wonderful film about relationships in the face of medical adversity."
I added, "[The film doesn't] need a third-rate Jack Black man-child cluttering the screen. I challenge anyone reading this to tell me what positive vibe Josh Gad adds to this otherwise intelligent, sharp, beautifully acted film.vAnd, yes, I feel bad crapping on the guy who has barely registered on my radar before this movie. He's not a movie killer per se; he's more of a mood suicide bomber, who walks into a scene and destroys everything around him. He's not in the movie enough to ruin it completely, but he knocks its integrity down a peg in my book. That's all I'm going to say about him, and now I will review the rest of the film as if he weren't in it."
Pretty harsh, I know. And if you've been reading my review for long enough, you know it's really rare that I target someone so precisely for so many hundreds of words (remember, this is a much-edited version), but there was just something about this character and his portrayal of him that rubbed me raw. Of course mere months after LOVE & OTHER DRUGS came out, Gad opened up in the Broadway smash "The Book of Mormon" and went on to get a much-deserved Tony nomination for Best Actor.
I should add that this interview was done before it was announced that Gad was cast to play Sam Kinison in Larry Charles biopic about the late comedian, which is why it didn't come up.
But imagine my trepidation when I was told Gad was one of the folks available to interview for JOBS. I immediately told the publicist about the review (I even sent her the "highlights"), and she wisely said, she thought it would be alright. I only realize now, she had no way of knowing that. So when I arrived at the hotel where the interview was taking place, I went in knowing two things: that Gad's performance is JOBS was solid--the scene in which Wozniak breaks from Jobs after essentially founding Apple together is fantastic; and that there was little doubt in my head that he'd seen or been shown my review of LOVE AND OTHER DRUGS. Maybe he would realize it was me specifically that wrote it; maybe he would only remember some nerd at Ain't It Cool News had done the deed.
But on the way up to the room where the interview was taking place, the publicist informed that, indeed, my review had been a frequent topic of conversation that morning. To quote a great writer: "Pants, meet shit." I got into the room and there was Stern by himself; Gad, I was told was coming from another room where he was wrapping up an interview or phoner or something. So I was making small talk with Stern about anything but what was to come. And after about two minutes, in walked Gad…
Josh Gad: Oh, it's the man who made my mother cry!
Capone: Here we go…
Joshua Michael Stern: Do we need to have a therapy session before we begin?
JG: [dripping with sarcasm] The great Capone, who is so very good at character assassination.
Capone: I did not assassinate your character.
JG: No, just my personal character.
Capone: It was a performance assassination.
JG: You are entitled to your opinion; it was a little cruel.
Capone: I thought you were really good in this movie, and I will go out of my way to say that.
JG: Thank you. [laughs] I’m actually a huge fan of the site, so I’m just giving you shit.
Capone: You should give me shit, but I stand by my review.
JG: I love Ain’t It Cool. I go to Ain’t It Cool every day. I read your reviews every day.
JMS: You're very smart.
Capone: I will say, the guys in our Talkback were pretty vicious to me about going after you. They didn’t even know who you were. They were just like “You don’t usually do that. Why are you being so mean?”
JG: I just brought out the really bad part of you.
JMS: I've reverse-engineered the moment. I’m going to be your therapist for a second.
Capone: My therapist? [Laughs] If you read the site, you know I don’t usually do that.
JG: I know, that’s why I’m like “Whoa. What did I do get someone to react this way?” I swear to God, I’m a huge fan. I’m joking with you. It stays with me as one of the funniest reviews I’ve ever read. You were so viscerally after me.
Capone: I went back and read it when Alex said that you were coming as well. I said, “I need to show you this. [Gad bursts out laughing] Here, read this and tell me if it’s still okay, because I would still like to do it.”
JMS: Can I tell you what my take on it was?
Capone: Please do.
JMS: So my take was, because I kind of saw through it, you saw the movie and you liked the movie, but there was a Hollywood device that was used in the movie that agitated you. Take that Hollywood device out, and you had a great Audrey Hepburn, old-fashioned love story, and your anger about the fact that they needed the comic relief bit inserted into it spilled over into the personal. But the genesis was more of the device.
Capone: I didn’t want to allow myself to believe that you’d even read the review, but then I starting thinking, “At that point in his career, if he didn’t read it, someone showed it to him.”
