Seth Rogen On Building a Sketch of Steve Wozniak in ‘Steve Jobs’

In keeping with the rest of the cast and the filmmakers, he wasn't looking to portray absolute reality.

TELLURIDE, Colo. — Actor Seth Rogen made his first-ever trip to Telluride (for the film festival or otherwise) this year as a representative of Danny Boyle’s “Steve Jobs.” In the film, the comedian plays Apple Computer co-founder Steve Wozniak, the brains behind many of the engineering innovations that led the company to dominate the home computing market. I sat down with him along a babbling brook Saturday to discuss his work in the film, the pressure of portraying a real person and the opportunity to spit out dialogue from the mind of Aaron Sorkin.

So what do you think of Telluride so far?

It’s really mellow. You can actually do stuff, walk around. The whole town isn’t taken over by it. It’s really nice.

Great work in the movie. It was a really innervating experience. I’m curious if there was something about Steve Wozniak that, when you met him, you really wanted to carry across in your performance.

Honestly one of the things is he’s immensely lovable. He’s just very sweet, compassionate, caring — he’s just the kind of guy you want to give a hug to. That was something I thought was important, especially within a movie that had so many abrasive characters. So that was one thing and the kind of, like, unapologetically technical way he speaks was another thing. Some people who speak very technically do it in a way that acknowledges that people may not understand. He does not do that. He kind of talks to everyone like they’re computer engineers, in a way, and that was something I thought was interesting, just as far as the delivery of the dialogue goes.

But that being said, the character wasn’t really written that much in the voice of the actual Steve Wozniak, in my opinion. I think the themes are real to Steve Wozniak, the things he cared about, but the way he presents those ideas and the way he literally just interacts with people, from what I see, it’s not an incredibly realistic interpretation.

Yeah I just heard Sorkin mention that this isn’t meant to be a piece of journalism, it’s a painting. That seems to be a point you guys want carried across.

Yeah, I think it’s like an interpretation. It’s funny, I keep thinking of those pictures of Marilyn Monroe. In a way, those are some of the most iconic images of her, but it’s in no way realistic. It’s not an accurate representation of what she looked like; her hair’s yellow, her skin is pink — it’s not an accurate representation of what she looked like. It’s an artist’s interpretation, and I think this is a similar thing.

That’s interesting about the iconography. The Wozniak of “Steve Jobs” could almost stand in for everyone who didn’t get their due along the way. Was there a line for you in terms of resentment versus affection?

You know, when Woz says at the end of the movie, “Why don’t you respect me,” and Jobs says, “Because you don’t respect me,” I think that’s true. Wozniak’s genius came from his technical abilities and his engineering abilities, something that Jobs had little to zero of, and I think that is probably part of the source of conflict and that’s something I could put into the performance, the idea that Wozniak doesn’t really understand why Jobs is impressive. In the movie. In real life, he does, and it seems like there’s less resentment in real life than there is in the movie, or at least it’s better veiled.

What kind of immersion did you do in the tech world and just researching the part?

Well, I talked to Wozniak a lot. I went online and there’s a lot of his keynotes online and a lot of Wozniak’s speeches are online. There’s a documentary that shows Joanna Hoffman and him interacting. Can I definitively tell you it played into the day-to-day experience of making the movie? Not with 100 percent certainty, but it couldn’t hurt. And it felt like you should do due diligence. There’s one video of Wozniak from 1985 or something giving a tour of the Apple museum at their headquarters, and that was something I watched a lot because it was one of the only videos of him from that time and I thought it was very interesting.

What was it like working with Danny Boyle?

It was amazing. He’s incredible. I’ve been a big fan for years and years. It was impressive to watch, and I think after watching the finished product, he had a lot of things going on that I and the actors and a lot of people were completely unaware of. There were plans visually that we didn’t need to know about and didn’t know about. It felt very loose on set, not as far as the dialogue, but as far as what you could do: You could move, you could get up, you could sit down. Then when you watch it it couldn’t seem more deliberate. And it honestly just looked totally different than I expected it to.

The use of different cameras for each segment was interesting, going from 16mm to 35mm to digital. Was that anything that changed things a little bit for the actors along the way?

No, we didn’t know about any of that. The Steadicam guy, Jeff, he would, like, move around you. I didn’t even know where the cameras were lots of times. They were up in the ceiling. There was a camera guy a hundred yards away with a long lens sometimes. Watching it for the first time, one of the thoughts that kept coming to my head was, “He had a camera there?” But I love him as a director. I don’t direct movies any way the way he does so I learned a lot.

This script must have just looked, on the page, visually interesting. Tons of white space with all that dialogue. What was it like as an actor to be able to spit out Aaron Sorkin’s lines?

It was. There’s a lot of it. And a lot of times it was laden with technical jargon that I really don’t understand at all. But that being said, he writes in a way that if you approach it correctly, in my opinion, it sounds incredibly natural. But, and me and Fassbender would always talk about it, if the rhythm was, like, microscopically off, the scene didn’t work at all, and not until it completely clicked into place did it function. So there’s a much bigger margin of error with Sorkin’s style. It can be perfect and when it isn’t it can be — and I can’t think of an example where I’ve seen of this, but just in the process of making the movie there’s moments where you’re like, “That could not sound more like two people saying stuff that was written for them.” And then when it clicks in it’s like, “Oh, no, it sounds like an actual conversation that people would have.”

And working opposite Fassbender, who feels absolutely possessed in this movie. What was it like having a front row seat to that?

As we were doing it I was just, like, blown away by it. It would almost take me out of it at times because of how good it was. Like something in my brain would go, “Whoa, he’s really going for it.” But that being said he’s very easy to work with. He wasn’t, like, demanding as far as his process goes. It felt like we were coming together to make it sing. But I’ve never seen an actor do something as challenging as what he did. He couldn’t hang out. Like every day he would just read the script. During rehearsals sometimes at six o’clock it was like, “Great, let’s go hang out.” And he was like, “No, I’m going to go read the script three times.” Because he had to just absorb it. He knew the entire movie backwards and forwards, which was the only way to achieve it. It was hard for me and I’m in like three scenes. So I can’t imagine what it was like for him.

Do you expect to stay close with Wozniak?

Maybe, yeah. We’re decidedly different demographically [laughs] but he’s a really interesting guy to talk to and have dinner with so I hope so.

Was he happy with the portrayal?

Yeah, he was, which is a lot of pressure. I didn’t even know he was coming to this until a few weeks ago and it made me really nervous when I heard he was. Because when you play someone who’s alive, you don’t want them to hate it, so the fact that he’s here means he didn’t, so that was flattering.

And finally, when you saw the film for the first time, what was something about it that struck you, that you didn’t anticipate in the process of reading it and performing it?

I was really impressed with the pace of it, honestly, and the intense rhythm of it. It almost feels like you’re watching an action movie at times. I was impressed that it had so much energy, and that’s a hard thing to achieve. You know, there are action movies that don’t have energy. So if it’s hard to make a movie with car chases exciting, it’s even harder to make a movie with people walking around a theater saying things to each other exciting. It’s like a heart-pounding experience at times, and that is not something you generally get from a movie that is about people building computers.

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