They were always going to be big shoes to fill; but the announcement earlier this week that Ashton Kutcher has been cast to play Steve Jobs in a forthcoming biopic of the late Apple founder will have caused a bout of head scratching all the way from Silicon Valley, south along the I-5 Highway, to Hollywood.
Much has been written about Jobs since his premature death earlier this year. In his only officially authorized biography, Walter Isaacson diligently documents the experiences of those who lived and worked with the man.
“In his presence, reality is malleable. He can convince anyone of practically anything”, recalled Andy Hertzfeld an original member of the Apple development team from the 1980s.
His widow, Laurene Powell, remembers the difficulty she faced when trying to agree on furniture for a new house with her perfectionist husband: “We spoke about furniture in theory for eight years…We spent a lot of time asking ourselves, ‘What is the purpose of a sofa?’
I’d venture the closest Ashton Kutcher has ever come to broaching anything as existential and ergonomic as this, is when he repeatedly asked “dude where’s my car?” in the 2000 film.
Admittedly the young Jobs does bear more than a passing resemblance to Kutcher, and by all accounts Kutcher does have more than a passable working knowledge of technology matters; but lest we forget, we are dealing with a two time nominee and one time winner of the Golden Raspberry award for worst actor here.
Mind you, this isn’t the first time that Hollywood casting directors have made some, shall we say, interesting appointments.
Oliver Stone’s 2004 epic Alexander saw the ancient Greek king and conqueror played with a distinctly Irish lilt by Colin Farrell. Indeed, as the director’s cut makes clear, many other cast members, including Val Kilmer, who played King Phillip II of Macedon, decided to adopt Irish brogues in order to accommodate Farrell, who was apparently unable to lose his. It all makes for a very surreal, and I suspect, slightly inauthentic experience.
Another Hollywood epic from slightly less enlightened times saw an inexplicably Caucasian John Wayne play the Mongol leader Genghis Kahn in The Conqueror. Contracted to one more film with RKO Pictures, Wayne is alleged to have selected the role himself, asserting, with complete disregard for historical chronology and common sense, that he would play Genghis Khan as a cowboy would have. Director Dick Powell agreed declaring: “who am I to turn down John Wayne?” It would almost be comical were the film not shot 137 miles downwind from the US government’s nuclear test site in Nevada, which some claim was a contributing factor to the high rate of cancer deaths among cast and crew.
Poor casting aside, its possible to tenuously link Steve Jobs, Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan in another way. In the 19th century Thomas Carlyle wrote: “the history of the world is but the biography of great men.” Great here is used in the sense of “significant”, as opposed to “good”, neither myself, or to my knowledge Carlyle, share any fondness for warlords.
Though largely discredited by the 20th century, the “great man theory” began to be spoken off again in the aftermath of Jobs’ death. The ascent of Apple from obscure and financially troubled software company, to quasi-cultish super brand, has been almost exclusively attributed to its former CEO. From dropping out of college, to dropping acid, to founding the most important company on the planet, Jobs’ life story reads like a modern day epic. Which is probably the reason that not one, but two, biopics are currently making their way through Hollywood pipeline. But for a man described by his biographer as “a genius”, I’m doubtful the former presenter of MTV’s Punk’d and star of What Happens in Vegas is the most appropriate choice of actor.