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Ashton Kutcher really dug into his role as Apple co-founder Steve Jobs in “Jobs.”

Glen Wilson , Open Road Films

How Ashton Kutcher became Steve Jobs

  • Article by: Jessica Guynn
  • Los Angeles Times
  • August 26, 2013 - 3:57 PM

The sound system was on the fritz in Russian technology billionaire Yuri Milner’s $100-million, 30,000-square-foot mansion in Silicon Valley.

Cocktails and hors d’oeuvres had been served. The guests had taken their seats in Milner’s home theater. And Ashton Kutcher was ready to screen “Jobs,” the new film in which he plays the late chief executive and co-founder of Apple. The audience was a who’s who of the technology industry.

Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk rolled up his sleeves and fixed the audio. On the screen, Kutcher appeared as a young Jobs in the early and troubled years of his journey from his LSD-laced days at Reed College in Portland, Ore., to the formation of Apple, his ouster and victorious return.

“I can’t think of a more skeptical audience than Silicon Valley when it comes to a movie about Steve Jobs,” said Nirav Tolia, chief executive of social network Nextdoor. Film industry observers were skeptical, too.

But when the lights came up at Milner’s house, Kutcher found himself before an appreciative audience. At one point, as he and co-star Josh Gad took questions, Kutcher choked up as he spoke about how deeply personal the role was for him.

“Of all people,” Tolia said, “Ashton could do it because he is one of us.”

The Hollywood heartthrob not only plays a dot-com billionaire on CBS’ “Two and a Half Men,” but he is also co-founder with Madonna manager Guy Oseary and supermarket magnate Ron Burkle of the venture capital fund A-Grade Investments.

In taking on the role of Jobs, Kutcher didn’t have to “learn how to channel being an entrepreneur,” said Tolia, whose Nextdoor network is one of A-Grade’s investments.

“The role was the perfect convergence of my craft and my interests,” Kutcher said.

As soon as he heard about the part — even before he met with director Joshua Michael Stern — Kutcher started preparing to play Jobs.

“When I read the script, the idea of someone playing him who maybe didn’t care made me just want to jump at the role,” Kutcher said.

By the time Stern walked into Kutcher’s Los Angeles home for their first meeting, the actor had begun to subtly master Jobs’ speech patterns and hand gestures, even the slope of his back and the way he walked by bouncing on his toes.

Kutcher said he was determined to understand Jobs’ flashes of genius and his stubborn, uncompromising nature. “I have a lot of friends and colleagues in the tech space and a lot who knew Steve,” he said. “I wanted them to feel like what was being represented was true to them.”

Although the film has received some tepid reviews and has been criticized for giving too much credit to Jobs for Steve Wozniak’s vision for the personal computer, Kutcher has been praised for moments in which he seems to embody Jobs — staring himself down in the mirror after denying paternity of his child or standing triumphantly on the floor of the West Coast Computer Faire with Wozniak to unveil the Apple II.

Even when he’s showing Jobs at his most callous, Kutcher humanizes the man who died from complications of pancreatic cancer in 2011. “There were these inconsistencies in his behavior,” Kutcher said. “I wanted to figure out why he made these choices.”

He immersed himself in Jobs’ spiritual beliefs with Paramahansa Yogananda’s “Autobiography of a Yogi” and Ram Dass’ “Be Here Now” and in his musical influences by listening to Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. He studied Thomas Edison and Ansel Adams.

For scenes set in the garage of Jobs’ childhood home in Los Altos, Calif., Kutcher read up on integrated circuit design. When driving in his car and as he fell asleep at night, Kutcher played 100 hours of every Jobs interview and speech he could find. That attention to detail extended to Kutcher’s physical appearance in the film. Skeletally thin, the actor landed in the hospital for two days after losing 20 pounds on the fruitarian diet Jobs followed.

But Kutcher gained the most insight into Jobs by meeting some of the people who knew him best. “I got to meet Avie Tevanian,” Kutcher said with a tone of awe about the former Apple software wizard.

Kutcher also met computing pioneer Alan Kay of Xerox PARC fame.

“I gave Ashton a picture of the real Steve from the point of view of someone who knew him for many years, who talked with him every few months on the phone,” Kay said. “Steve was not an idol or a myth or a god.”

Kutcher said Kay recalled the anguish Jobs felt over sharp criticism of the Macintosh. “Alan said to him, ‘Steve, the only reason they are criticizing the Macintosh is that you built a personal computer that is good enough for people to criticize,’ ” Kutcher said. “Since Steve was adopted, he felt like he was rejected by his birthparents. He filled that hole by building beautiful things people would appreciate. When they rejected the products, they were rejecting him.”

Gad, who plays Wozniak, said he’ll never forget the first time he talked to Kutcher over Skype and encountered his encyclopedic Jobs knowledge.

“He knew everything not only about Jobs but could literally rattle off the tiniest detail about Steve Wozniak as well,” Gad said. One day, Kutcher walked onto the set and squinted at a circuit board in the back of the room.

“ ‘This wouldn’t be invented for two more years,’ ” Gad recalled Kutcher saying. “That attention to the tiniest detail informed the entire shoot.”

© 2014 Star Tribune