Channeling 'Jobs' calls for occasional bouts of jerkiness

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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)

Stern, by the way, said he didn't read the Isaacson book, but Gad did.

“I read it to get insight into Steve Wozniak,” Gad said. “There's less material out there to describe Wozniak's journey, so for me it was invaluable. Yeah, I think that you have to be aware of that material because right now it's the closest thing we have to an autobiography. But there's something about that book that in a way is remarkable because it doesn't paint the kindest portrait of a man, especially considering it had his blessing, in that he's described as a bit of a monster here and there.”

“I don't know that it had his complete blessing ultimately,” Kutcher said, adding: “I would say that our film in a similar but dissimilar way doesn't always portray him (through) his best qualities. However, that being said, he's a human being, and he was flawed and I think had an awareness of his flaws and reconciled many of them.”

Any Jobs film must address this figure's contrary nature: someone who felt rejection from having been put up for adoption yet failed to acknowledge his own daughter for years, someone who cared deeply about improving people's lives yet could be brutal to those around him. What's fascinating about Isaacson's book and Jobs' story in general is that they make you wonder about the nature of creativity and whether Jobs could have had the kind of success he had without pushing so hard and being such an SOB.

Does one need to be the way Jobs was to be as incredible as he was?

“No,” Kutcher said.

Did he have to be that way?

“Yes,” Kutcher said.

In Kutcher's own experiences with creative geniuses, “some of them are (jerks), and some of them aren't.”

“That's absolutely accurate,” Gad said. “I've seen success work both ways, where people who reach the top of their profession are actually genuinely very kind, and then you see people who are very shrewd, a la Jobs, and they're also very successful.”

“Leapfrog innovation — consistent, constant, ridiculous leapfrog innovation — only happens within a dictatorship,” Kutcher said. “Any time you try to do something really innovative, most people aren't going to understand it until after they experience it. So when you're developing in innovation, you have to be a dictator. You don't have to be a (jerk) dictator, but you do have to be a dictator.”

Are the best bosses in the entertainment business dictators?

“This is a dangerous conversation,” Gad laughed.

“Some of them are and some of them aren't,” Kutcher said. “I know some actors that have to become a (jerk) just to be real. They have to work themselves into a full-blown frenzy to be real in a situation. And some people can just, like, (snaps fingers) do it and turn it on and then (snaps) turn it off. I think some bosses, in order to get something creatively flowing for themselves, have to go off the handle.”

“No matter what the business is, there are people that operate in chaos better than they do in peace,” Stern said. “They just need the chaos around them to fully find their own focus, and so they cause a lot of chaos so that they can see straight.”

And, no, Stern doesn't see himself as a dictator director.

“I'm more of a collaborator,” he said. “(There's) a lot of insecurity and anxiety that can go on (among actors), and if you don't do your best to try to create an environment where someone can get there and do it, I don't see any other way. But I hear there are a lot of dictators.”

Ashton Kutcher, dictator?

“Depends,” Kutcher said.

On?

“On whether there's value in it in the moment.”

In terms of acting, producing, being an entrepreneur, or just life?

“I would say I'm 90 percent collaborative in everything I do, and 10 percent of the time I just make the call,” Kutcher said. “I would say as an actor it depends on what the scene is that day (laughs). If the scene is requiring one to be a (jerk), I might be a little bit more (jerky) than I would want to be.”

So he got to be (jerky) on this movie?

“Occasionally.”

mcaro@tribune.com

Twitter @MarkCaro

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