Q&A: ‘Steve Jobs’ screenwriter Aaron Sorkin talks biopics, critics, ‘West Wing’

By , on October 21, 2015

Aaron Sorkin on his Steve Jobs movie: "Mrs. Jobs, Tim Cook the CEO of Apple, Jony Ive haven’t seen the movie. So they wouldn’t know what’s in the movie." (Photo from ShutterStock/Jonathan Hordle/Rex)
Aaron Sorkin on his Steve Jobs movie: “Mrs. Jobs, Tim Cook the CEO of Apple, Jony Ive haven’t seen the movie. So they wouldn’t know what’s in the movie.” (Photo from ShutterStock/Jonathan Hordle/Rex)

TORONTO – Aaron Sorkin will remind you that he is a writer when talking about his latest film, “Steve Jobs.”

As such, the dialogue-heavy account of the late Apple co-founder’s life contains obvious fabrications in service of a larger truth.

It’s centred on a series of verbal smackdowns between Jobs and various members of his inner circle, with Michael Fassbender starring as the tyrannical genius, Seth Rogen as co-founder/friend Steve (Woz) Wozniak and Kate Winslet as former Macintosh marketing chief Joanna Hoffman.

In the face of ardent critics – including Jobs’s widow Laurene, Apple CEO Tim Cook and Apple’s head of design and close friend Jony Ive – Sorkin has insisted this is “a painting, not a photograph.”

“I would describe almost all non-fiction movies that way. But this one in particular,” the screenwriter says in a recent visit to Toronto to discuss the film, which largely steers clear of impersonations and familiar catchphrases.

“And that’s not to say I’ve changed any biographical facts about Steve Jobs. Here’s what I’ve done: Steve did not have confrontations with the same five people 40 minutes before every product launch that he did. That’s a writer’s conceit and it announces itself pretty early on as one. The content of those confrontations, those are real.”

If people are looking for a journalistic account, Sorkin encourages them to check out Walter Isaacson’s exhaustive biography.

“The Santa Fe Opera just commissioned an opera about Steve Jobs that’ll be out in 2017 – I wonder if people are going to be going around saying, ‘Now, wait a second. Was Steve really a tenor in real life?’”

The Canadian Press chatted with Sorkin about condensing a life, dealing with critics, and returning to “The West Wing.”

CP: The construct employed here is obvious. But people who were close to Jobs seem to be upset that softer elements of the man they knew are not presented as they’d like.

Sorkin: The people I think you’re talking about – Mrs. Jobs, Tim Cook the CEO of Apple, Jony Ive – haven’t seen the movie. So they wouldn’t know what’s in the movie. I think they’re reacting to Walter’s book and they don’t know what’s in the movie.

The people who knew Steve well who have seen the movie (including) Woz… have reacted very positively to it and feel that Steve was captured. So I would just ask that judgment be reserved until you’ve seen the movie.

CP: Is there anything you would change?

Sorkin: No.

CP: It is the movie you set out to make.

Sorkin: I’m really proud of everything that I’ve written – and that said, there isn’t anything that I’ve written that I wouldn’t mind having back and doing it again. And the same is true for this movie, for ‘Steve Jobs,’ but not because of anything anyone has said… It’s a little surprising that there are certain things which in 2015 are coming up with very sophisticated audiences.

For instance, take a movie like “The Queen” – no one thinks that Peter Morgan, the writer of “The Queen,” was actually in Balmoral Castle when these discussions were going on… Writers are going to invent dialogue because people don’t speak in dialogue and people’s lives don’t unfold in a series of scenes that form a narrative arc.

CP: And you tell this story almost entirely through words, this film is really a series of conversations. Could this work on the stage?

Sorkin: That’s not the first time I’ve heard that. Maybe. I just want to harken back to the times when Herman Mankiewicz was writing movies and Ben Hecht and Preston Sturges and Billy Wilder… They too made movies built almost entirely out of language. So this isn’t a new phenomenon, maybe we just took a break from it for a few years.

CP: The bent with Hollywood seems to be tentpole extravaganzas. This is not in that style.

Sorkin: And this wasn’t a bankable movie. The notion that we’re being opportunistic (as claimed by Cook on “Late Show with Stephen Colbert”) is a little silly. If we were being opportunistic we’d have done something else.

CP: Seth Rogen will surprise his comedy fans for showing a lot of emotion as Woz.

Sorkin: He’s fantastic in this movie. I think I’m right that we didn’t discuss any other actor but Seth. Someone who can do comedy as honestly and intelligently as Seth does, there’s really no worry in your mind that they’re going to be able to do this material. You’d worry, ‘Is someone able to be funny?’ but you wouldn’t worry going the other way. I never had a concern about Seth being able to handle this material.

CP: Next year will mark 10 years since “The West Wing” left TV. Rob Lowe has said he’d jump at a reunion if you were involved. Would you do it?

Sorkin: If I had a really great idea for something it would be a lot of fun but I would only do it if there was a reason to do it. Otherwise they can be a little bit cheesy and I wouldn’t want to tarnish the legacy of that show, which I’m pretty proud of.

But if I had a great idea for something it would be great to get together with the group again. – This interview has been edited and condensed