Channeling 'Jobs' calls for occasional bouts of jerkiness

Actor/entrepreneur Kutcher acts the entrepreneur in Apple founder biopic -- and sometimes that meant being a jerk.

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Ashton Kutcher

"Jobs" filmmaker Joshua Michael Stern, star Ashton Kutcher and co-star Josh Gad, at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in Chicago. (Alex Garcia/Chicago Tribune / August 9, 2013)

Attempting an innovative shot, the Tribune photographer asked Ashton Kutcher to hold up an iPad in camera mode, but the actor said no because he can't appear to endorse an Apple product.

This made a certain amount of sense, given that Kutcher long has been the high-profile pitchman for Nikon (and the New York Post reported in late July that the 35-year-old actor was close to collecting $10 million to plug Lenovo computers, though no actual deal has since been reported). But then again he is promoting his starring turn in the new Steve Jobs biopic “Jobs,” which opens Friday, and that movie may very well encourage people to view Apple products more favorably.

As directed by Joshua Michael Stern (“Swing Vote”) and written by first-timer Matt Whiteley, Kutcher's version of the Apple founder/visionary is a difficult but no-question-about-it inspirational figure, a man whose interpersonal-relationship challenges can't diminish his intense passion and drive to create those beautiful, brilliantly functional products that have made our world a much better place, don't you know. When Kutcher as Jobs holds up the iPod prototype at the movie's beginning, the applause he receives on screen verges on rapturous.

But Kutcher is not Steve Jobs, although he is a tech-oriented entrepreneur. The model-turned-“That '70s Show”/rom-com/“Two and a Half Men” star is co-founder of the venture capital fund A-Grade Investments and has been an early backer of Spotify, Skype and Foursquare, among many others. Last month Kutcher and “America's Next Top Model” host Tyra Banks announced a new social shopping platform called the Hunt.

So when he and Stern sat down recently in a downtown hotel lounge to talk “Jobs,” Stern soon was picking his star's brain on such matters as the genesis of the online short-video service Vine and the AirBeam video-monitoring system. Josh Gad, the Broadway “Book of Mormon” star who plays Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak in the film, walked in as the conversation was shifting to obsessiveness, a quality shared by many of those tech folks with whom Kutcher has been doing business.

“The guys who win are obsessed,” Kutcher said in his precisely articulated way. “Like it doesn't matter if there's an army pointing guns at them saying, ‘You can't build this.' They go, ‘Yes, I can.'”

Does he share such an obsession?

“Um, I was obsessed with this film, and I'm still somewhat obsessed with that,” Kutcher said, steering the conversation to the promotional business at hand. “That was a pretty big obsession for me.”

“I was obsessed with the film,” Stern added. “I think each of us in our own way was obsessed.”

“I'm obsessed with Ashton's hat,” Gad deadpanned. “I'm obsessed with it because it works for Ashton, but for me I would look like the ranger from Yogi Bear, or kind of a Hassidic Jew in Manhattan.”

About that brown hat: Kutcher had a story.

“I was outside of London when the bombing happened in Boston,” he said. “I happened to be wearing a Boston hat at the time. Just coincidentally. I'm not really a Boston fan. I just had a Boston hat, and I was wearing the Boston hat, and this kid asked me to trade the Boston hat for his hat.”

“You're kidding me,” said Gad, 32.

“And I was like, ‘I think you need the Boston hat,' and I gave him the Boston hat, and he gave me this hat.”

“It's a good hat,” Stern said. “Also, you have the face that could pull off any hat.”

“I feel like Mumford & Sons,” Kutcher said. “I feel like one of the Lumineers.”

But back to the movie: Stern and his cast did face a formidable task. Jobs' life, which ended at age 56 in October 2011 after a long bout with pancreatic cancer, can be broken down into many, many chapters, and if you don't leave a bunch out, “it's the longest movie in history,” Kutcher said.

Stern, who was brought onto the project after Jobs' death, focuses on the mid-1970s founding of Apple through Jobs' ouster and eventual return to launch the iMac in 1998 — a timeline in which “you do get the sense of who he was and what he was about and what he was going to become without answering (everything),” the director said. The iPod, teased in the opening, doesn't return, and Pixar, the iPhone and Jobs' negotiations to put the Beatles catalog on iTunes will have to wait for the mini-series, or something.

Even screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, who's writing a rival Jobs biopic based on Walter Isaacson's 656-page biography, “Steve Jobs,” is narrowing his scope. He said his screenplay will include just three long scenes in real time set at three key moments: the launches of the Macintosh computer, the between-Apple-stints NeXT computer and the iPod. The Sorkin movie still has no cast, director or release date.

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