Kara Swisher

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Ashton Kutcher on “Jobs”: “I Loved a Man I Never Knew”

There’s no question that the always likable Ashton Kutcher is very earnest about his new movie, “Jobs,” in which he plays Apple legend Steve Jobs. And there’s also no question that among a lot of pontificating types from Hollywood, the actor is the real deal when it comes to understanding the entrepreneurial culture of Silicon Valley — he’s an active and interested investor in a range of startups, both personally and through his investing arm, including in Uber, Airbnb, Foursquare and Spotify.

But here’s the thing: Despite a very valiant effort — including nailing many of Jobs’s mannerisms, especially his shuffling walk and smirky smile — Kutcher’s portrayal in the movie comes up short in lots of ways. (By the way, my elder son, Louie, who met Jobs several times, told Kutcher at the movie premiere that he “nailed the height thing,” a critique that the actor took well, considering …)

Actually, the problems with “Jobs” are mostly related to the script of the film, which is rife with factual and timeline errors both niggling and significant, but mostly because it misses the passion and heart of its main subject in a rushed attempt to move forward a massive narrative.

To be fair, it’s probably impossible for anyone to get their arms perfectly around the larger-than-life story of Jobs, whose myriad adventures, outsized personality, huge accomplishments — and, later, tragic end — has about 23 fantastic movies in it.

Still, critics have largely panned “Jobs” — sometimes with unattractive glee in attacking Kutcher — but Robert X. Cringely pretty much gets it right, fairly noting:

The film is beautifully shot and Kutcher’s portrayal of Jobs, while not spot-on, is pretty darned good. He certainly has the look down and the walk. But Ashton Kutcher also produced this film and he’s definitely a better actor than producer … what we have here is a TV movie (think “Pirates of Silicon Valley”) with a feature budget — hence the great cinematography — yet without a soul. At the end of the film Jobs is cleaner and more stooped, but inside there’s that same old Steve and we don’t really understand him any better.

When I interviewed him before the San Francisco premiere several weeks ago, Kutcher was already expecting an onslaught of criticism. “Steve Jobs was the ultimate showman, and everyone has their opinions of him, so it’s hard for anyone to do him justice,” Kutcher said. “And I knew a lot of people would be shocked and offended that I was playing him.”

In fact, he answered several questions on Quora — such as, “How did Ashton Kutcher prepare for his role as Steve Jobs in the new movie Jobs?” and “Why did Ashton Kutcher decide to play Steve Jobs in the upcoming movie Jobs?” — to assuage that issue in advance, noting that he spent three months preparing the character. That meant reading all available material about Jobs, including watching extensive video and audio appearances, as well as eating what Jobs consumed.

“This was to try to understand some of the broad themes of his persona. What I was looking for was patterns on consistent behavior and ideals,” wrote Kutcher. “But I quickly found that, while learning ‘how a person is’ ultimately is the key, you have to learn ‘why a person is.'”

Kutcher said that he wanted to play Jobs due to the same strong affinity others had for him. Although he never met the tech legend, he said he “cried the day he died.”

That’s because, said Kutcher, “he made such important contributions to society, and he cared to get it right … he cared even if he had to destroy the village to save the baby.”

While I am still not sure what Kutcher meant by that — was the iPod the baby? — he added that Jobs was an “architect of the future,” and that he will always be in the zeitgeist as that, no matter who plays him in any of the many movies that will doubtlessly be made. (Another is forthcoming, of course, based on Walter Isaacson’s authorized biography.)

“Everyone loved Steve Jobs and the idea of Steve Jobs,” said Kutcher, who seemed happy to take the brickbats to come because of that regard. “Like a lot of people, I loved a man I never knew.”

Here’s the official trailer for “Jobs,” in which Kutcher does indeed nail the height thing:

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Nobody was excited about paying top dollar for a movie about WikiLeaks. A film about the origins of Pets.com would have done better.

— Gitesh Pandya of BoxOfficeGuru.com comments on the dreadful opening weekend box office numbers for “The Fifth Estate.”