Danny Boyle on ‘Steve Jobs,’ Sorkin and the Fassbender Effect
Danny Boyle is smiling and talking very, very, very excitedly. This is not unusual; in fact, an infectiously enthusiastic state combined with a mile-a-minute manner of speaking appears to be the 58-year-old filmmaker’s default mode. He’s just been asked a stock question, yet he’s positively beaming as he winds his way through tangents about Silicon Valley, Shakespeare, Seth Rogen’s sense of humor, and why it’s easier to get extras to show up in San Francisco “for the price of a sandwich.” Eventually, he arrives at an answer, somehow perfectly sticking the landing. He’ll do this countless times over the next 40 minutes. And suddenly, you understand why the man best known for having Ewan McGregor sprint down the street to Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life was hired to helm a uniquely structured biography about a cultural icon conceived by the most dauntingly verbose screenwriter working today.
Originally earmarked as a return-engagement collaboration between The Social Network duo David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin, Steve Jobs breaks down the story of the Apple founder-cum-generational-iPhilosopher into three distinct movements, each taking place before the launch of three key Jobs-overseen products: the Macintosh, the NeXT computer, and the iMac. When the former opted out of the project, the Slumdog Millionaire Oscar-winner stepped in and quickly found himself wrestling with a typically Sorkinesque script, full of dense dialogue and more walk-and-talk scenes than you could shake a West Wing box set at. It also didn’t play down the tech visionary’s less than laudable characteristics, emphasizing his paternity denials regarding his daughter Lisa, his refusal to credit Steve Wozniak for the company’s success, and his overall sense that genius meant you could be a raging asshole. This was the Steve Jobs story, reduced down and rendered as the ultimate let-us-now-praise-famous-dickwads biopic.
Most directors would have run for shelter or the comparative ease of making a superhero blockbuster. For someone who turned the story of a man trapped by a boulder into something cinematic (127 Hours) and organized the 2012 Summer Olympics opening ceremony, however, this was manna. “So I have to make this for under $20 million, we have to cover a life in three long sequences with six recurring characters, it’s a suffocating script that’s wall-to-wall dialogue, and there’s no indication on how to do it?” Boyle recalls thinking. “Great, I’m in!” After assembling a dream cast — Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Michael Stuhlbarg, Jeff Daniels and, as the late Jobs, a jaw-dropping Michael Fassbender — the filmmaker got to work. The result is garnering deafening praise for its lead actor and hosannas for Boyle’s ability to translate a theatrical gambit into something that pops and crackles on a screen.
Gearing up for the film’s centerpiece screening at the New York Film Festival, Boyle sat down and discussed — sometimes breathlessly, always at warp speed — why the movie needed a three-act structure, why this is really the second part of a trilogy and how Fassbender ended up mirroring Jobs’ evolution. (For his comments on the upcoming Trainspotting sequel and the prospect of a third 28 Days Later movie, read here.)