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Exclusive interview: Ashton Kutcher talks Steve Jobs
In Joshua Michael Stern’s new Steve Jobs biopic, "Jobs", US actor Ashton Kutcher, known for comic roles, sinks his teeth into the meatiest part of his career so far. FRANCE 24 talked to him about the risks and rewards of playing a 21st-century icon.
He’s mainly been known as a lanky, model-handsome heartthrob from goofy romantic comedies and popular sitcoms – or as actress Demi Moore’s much-younger ex-husband.
But Ashton Kutcher will go a long way toward shedding that image when his new film, the Steve Jobs biopic “Jobs”, hits screens this month (on August 16 in the US and August 21 in France). The actor slips into the role of the Apple CEO and famous entrepreneur-inventor with impressive ease, delivering a performance of grit and grace in a movie that isn’t always worthy of him.
Promoting “Jobs” this summer in Paris, Kutcher sat down with FRANCE 24 to talk about his career, the actors who inspire him and the challenges of playing an iconic figure who was both loved and loathed.
Here are highlights from the interview.
F24: In the film, Jobs is shown mistreating employees, betraying friends and turning his back on his pregnant girlfriend. But you brought a lot of empathy to the role. Putting aside his professional success, what’s your view of Steve Jobs as a human being?
AK: Anyone who has tried to build something that changes people’s lives sometimes finds life to be a distraction, and finds people who don’t care as much as they do to be annoying. And I think the quality that made him sometimes unlikeable is the fact that he cared so much about this pursuit of creating a tool that would allow people to have a simple, accessible way to connect with technology. He was so passionate about it that he was sometimes abusive to people around him. I think we’ve all been in the middle of doing something we cared about, when someone coming in the room and saying “hello” was annoying. I personally can understand that, as someone who tries to create.
Steve Jobs had something like a 90% approval rating from his employees. You hear stories about him being this short-tempered, aggressive person, which he was. But he was in the pursuit of making people around him better, so the product they created would be better. I think of it almost as a coach of a major sports team who you see yelling at the players to motivate them to be better. I’m not saying I would respond to that personally. But some people thrive in that environment.
And to him, things were very binary; you were either a genius or a bozo, an idiot or a creator.
F24: Was it intimidating for you to play such an iconic figure? How did you prepare for the role?
AK: It was terrifying. One, I admire his work; two, I have a lot of friends and colleagues that either worked with him or were friends with him; and three, he only recently passed away, and there’s copious amounts of video footage of him, so people will be able to look at that, compare it to my performance and decide whether I’m good or not.
I dedicated myself in a way I hadn’t dedicated myself to a role before. I spent three months preparing, watched hundreds of hours of footage and had a 20-hour audio file that I listened to in my car or when I went to sleep to capture the way he talked; his cadence and intonations. I also worked with an acting coach, and met with people that he knew to get as much information as I could.
So I definitely worked harder on it than I’ve worked on anything else. But I think different roles present different challenges. Sometimes people look at a half-hour sitcom and see a performance that seems relatively simple. They forget that you get new screenplays on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, and you shoot in front of a live studio audience for about two hours on Friday. That presents an entirely different set of challenges from shooting just thirty seconds to a minute of footage at a time on a feature film.
F24: Are you going to be looking to do more meaty, dramatic, darker roles like this one?
AK: I don’t know about that. I’ve constantly done my best to get the best material I can get with the best directors I can get to direct me. I luckily have a TV show that pays my bills very well, and I have a secondary job investing in technology companies the last couple of years. So I don’t have to worry about finances, and I can choose roles for entirely artistic purposes now. I don’t have to act for work anymore; I can act for passion. That’s freeing, but it’s also a prison of its own. When you can do anything you want, you’re really responsible to do something great. And that’s scary.
F24: Who are some actors, past and present, who inspire you in your work?
AK: People like Steve McQueen or Marlon Brando, who were character actors but also leading men. I also love Cary Grant’s work.
As for my peers, I think Ryan Gosling is a really great actor who’s meticulous about his work. And I’d love to have the guts that Johnny Depp has to actually go outside the box on a character. When he plays a character, he plays it in a way that nobody else would.
And I don’t really have to say it, but I think Meryl Streep’s unbelievable. As an actor, it’s just like: "How do you do that? I don’t know how to do that!” She’s awesome.