The Steve Jobs That Sony Didn't Want Is Now an Oscar Favorite

  • DiCaprio, Bale were top picks to play Apple co-founder
  • Film is projected to make $92 million in U.S. and Canada

Michael Fassbender wasn’t Hollywood’s first choice to play Steve Jobs in the new movie about his life. Nor the second, for that matter. Sony Corp. would even go on to sell the project to Universal Pictures after Leonardo DiCaprio and Christian Bale passed on the role.

So it’s a bit surprising that even before the film opens in some U.S. theaters on Oct. 9, some gambling touts have made Fassbender, 38, the early favorite to win an Oscar for best actor.

Fassbender in "Steve Jobs"
Fassbender in "Steve Jobs"
Source: Universal Pictures

His portrayal of the Apple Inc. co-founder has garnered plaudits despite some concern from critics and movie fans that the half-German, half-Irish red-head doesn’t look like Jobs, who was of Syrian descent. Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin initially backed Tom Cruise as an alternative, partly because he felt Fassbender wasn’t famous enough.

“I don’t know who Michael Fassbender is, and the rest of the world isn’t going to care. This is insane,” he wrote to Amy Pascal, then Sony Pictures Entertainment co-chairman, in a Nov. 3, 2014, e-mail posted on the Internet after a massive hack of Sony’s computers. In a subsequent exchange, Sorkin folded: “F--- it. He’s a great actor whose time has come,” he wrote.

Can’t Fake

Sorkin, who won an Oscar for the screenplay of “The Social Network,” declined to comment on the content of his messages. But in response to e-mailed questions, he said “the test was, ‘Could this actor play the part on stage for two hours?’ There are some things an actor can’t fake, and two of them are brains and charm. Michael has a great deal of both.”

“Steve Jobs,” which premiered Sept. 5 at the Telluride, Colorado, film festival, focuses on the introduction of three computers: the Macintosh in 1984, NeXT in 1988 and iMac in 1998. Early reviews of Fassbender’s performance have been mostly positive, even though it’s generated criticism on some fan message boards, including a “Terrible Casting” thread on IMBD.com. The film opens in nine locations in Los Angeles and New York this coming weekend, then expands into wide U.S. release Oct. 23.

As of Oct. 4, Fassbender was first on awards tracker GoldDerby’s best-actor Oscar prediction list with odds of 12-5. DiCaprio was No. 2 at 9-2 for “The Revenant,” scheduled for release starting Dec. 25. Eddie Redmayne, last year’s winner, was No. 3 at 5-1 for “The Danish Girl.” Bookmaker Paddy Power Plc had Fassbender at No. 2, with odds just over 2-1, behind DiCaprio at 13-8.

Fassbender as Bobby Sands in "Hunger"
Fassbender as Bobby Sands in "Hunger"
Source: Icon Film Distribution

Born in Germany and raised in Ireland, Fassbender played Irish Republican Army member Bobby Sands -- his breakout role -- in “Hunger,” directed by Steve McQueen in 2008. He earned an Oscar nomination as a cruel cotton farmer in “12 Years a Slave” and a Golden Globe nomination as a sex-addict in “Shame.” He’s Magneto in the “X-Men” movies, an android in “Prometheus” and the cursed king in “Macbeth,” which opens later this year.

Despite his range and experience, some of the filmmakers felt hiring him was a risk, based on the leaked e-mails, which describe the twists and turns of the film’s development.

DiCaprio was initially in talks for the role. After he dropped out, interest shifted to Bale, who also passed. Cruise, James Franco and Matthew McConaughey were discussed, according to the e-mails. Director Danny Boyle wanted Fassbender, but faced opposition from Sorkin as well as Pascal, who had concerns about finding financial backers with a less well-known star.

“I think Danny needs to rethink how he wants to do the movie,” Pascal wrote in a Nov. 13, 2014, e-mail to producer Scott Rudin. “We are not gonna get anyone to help us out here at this cost with this cast.” Representatives for Rudin, Pascal and Fassbender declined to comment and didn’t make them available for questions. Sony and Universal also declined to comment.

Family members and associates of Jobs opposed the film because they didn’t like how he’s portrayed. His widow, Laurene Powell Jobs, tried to stop the picture from getting made, the Wall Street Journal reported on Oct. 4. Hacked Sony e-mails refer to her opposition and suggest she tried to dissuade actors from taking roles in the movie.

Powell Jobs declined to comment, according to a spokesman, as did Sony.

Sony finally dropped the project, and Comcast Corp.’s Universal unit ultimately took over. Boxoffice.com predicts the film will make $92 million in the U.S. and Canada. That would more than cover the production budget, which Box Office Mojo estimates at $30 million.

Fassbender’s work impressed one viewer with special knowledge of his role: Apple’s other co-founder, Steve Wozniak, who consulted with Sorkin before the script was written and met the cast. The actor “did an incredible job in my mind of creating the ‘character’ of the movie,” Wozniak said in an e-mailed response to questions.

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