There isn’t a challenge Danny Boyle hasn’t liked, whether it’s capturing the crazed psychedelic heroin-culture of Edinburgh in Trainspotting or the obstacles of an 18-year-old in the Mumbai streets of Slumdog Millionaire—the themes and topics the director tackles are never the same thing twice. After David Fincher dropped out of Steve Jobs and producer Scott Rudin approached Boyle to helm the Aaron Sorkin script, it was a no-brainer opportunity for the Oscar-winning director. Typically, Boyle develops material rather than directs from a fully fleshed out script. But this was Sorkin. And if there was a film that Boyle savored, it was the Oscar-winning scribe’s The Social Network, for its verbal rhythm. “Steve Jobs was exhilarating to read, 200 pages of a restless mind,” Boyle says. “ ‘How can it be cinematic?’ I asked myself. Then I realized, of course, it can be cinematic!”
In the wake of the Sony hack, which revealed all the behind-the-scenes on this film, do you think the media was harder on Steve Jobs than necessary?
You can argue that the behind-the-scenes of any movie is dramatic by nature, but there was something peculiar about this one. Here’s a man who has had so much influence on our lives. He’s changed social behavior and how we communicate with each other. We trust these devices, yet everything can be hacked and shared. It’s incredible that the behind-the-scenes drama happened on this particular film. It wasn’t pleasant. I remember going into Sony and hearing about the death threats during the hack. I’m sitting there and the secretary can’t even get on her computer to work. Even though the film didn’t work as a wide release across America, that doesn’t stop me from speaking up about Universal and their support, especially after Donna Langley picked it up. After Sony dropped us, we went around Hollywood in a cab with storyboards, pitching every head of studio like the old days.
After a fantastic limited debut the film bombed in its wide release. Do you think Steve Jobs can beat this box office rap in its awards season push?
I imagine that the film will have some impact on people. When you see it, you come out and say, “Holy shit!” The acting is on a different plane, it’s very verbal and intense, and you’re utterly occupied by the actors. That’s what people respond to. We went wide too soon. And while it’s easy to be a hindsight expert, it doesn’t stop me from being proud of what Universal has done. They’re determined to position the film and keep it in theaters so that people come back to it. Sometimes we have to genuflect at the altar of mass entertainment. This isn’t a private members’ club. It’s an industry born of people going to the cinema in huge numbers. We had hoped that this obsession with Steve Jobs was nationwide. But there are a lot of very good films and competition for this short, intensive period.
Sony jettisoned this project after Christian Bale couldn’t be locked down. Would this have been a different project under them had he committed?
The line I drew in the sand that was non-negotiable was that we needed to shoot in San Francisco. I believe in the setting, even though we could have made this film for $5 million in Budapest. To accounting, that’s insane. But it was fundamental that I was going to rehearse and shoot for 39 days. I spoke to Christian about playing the part of Jobs. We had a lovely meeting, but he couldn’t get his head around the part. He’s an intense, private actor and he couldn’t see himself doing it.
Some in the media, like Sony, seem to think that if Bale or Leonardo DiCaprio had been cast, Steve Jobs might have fared better at the box office.
I don’t know; you’d have to talk to Amy (Pascal) and Scott (Rudin) about that. But Michael Fassbender was absolutely the right actor and we were lucky to get him.
What made Fassbender the right choice to play Jobs?
He has an incredible presence. Beyond that, he’s very uncompromising in what he does and where he goes in his choices—he takes no prisoners. Michael doesn’t make easy choices. He invites you on this intense journey. He’s the only actor who could explore Jobs’ intensity. He has a Cary Grant presence, and Kate Winslet (as Joanna Hoffman) is like his Katharine Hepburn. When I first met with him about the part, he was in Australia. Kate was also there doing The Dressmaker and I went to see her on the same trip. Michael sat and read the script with me and by just listening to him, you could see that he was beginning to work his process. When actors have a big script they have to learn it, but he didn’t. He channeled it like osmosis. During filming, when he walked on the set, he was ready to channel the next 10 pages. It lifted everyone. Winslet is like this. She preps. She gives the impression that she’s making it all up, but she preps. The great actors are always preparing mentally and physically.
How close are you to shooting the sequel for Trainspotting?
We have the actors and a good script and we’re setting up production to begin in either May or June. We have to shoot in that period given the actors’ schedules.