JG: [laughs] It’s all totally good.
Capone: I would not change a thing, even if I knew this day would come. I read it again and I’m like, “Wow, that's mean, but it’s accurate.” So much to talk about here. There are two things you have to do with this movie, I think. One is you have to do the more obvious thing, which is show the man behind the myth, but then you also have to show how this man became a myth. You have to deconstruct him and then build him up. So did you see that as the job to do, and what were the means by which you took on those two missions?
JMS: Well, the first was to remove the daunting task of his mythology and try to find what the story is, what’s the iconic character, where does he start? I always though of his being the story of every mythological king. He was born to parents of the lower-middle class, the peasants, not either of them being his real parents, always feeling like he was bigger, that he was an heir to a throne, living his life, finding a bunch of ragamuffin guys in the forest or these guys who are not considered to be the most handsome or the most well bred, and then finding his way into the kingdom. And once he got to the kingdom, realizing that everybody wanted to take him out, because he really wasn’t legitimate. And they did.
JG: You literally described it to me in our first meeting as “a modern day KING LEAR” in terms of that hierarchal structure that was going on at Apple and the way Jobs behaved with all of these people, including Wozniak, and I always thought that was the most apt description of this journey.
JMS: And Woz was the fool, because if you notice Woz was always looking at him on the outside, judging him--his consciousness. At the same time, we were bound by certain really strict facts that we could tell and not tell, so it was also a sort of shackling of what we were not able to do. So for me, it was about “How do I take the things that are not there on the page, the things we cannot answer." Because this is not a film that answers questions; it’s a film that hopefully just gives you an emotional feeling about what the man was. It doesn’t have to tell you about who Woz was, but hopefully you can get a sense of who he was by simply the way that the sum total of the movie leaves you, especially in a movie that tells only up to his late 30s, right before the iMac came out, which was the first computer that everyone sort of associates with Jobs.
Capone: I’m curious as to why you began the movie with the iPod announcement. It’s a nice little device, because your soundtrack is basically a Steve Jobs playlist, to borrow a term that was basically invented by him.
JG: By the way, it wasn’t even written like that. The first time I saw it, I was like, “That’s very interesting looking.” I never would have imagined that you would have opened the film like that.
JMS: First of all, if you end the film that way, it becomes about a product, and I felt very strongly the film needed to be about him and what his message was, as opposed to it being about the product. I also think it was an easy way to get the audience into Steve Jobs. It’s a ghost moment, really. It’s a moment of projection as to what we remember him being, even if it wasn’t a 100 percent accurate. It was really a moment where people can get into him, and then once you can accept it’s about the man they remember, you can then go back and never have to revisit that. It wasn’t really about that time in his life, it was really just about 20 years earlier.
Capone: Yeah. It’s an interesting moment, because I think for a lot of people, when the iPod came out that was a reason to invest in a computer. There were computer people in the world and there were a lot of people who weren’t at the time when the iMac came out.
JG: My perception of Apple was always the post-iPod world, right?
Capone: That’s what I’m saying. Music brings everybody together.
JG: My generation, I forgot that as a kid I actually…at school we had Macintosh, right? We had these Macintosh devices, but I had forgotten about them. I used to remember playing The Gold Rush. There was this game called THE GOLD RUSH. Do you remember that?
JG: That was my most vivid memory, but during my childhood my greatest memory of technology was Windows. The next generation of Windows, when Windows came out it was like “Whoa, this changed my life.” Then in college, somebody showed me this device that I could store all of my music on. I was like “What the fuck is this?” Then that you could integrate it perfectly and seamlessly into a computer that was its own thing, where there weren’t variations on it in the same way that normal PCs have variations. It was like this was a very strange new world. The second you go into that you’re like, "Oh my God, I'm hooked.
Capone: I’m going to date myself here, when I was in college, I knew exactly one guy that had that original Macintosh, I guess it was the II, but we all used it to write our papers on, because it was fast and you could erase and store. Most of us were on electric typewriters.
JG: That was really expensive.
Capone: He was rich. I’m surprised no one asked you this last night, but how much cooperation did you get from family, friends, the company?
