This first came across the screen of my mind with Alan Rickman’s portrayal of Ronald Reagan in The Butler. Not a movie I took the time to watch but as I cut my teeth on Rickman as Hans Gruber in 1988s Christmas action flick Die Hard, I experienced an internal reorientation as to just who can portray whom. I was also thoroughly impressed with whomever it was did the casting for this movie, to pull him out of my internal typecasting set to “arrogant” and “villainous" and in turn have him portray the founder of modern Conservatism. They were visionary, in my opinion.
Fast forward to this year’s excellent Love and Mercy featuring respectively Paul Dano as a young and then John Cusack as the aged Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys. I liked this movie enough to purchase Wouldn’t It Be Nice the next morning. And it was in no small part due to the portrayal of Wilson by each actor. While I’ve never been into the Beach Boys’ music, I could most likely point out a contemporary Brian Wilson in a crowd and even possibly a younger as well. This being said, I found Dano’s sensitive, brilliant portrayal exceptional (He portrayed a sensitive and brilliant Wilson). It was exceptional in spite of the fact that he didn’t sing. I don’t think, I could be wrong. I seem to recall him from an earlier film off the edge of my periphery. But John Cusack stirred up the aforementioned “casting call” thing from The Butler. Again, while I never watched Rickman’s Reagan mannerisms—which I’m sure weren’t too far off base—Cusack’s nervous tics and sloping, halted gait seemed to me to be spot on. I mean, he’s an actor’s actor. Were he to stand up straight, relax his face, I wouldn’t have pegged him for the older Beach Boy, ever. Props to the casting director for Love and Mercy.
And now, furthering the unconventional casting call paradigm, I see Michael Fassbender portraying Steve Jobs in the forthcoming Steve Jobs and wonder. If I hark back to all the actors I remember portraying real people, I think of Kelsey Grammar as George Washington, Daniel Day Lewis as Lincoln and Russell Crowe as Noah, there are more. The thing about the former two, however, is they more-or-less resemble the very real historical figures they intend to (and do indeed) portray. But this idea. Furthered with the what might seem to be an ad hoc choice of Fassbender as Jobs. Something in Rickman’s face was placed atop Reagan and the rest is history. Watching the sensationalist trailer for Steve Jobs, however, I not only don’t see Fassbender in that role—never did. But as I read the Isaacson biography shortly after it came out the very real Jobs imprinted upon me in the way a posthumous biography will, keyed to my unique neurochemistry. While the book was written towards the end of Jobs’ life, I don’t think he ever saw it (said he didn’t want to) and it was published three weeks after he passed. I had in March, seven months prior, purchased my first Apple product: an iPod touch, 4th gen. and so it was during this year that Jobs was on my mind and standing atop my creative processes. God rest his soul. But he was there allowing or else relearning my inherent approach to user interface and tracks of thought with reference to a peripheral. I count him one of my strongest influences for thinking and drive. And moving forward, I found Ashton Kutcher’s portrayal in Jobs—while it may not have been based on the book proper—carried with it pitch perfect reenactments of bullet points to Jobs’ temperament (his fit over an employee’s neglect of font-design seemed directly to be lifted from the scene in the book as imagined by me). And now Kutcher is modeling for Lenovo, weird. I still want to see Jobs’ invective “Not. F******. Blue. Enough!!!” (see Steve Jobs by Isaacson, pg. 353) But I thought Kutcher was great. He got the walk down and even though his general shape and hair/face combination come across as more of a representation, a caricature of the real man (offset against Josh Gad’s Wozniak), I appreciated it for what it was. I wonder about Fassbender and wonder more at Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay. We’ll see. And back in the nineties with Noah Wyle as Jobs in The Pirates of Silicon Valley, the casting-according-to-look paradigm holds true and holds up, in my mind. In closing, I find it remarkable that the Jobs book would be turned into a movie when the book itself wasn’t well received by the higher-ups at Apple (no surprise, really, when you think about it). While I emerged from its reading with my opinion of the man galvanized, most of my fact base gaps filled in, I still respected him, still hold him in esteem. Contradictory, mercurial aspects of his temperament notwithstanding, that he would keep his eye on the prize, forsaking all others, so to speak, was perhaps the pilot light of his person, in my opinion.
And whether or not those who knew and worked with him at Apple appraised (and therefore disliked) the Isaacson book as an incorrect portrayal of Jobs as an all-things-considered decent person (my take home message) or whether they thought Isaacson cast him in the tyrannical light those who haven’t read into his psyche or past experiences dismiss him in, I know not. But this year’s new book by Schlender and Tetzeli seemed, after a hundred pages or so, to be painting the same aforementioned picture in my mind’s eye (altogether brilliant-but-flawed and wounded-but-decent) and was lauded and well-received by those who knew and worked with him. I stopped reading.