On set, 'Jobs' made for a complex workplace
05:00 AM, Aug 15, 2013
UNIVERSAL CITY, Calif One way to mess up a budding movie-set bro-mance is to actually film a serious bro-breakup.
That’s what Ashton Kutcher had to cope with when portraying Apple co-founder Steve Jobs in the biopic Jobs (opening Friday) specifically, a scene that delved deep into the disintegrating relationship with partner Steve Wozniak (Josh Gad).
As the red-eyed Gad announced that he was finally leaving Apple, Kutcher had to stay all icy as Jobs. Even when the cameras stopped. Dude, so not cool.
“I kind of had to fall back a little bit. And knowing what Josh had to do to build that scene, I wanted to reach out and kind of take care of this guy,” says Kutcher. “I was like, ‘Please understand, I really do like you, but I’m, well, in the thing.’ “
The “thing” was Kutcher’s intense effort to stay in the mind of the complex iconoclast who was Steve Jobs, the actor’s most ambitious and controversial movie role (he’s better known for light-hearted efforts such as Dude, Where’s My Car? and replacing Charlie Sheen in Two and a Half Men).
Gad had steeled himself for the situation after taking lumps on the Internet for being cast as Wozniak in the indie film, shot on a lean budget in 30 days. It’s the underdog Jobs biopic in the looming shadow of the big-studio version being penned by Aaron Sorkin, adapted from Walter Isaacson’s official biography of Jobs.
Those ingredients led to some instant bonding.
“We just got each other immediately,” says Gad, 32. “Like the acting exercise, we just fell into each other’s arms and it was like, ‘Let’s do this thing. For better or for worse.’ “
The journey began after Steve Jobs’ 2011 death from pancreatic cancer when Kutcher came across an article speculating on candidates for the lead role in a biopic. To his surprise, Kutcher’s picture was placed next to a young Jobs, and the similarity was striking.
“I was like whoa, that’s kind of weird,” says Kutcher, 35. “But I still was looking at it going, ‘Well our nose is different.’ I don’t think in my day-to-day life I look like Steve Jobs. It’s hard for me to even see that.”
So Kutcher made Jobs his day-to-day life, steeping himself in his eccentric world, listening to tapes of his voice, watching footage and adopting the familiar walk and stare.
“I had three months to prepare. And I needed every single second of it. I do not do very good impressions. My Mel Gibson on Saturday Night Live might be the worst impression ever done in history,” says Kutcher. “For me, it was trying to get to know who he was and why he was like that.”
Kutcher even adopted some of Jobs’ more bizarre eating habits, like the fruit-based diet and the fish-only diet.
“I read that he would go and just strictly eat carrots for a week, or strictly eat grapes. So I tried all of those things,” says Kutcher. “I ate carrots for one week. And carrot juice. That’s it…I wouldn’t recommend it.”
The diet proved hazardous in the days before shooting started when Kutcher felt excruciating pain in his back and abdomen following his last prep meeting with his acting coach the meeting where he was told to simply be Jobs when the cameras rolled.
“I didn’t know what the hell was happening,” says Kutcher. “I went to the hospital that night. They didn’t know what it was, they thought it was indigestion. I was on the maximum dose of painkillers.”
Two more trips to the hospital, and one terrible rehearsal later, Kutcher finally received alarming clarity. His doctor found that his pancreas was acting up and causing the pain.
“When I found out it was my pancreas I was a little freaked out,” says Kutcher, noting Jobs’ cancer. “It was like, what the hell did I do? But it did give me some insight into the amount of pain (Jobs) was in in his life.”
Kutcher adopted a relative normal diet and the situation was resolved.
Gad laughs that his quest to be the food-loving Wozniak was not nearly as dramatic.
“My doctor looked at me and said, ‘You still have a caloric intake problem, which means there is not much difference between you and Woz.’ “
But he was inspired by Kutcher’s devotion, which he says set the tone for the rest of the cast. “Ashton was barely recognizable. He had the walk, the look, the sound of Jobs down to a science,” says Gad.
The first scenes of the movie were actually shot in the same Palo Alto, Calif., garage in which Jobs and Wozniak started the company in the mid-1970s. For Gad, it was profound to sit at the workbench where Wozniak had labored over the first Apple computers. At one point, a film worker uncovered a collection of Jobs’ childhood journals and asked what he should do with them.
“I said they should go either to the Smithsonian or back where you found them, to be perfectly blunt,” says Gad. “But for me, it was this spiritual moment where you were actually sitting in this place where these men created something that everyone now knows.”
For Kutcher, not so much. To his surprise, he felt very little.
“I didn’t have that ahh element. I thought I would show up there and walk into that garage and just feel Steve. But I looked around and was like, ‘This is a garage. And this is a house,’ ” he says. “I guess I was already in his head space where he was probably like, ‘Man, we can’t even get an office.’ ”
Kutcher played out dramatic scenes such as screaming into the phone at Microsoft rival Bill Gates and slamming the handset so hard “it shattered into like a billion pieces and I cut my hand open.” And, of course, it led to spurning his friend Gad/Wozniak.
But the pair hugged it out after filming wrapped and Kutcher could return to his old self. They show lightning rapport during a recent reunion at a hotel, chatting about topics as diverse as quarterback Jay Cutler’s chances with Kutcher’s beloved Bears to Gad’s recent Los Angeles flight where he sat next to Kutcher’s friend, crooner Michael Bolton. This leads to a tongue-in-cheek duet of a Bolton-esque ballad.
The two are planning on dueting again at the next opportunity.
“I’m sad in a way this journey is ending. It’s been a yearlong and an intense collaboration. But we’re already plotting our revenge,” says Gad.
When it’s pointed out that there is another Steve Jobs project in the works, the two jokingly jump at the opportunity.
“Yes, you heard it here first,” says Gad. “We are starring in the Aaron Sorkin project. We’re just waiting for Sony to make the announcement.”
Responds Kutcher: “We don’t want to let go of these characters.”