JMS: Well first of all, not unlike the Facebook movie, they’re not going to touch this, and the family didn’t really cooperate either, and I think it wasn’t about not cooperating, it’s just not something that they are going to want to be involved with and you can understand that. Whether it’s something they like or not, it isn’t something that emotionally they wanted to touch. All of the guys in the original Apple who were in that garage saw the movie. Rod Holt, Daniel Kottke, Chris Espinosa, and they loved it. One of the best things they said was, all you could do in a movie like this basically, with a biopic, a drama, is to get an essence. If you ask, “How many times did this scene happen?” These guys said, “You know what? It didn’t happen exactly like this every single time, but that scene happened a million times,” and that was what was great about it.
Capone: Did you get to meet with Wozniak at all?
JG: Unfortunately, I didn’t. I reached out to him. I feel like I did by virtue of the fact that I literally watched about 1,000 hours worth of footage of him and read his book and read everything I could, but he’s associated with this other Jobs film, so it prevented me from ever having direct contact with him unfortunately. But I have reached out to him, and hopefully when he sees the film in its totality, he will see that it’s done with the utmost love and respect.
Capone: Yeah, what was it exactly he was commenting on around Sundance?
JG: I think it’s the specifics, like “I didn’t wear those pants.” You know what I mean? But I think that that’s a great compliment, because if you are going into that kind of minutia then the larger picture, the bigger portrait of the world, you’d have to assume, is mostly accurate. That’s not what he’s attacking. He’s attacking tiny details.
Capone: I ask actors this a lot when they go this route, and you didn’t really have a choice, but what is it like acting with the beard?
JG: It absolutely is distracting for the first I would say week where you’re just like “Oh god.” And then you just forget about it. Then it just becomes a part of who you are in the same way that it’s essentially defined his look for the better part of four decades. Interestingly enough, he has a very specific cadence that was easier to do by virtue of the limitations that I had.
Capone: It actually does seem limiting, because I’m used to seeing you go big performance-wise, and it was really cool to see you dial it back. It did look like you would only let your mouth open a certain amount.
JG: I would. I literally studied his voice for a long time, and it was one of those things where you said “bigger,” and Josh was brave enough and kind enough to give me an opportunity to do something that people don’t get a chance to see me do, especially after something like Book of Mormon, where it’s like this massive thing. I wanted to make sure that I was being as honest and sincere with this character as possible, because there is such an amazing point of reference. Anybody can look him up. You can't find video of Abraham Lincoln; you can find readily accessible video of Steve Wozniak or Steve Jobs or most of these guys at any given time.
Capone: How cool is it that you get to play a guy whose motives for being friends with someone and being part of in business with them were so pure? He states it, because “Steve was cool. He seemed like a cool guy.” Who does that? Nobody does that anymore. It’s about money, prestige, etc.
JG: That’s that I respect the most about it. What I thought was so beautiful about the way the character was written was it had such a vulnerability to it, and you saw through his eyes what that journey at its purest was without the affectation of the greed, the “cool” nature of his business skills. I think that to see it through Woz’s perspective…Wozniak gave a lot of the money that he earned back to some of these other guys, because they were screwed out of essentially their rightful part in it all. To play somebody like that was really nice, because it gives you this sense of pathos that you long for in a character.
Capone: There’s a narration every so often, through which we get bits of Steve Job’s philosophy. He’s not narrating the events of the film, and we find out at the end that he’s recording his audio book…
JMS: Actually that has to do with the fact that that commercial that Richard Dreyfuss did about that, the misfits. He originally did it, but he stepped back and said, “It can’t be me. We have to hire an actor for it.” I think trying to imbue his philosophy as he got older, as he started to look back and objectify his youth in some regards, there was a sense that he lived it with these guys, but at a certain point once he left them and never looked back. He never identified with them anymore. He turned that experience of living it with them where it was their life on a day to day, and for him it weirdly just became a philosophy, a thought. So he used that experience and he took this idea of the misfits. Ironically by the time he was talking about the misfits, he was no longer part of them or wanted anything to do with them. I mean, there was that tape you saw of Wozniak going up to him.
JG: Yeah, there was a really interesting piece of footage that Ashton and I found of Wozniak approaching Jobs at one of the Apple conventions, and he literally seems like an eager fan as opposed to somebody who created the launching pad for all of this. And Jobs gives him a very superficial hug and says, “Let’s do lunch some time,” and this is captured by, probably, somebody’s iPhone ironically, and you see that image. It stayed with me more than any other image, because it just showed you that he never truly let anybody in. There was always that divide, and he used them until he didn’t need them anymore. But in the same way, you have to celebrate what he did and how he did it, because it worked for him.
