'Steve Jobs' writer Aaron Sorkin says 'my conscience is clear' on film's accuracy

Movie's star, Michael Fassbender, describes his admiration for Jobs and calls Sorkin's script the best he's read.

Richard Trenholm Former Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
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Michael Fassbender plays Steve Jobs in the new movie.

Universal Pictures

LONDON--Defending the accuracy of the new movie " Steve Jobs", writer Aaron Sorkin said Sunday that his "conscience is clear." The film's star, Michael Fassbender, and director Danny Boyle also described what they saw as the truth contained in the film, with Fassbender hailing Sorkin's screenplay as the best he'd ever read.

Sorkin, Fassbender and Boyle joined co-star Kate Winslet and other cast members in discussing the film at a press conference here at the London Film Festival 2015.

"It's a one-off that you get scripts like this," said Fassbender. "I thought to myself, 'this is extraordinary writing.' It's the best script that I've read."

"Steve Jobs" explores the life and personality of the late Apple co-founder in three acts, focusing on the backstage preparations for three key product launches and featuring some of the major figures in Jobs' life, including Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and the daughter Jobs long denied. While these people are real and the events really happened, most of the conversations in the film are imagined.

The filmmakers have previously addressed questions of accuracy by describing their portrait of Jobs as " a painting, not a photograph." Sorkin on Sunday emphasised that the film is not "a dramatic re-creation of [Jobs'] Wikipedia page", while supporting actor Michael Stuhlbarg, who appears as Apple engineer Andy Hertzfeld, described how the film takes Walter Isaacson's biography of Jobs as a starting-off point. Stuhlbarg explained that the film "brings [the book] to life in a different way, giving a suggestion or a sense of the inspiration of what [Jobs'] inner life was like."

Inside 'Steve Jobs,' the movie (pictures)

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Sorkin described how he adjusted reality to spin the tale he wanted to tell.

"Steve Jobs did not as far as I know have confrontations with the same six people 40 minutes before every product launch," he laughs. "That is plainly a writer's conceit. But I do think that the movie gets at some larger truths, some more important truths than what really went on during the 40 minutes before product launches, which I don't think was the stuff of drama. What you see is a dramatisation of several personal conflicts that he had in his life, and they illustrate something, they give you a picture of something. Are they fair? I do believe they're fair. My conscience is clear."

Boyle compared Fassbender's approach to the role with Jobs' uncompromising nature, saying the actor was "not interested in a hatchet job or deification, he's interested in the truth the way Jobs pursued perfection."

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Director Danny Boyle (left) and writer Aaron Sorkin on the set of 'Steve Jobs'.

Universal Pictures

Fassbender admitted that playing a real-life figure did initially give him pause.

"It did make me hesitate. When you're playing someone that really did live in the world that we live in, and has since passed away, and does have close ones who might be worried about how their late husband or father or friend is going to be portrayed, for sure it weighed on my conscience. But having spoken to my father, he said it's like journalism. You have a responsibility to tell stories, that's your job and you have to approach it with the utmost respect, which I did. I have the utmost respect for Steve Jobs and his family. Hopefully when they see it -- if they see it -- they won't feel hurt by it because that certainly wasn't my intent."

Responding to a question about Jobs' family's attitude to the film, Sorkin point out that, "While Mrs. Jobs, Laurene Powell, did from the get-go object to the movie being made, [Jobs' daughter] Lisa Jobs did not, and she's the one portrayed in the movie."

When describing how he also rang up legendary filmmaker Ridley Scott about featuring Scott's iconic "1984" Apple advert in the movie, Boyle admitted that "The basic principle we worked to was we sought forgiveness rather than asked permission."

Once Fassbender did decide to take the role, he had a lot to learn about Jobs.

"I knew nothing about the man when I started," admitted the Irish actor. "All my information was in the script. I tried to take my own feeling from what was in the script and then I watched whatever was available on YouTube from interviews to seminars and speeches. I filled in my own blanks. They could be totally off, but I thought it was a very interesting character in the script. You hear so many stories about him, good and bad, and there seemed to be a balance, a mix in the script that inferred some element of the truth."

Or as Sorkin put it, "If you ask a thousand people who knew Steve Jobs for their impressions of Steve Jobs, you'd get a thousand different impressions."

Through his research, Fassbender says he came to admire Jobs.

"He had a vision back in the mid-'70s, late-'70s, and he continued striving towards that vision, and here we are all living it now. I think that's extraordinary passion and commitment and focus."

Fassbender went on to compared Jobs to Tesla founder Elon Musk, saying he admires "anybody who rolls the dice like that. Guys that could easily sit back and enjoy the hundreds of millions that they're worth, but they put it all back in and risk it all over again. I think that's pretty extraordinary and inspiring."

Winslet noted the "incredible loyalty" that Jobs inspired even despite his often difficult personality, referring to the moments of friendship her character, Joanna Hoffman, shared with her boss at Apple.

"I think if I had met him," said Winslet, "I would have quite liked him, probably because Joanna really did love him."

Having met people who were close to Jobs both personally and professionally, Fassbender marvelled at "the effect that he still has on these people... some feel like they're still orbiting around him in some respects."

Like Apple itself, the film began by shooting first in the Jobs family garage. Fassbender noted the importance of actually shooting the film in the San Francisco area, which he joked was "not cheap." He describes how Boyle's insistence on shooting in Silicon Valley gave the actors "the feeling that we were doing it in the home of not only Steve Jobs but also technology and the new wave of the world that we all live in now."

Boyle acknowledged the changes to the world that Jobs had a hand in bringing about.

"The reason that we made the film is that this guy has changed our lives in an extraordinary way... The implications of [technological change] are huge and significant so to see where it emerged from and who that person was -- or a version of who that person was -- is essential."

The film "Steve Jobs" is in theatres in the US on 23 October and the UK on 13 November. Australia has to wait until January 2016.