‘Steve Jobs’ writer Aaron Sorkin on Rogen, Winslet and his Fassbender qualms
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Talking to Aaron Sorkin is like talking to Aaron Sorkin.
Sorkin is among the most famous, successful and quotable screenwriters in the world, with credits ranging from the television series “Sports Night,” “The West Wing” and “Newsroom” to films such as “A Few Good Men,” “The American President,” “Moneyball” and “The Social Network,” for which he won the Academy Award for best adapted screenplay.
Sorkin’s latest script is the Danny Boyle-directed “Steve Jobs,” a highly stylized and impressionistic take on the Apple impresario divided into three distinctive acts, each taking place in “real time,” i.e., we spend 40 minutes backstage with Jobs and the key figures in his life in 1984, 1988 and 1998.
On Wednesday, Sorkin visited Chicago to promote “Steve Jobs.” After an interview with WGN-AM’s Roe Conn and Anna Davlantes and yours truly, Sorkin and I continued the conversation one on one.
I asked Sorkin about the resistance to the film well before it hit theaters. According to the Wall Street Journal, Jobs’ widow, Laurene Powell Jobs, led a movement to kill the movie, saying it would play down Jobs’ achievements and portray him as cruel. Apple CEO Tim Cook criticized the film without seeing it (though Sorkin says Cook has now seen the movie and but has yet to comment since screening it).
“They’re protecting someone they loved and that’s understandable,” said Sorkin, who notes Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and Apple marketing executive Joanna Hoffman have seen it and have said kind things about it.
An almost unrecognizable Kate Winslet plays Hoffman.
“Kate is in a dark wig, she’s got a soft Polish accent, she’s playing Joanna Hoffman, who was the head of marketing for the Mac team, but also a close confidante of Steve’s and really one of the few people who could stand up to Steve,” said Sorkin.
“The way Kate got the part … she was in Australia shooting a movie, she Googled Joanna Hoffman to see what she looked like, she got herself a dark wig, had the makeup artist on the film [she was working on] help out, sent a picture to our producer Scott Rudin, who sent the picture to me.
“I just thought Scott had found an old picture of a young Joanna Hoffman, so I wrote back, ‘Cool.’ And Scott wrote back, ‘Do you know who that is?’ and I wrote back, ‘That’s Joanna Hoffman,’ and he wrote back, ‘No that’s Kate,’ and I wrote back, ‘That’s Cate Blanchett?’ and the phone rang and he said, ‘Winslet, you idiot!’
“Kate’s what you call ‘that’s that’ casting in that if you find out Kate Winslet wants to do it, that’s that, she gets the part.”
Sorkin has always considered himself a playwright masquerading as a TV and film writer. The mechanics of getting characters in and out of a room, or having them move about while exchanging lines — that’s mostly left up to the director. Thanks to Boyle’s direction and the brilliant editing of Elliot Graham, “Steve Jobs” has an energetic tone, but it’s essentially a three-act play, and it was filmed in chronological order, with the actors given the luxury of ample rehearsal time.
“We rehearsed just the first act for two weeks, shot the first act, stopped production, rehearsed the second act for two weeks, stopped production, rehearsed the third act for two weeks and shot the third act,” said Sorkin.
“That gave the actors time to concentrate on the 70 pages of script for each act.”
Michael Fassbender is on the short list for best actor for his turn as Jobs — even though Sorkin initially resisted casting Fassbender because by his own admission, “I was the last person in the world who didn’t know his work in ‘Shame’ and ’12 Years a Slave.’ ” But Fassbender is a known dramatic commodity, unlike Seth Rogen, who shows a whole new dimension as an actor with his portrayal of Steve Wozniak.
“I don’t recall us considering anyone but Seth,” said Sorkin. “When you’re doing the comedy Seth is known for doing, you have to be a really good actor and you have to be really smart, both of which Seth is.”
It remains to be seen, as they say, if one or two lines from “Steve Jobs” will jump from the movie and land on the popular culture landscape, as has been the case with past Sorkin-isms. When Sorkin is writing a screenplay, does he ever look at a particular line and just know it’s going to pop?
“Something like ‘You can’t handle the truth!’, I had no idea that was going to be something that would be memorable. With ‘The Social Network,’ it’s, ‘A million dollars isn’t cool, you know what’s cool, a billion dollars,’ but you never know what’s going to stick.
“I have been saying, ‘We’re going to need a bigger boat,’ since 1975.”
Sorkin’s screenplays for “The Social Network,” “Moneyball” and “Steve Jobs” are all based on true-life events. He’s in talks to write a film about the relationship between Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz during the making of “I Love Lucy,” and he recently completed an adaptation of “Molly’s Game,” the memoir of Molly Bloom, who ran an elite and quite illegal underground high-stakes poker game in Los Angeles that featured a number of recognizable Hollywood figures.
“Every time I do non-fiction, I say, ‘This is the last non-fiction I’m going to do, I’m getting out of the non-fiction business and go back to fiction’ — and then some great non-fiction story catches my eye, and I have to do that. It hasn’t really been a shift in what I want to do, it’s just been string of stories I want to do that happen to be non-fiction.
“I love the story of ‘Molly’s Game.’ A very unusual, very unlikely movie heroine in Molly Bloom, she was ranked third in North America in woman’s moguls, she’d just gotten her degree in political science, she was headed to law school. A freak accident kept her from making the Olympic team, so she decided to go to Los Angeles for a year and just be young in warm weather for a while.
“And through a series of unusual incidents, she ended up running the world’s most exclusive high-stakes poker game. Billionaires, athletes, movie stars. … She moved the game from Hollywood to New York, and her forte was recruiting players and vetting them … but she missed that three of the players that joined the game were members of the Russian mob and a fourth was an FBI informant …
“I really like this character, this real-life person.”
And whoever gets cast as Molly Bloom will probably see more lines of dialogue in that role than in the previous three movies she’s done.