Capone: With a character like this who is part evil genius and part someone who has the best interest of the world at heart, you run the risk of having a character that some people are going to walk out just plain old not liking, never really warming up to him. Is it more important to like him or to understand him?
JMS: I thinks it’s more important to understand him or get, but then it begs the question of what is really understanding? I think that we seem to project the idea of understanding to have questions answered. “Oh, he did this because of…” opposed to the fact that we are very complicated and that we just present ourselves in the world and that people can just take what they want from that. I think in this performance, I was really pushing it towards showing vulnerability in him and at the same time showing what was real, because I didn’t want this to become an idol-worship type movie. Though it’s interesting. Some people could read one way into it and some people could read another way into it, but it was more of a question of riding that tightrope of getting a sense of who this man was by seeing the sum total of what they just experienced in the movie.
Capone: This came up after the movie last night that you have this very powerful, very telling moment that I think a lot of people are going to latch onto where he blows off that pregnant girlfriend. It’s a really powerful, emotional moment. Then later in the film when he’s settled down and he’s not with Apple any more, suddenly the daughter is there, he’s got this woman that he’s married to. We miss that time when he could have made up a lot of emotional ground with the audience. It’s like “Wait, what did he do to make women like him again? Or make us like him again?” Did you deliberately leave that out, because it’s part of the myth?
JMS: It’s part of the myth. The difficulty of making a movie like this-it’s already a little over two hours--where what occurred in that period of time was he did a commencement speech, he met a girl, they started to date, his daughter when she got older came back to live with him. When you saw it laid out, you realized that the end of this movie should really be about his resurrection, it should be about him coming back. It was really about Apple.
I think we really wanted to stay away too much from all of that personal melodrama that occurred, and so it does still leave questions unasked, though as a filmmaker you do ask yourself, “I you had answered those questions, would it had been interesting?” or would you just sat there while he’s on a date with a girl thinking “What?” You know when you’re in a movie theater that’s two hours and 17 minutes, and you go “Well every time I see a movie that’s two hours and 20 minutes, I wish it could have been 20 minutes shorter.” Those are the 20 minutes.
JG: He’s also a man of many contradictions. He literally wanted nothing to do with his daughter, and yet he named a product at that same pivotal time “The Lisa.” Even the Isaacson book, which is the closest we have to an autobiography, doesn’t really truly get to why this man made some of the decisions that he made. Some of them were literally made on a whim, like he was just in a better mood that day, you know?
Capone: I’ve got to ask this last question, as you’re going on this tour, I don’t know if Chicago is the first place where "The Book of Mormon" is playing that you've visited, but is it a weird thing to go into cities where…
JG: I passed by the poster and I forgot that it’s here. It’s so rewarding. Being a part of that show from the very beginning, literally from the very first workshop we did six years ago, and knowing that Trey, Matt, and Bobby had written something so special and unique and then seeing it play out on a national level, and it being a part of the pop culture lexicon now is unbelievable, especially for something that’s limited in that it's a theater event. It’s not a movie. It doesn’t have that wide distribution, but people know it. People recognize me on the street for something that they saw me do in a black theater were really only 200 people can see my face, and that’s the most rewarding aspect of doing something like that.
Capone: The guy who's doing your part here is doing it very differently. It’s just as good, though.
JG: I know and I want to see him.
JMS: The guy from LA?
JG: Ben Platt. He’s not from LA, he’s just in Chicago right now, but I’ve heard he’s stunning. I want to see him.
Capone: It’s a totally different take, but it’s just as good.
JG: I love that. It should be a different take.
Capone: Alright, guys thank you so much.
JMS: Thank you.
JG: Thank you so much. It's really great to meet you.
Capone: It was great to meet you. Did I really make your mother cry?
JG: She's a Jewish mother; she’s emotional.
To add to Gad's credit as a decent guy, we then spent the next couple of minutes just talking about PACIFIC RIM, which had just opened, and why it didn't seem to be doing well at the box office. "It's frustrating," he said. "Because I want more movies like that to get made. If we don't get more movies like this, we're just going to get 30 iterations of SPIDER-MAN."