How Aaron Sorkin Designed Steve Jobs

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Photo: Kevin Scanlon/ The New York Times/Redux
How Aaron Sorkin Designed
‘Steve Jobs’
The Oscar-winning screenwriter on reinventing the biopic, and the bad sex scene that helped him identify with the Apple founder.
Photograph by Kevin Scanlon/ The New York Times/Redux

Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs opened Friday, not the first or the last or the most verisimilitudinous of posthumous movies about the Apple founder, but probably the most structurally audacious. It’s not a full-life biopic but a portrait in three acts, each a real-time behind-the-scenes sequence, set just before an iconic product launch, in which about a dozen narratives (and arguments) crash in on Jobs. Just before it opened, we sat down with Aaron Sorkin, the movie’s screenwriter (and architect), to talk about how he’d actually built the thing. (In case you haven’t seen the movie, watch out—the conversation gets pretty detailed and spoiler-y at times.)

Were you always interested in Steve Jobs?

No. No. I knew what the general public knew, but not as much as a lot of people, I found out. The fandom is incredible, including the sort of virtual fistfights that break out between people who love Apple and people who hate Apple. The hatred of Apple will also include, generally, a hatred of Steve and a hatred of millennials, hipsters, things that people associate with those products. I’m neither a millennial nor a hipster. I have all of the Apple products. Everything I’ve ever written, I’ve written on a Mac. My first computer, my roommates and I chipped in, and we got that first Macintosh — 128K. It had as much memory as a greeting card that plays music.

And I appreciate the products a lot. But I don’t have the relationship with them that other people do.

And what did you think of him personally, as a character?

The fact that I am a father of a daughter is something that made it very hard for me at the beginning. Before I met with Lisa, I couldn’t get past Steve’s treatment of his daughter. None of his accomplishments meant anything to me because of this.

Even just saying that out loud, I’m really uncomfortable judging the way somebody else was a parent. But the fact is, he denied paternity when he knew, of course, that he was the father, and even after that, he found odd ways to hurt her. I just couldn’t relate to it at all. But if you’re writing a character like this, an antihero who, in the last couple of minutes, takes a couple of steps towards becoming an actual hero, you can’t judge them. I like to write them as if they’re making their case to God as to why they should be allowed into Heaven. And to do that, I have to be able to identify with them; I have to be able to find things about them that are like me, and that I would want to be able to defend.

How?

Here’s how I was able to relate it to myself. I’ve often thought that I would be better off — and this changed when I became a father, so my fatherhood notwithstanding — I’ve often thought that I’d be better off alone in a room, writing pages, slipping those pages under the door, and someone would slip a tray of food back the other way. That if people only knew what I wrote and didn’t know me, then I wouldn’t get called a crack addict, there wouldn’t be this sort of ridiculous fictional version of me that lives on the internet, where I punched people and yelled at people — I’m not able to recognize myself when I read these things. But I would just be seen as an affable guy. If you write Jed Bartlet and the other characters I write, that seems like he’d be a nice guy who’s doing that.

My favorite line in the movie is when Woz says to Steve, “Your products are better than you are, brother.”

And he says, ‘That’s the idea, brother.” Exactly. I thought to myself, I think Steve feels the same way, but even more intensely. I think that Steve’s adoption affected him — he thought of himself as irreparably damaged. “I’m poorly made,” he says to Lisa. Unworthy of being loved. But he had a brilliance — not only a technological brilliance, which allowed him to say to Sculley, “Forget about the stylus, that’s not what’s next; touch-screen technology is what’s next.”

“Before I knew what I wanted to do, I knew what I didn’t want to do, and that was write a biopic.”

But also an ability to make these products likable for people to have an emotional response to them. He’d talk about the experience of opening the box. Joanna makes fun of everybody needing rectangles with rounded corners. Rectangles with rounded corners is incredibly important to Steve, for reasons that Steve understands. Why was it important for the computer to say hello in the first act? Because, as he points out, it needs to be friendly — Hollywood’s made it scary, and we need to make it friendly. Look, the slot is like a goofy grin on a friendly face.

My point is that Steve could make these products and make them likable, slip them under the door, and people would slip back a tray of food. It worked. He was right. That cult of Apple, this love for Steve — when he died, I was overwhelmed by the eulogizing, which I hadn’t seen since John Lennon. I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t really understand it, even though I was asked to eulogize him for Time magazine and accepted. But I thought, There’s something I’m not getting here, but plainly I should — I’ve missed something.

Did you ever meet him?

My only interaction with Steve was three phone calls — he called me three times. He called me once to tell me he liked something I’d written. The second time he asked me to come and tour Pixar, to see if I’d write a Pixar movie. And the third, to ask for help with his Stanford commencement speech. To me, he was a very nice guy, very pleasant.

But, back to business. He was able to give these products a personality that people loved. And if you stood in the way — if you stood in between Steve and that goal, if you tried to stop him from having rounded corners on the rectangles or spending so much memory on fonts, or that kind of thing — he’d cut you to ribbons. If you were a B-player, he’d cut you to ribbons. It wasn’t that you were threatening the bottom line of Apple, you were threatening something much more personal, much more serious, to him.

And you related to that, too?

I’ll give you another example. Very early on in my career, I wrote a movie I’m not terribly proud of. It’s called Malice, with Alec Baldwin and Nicole Kidman. I was actually the second and the fourth writer on that movie.

We had a week or two of rehearsal before shooting, when the director decided there needed to be a sex scene between Alec and Nicole somewhere in the second act. I went back to the hotel and wrote a four-page scene of sexy banter that ended with, “And they fall into bed, as we cut to the next morning, the quad on campus.” Harold [Becker, the director] read the script and went, “No, no no — they have to get naked and have sex.” You have to write that. [Reached for comment, Becker said, “I don’t recollect asking Aaron to amend the love scene between Nicole and Alec as it was integral to the plot of the film.”]

“And I said, ‘Boy, Harold, I’ll be honest, I’ve never really done that. I’m as big a fan of sex as anybody, but I’m not quite sure how to do this.’ And I’ll never forget, Harold said, ‘Just look at Nicole. Just write what you’d like to see her do.’” And I said, ‘I’m not going to write that down!’ First of all, I’d just done a movie [A Few Good Men] with her husband. I can’t write down what I’d like to see Nicole do and then have Nicole do it and watch her do it for me.

In the end, everybody got together in Harold’s trailer, and they just choreographed what the sex scene would be — Nicole unbuttons his belt and unzips his pants, that kind of thing.  When this was shooting, I excused myself from the set. And I can’t emphasize this enough — huge fan of sex, in any combination you want. But for some reason it’s difficult for me to write, and Nicole had become a friend of mine, and I just felt wrong on the set, watching her take her clothes off.

So I didn’t see it until I saw the first cut of the movie. The zipping and everything happens. And Alec says, “I’m going to take you upstairs and fuck you now.” And I was mortified — not necessarily because it was the wrong line in the scene. I was just mortified that anyone in the audience would think that was something that I think is cool to say. I really felt it reflecting on me, even though this was at a point where even fewer people gave a shit about who I was than now. But even so, I didn’t want strangers thinking that was sexy, or charming — really anything but boorish.

And so I get it. For me, that’s a way to identify with Steve — somebody messing with one of his products. Steve would think, I don’t want people thinking I think it’s artistically beautiful to have this instead of that.

It’s interesting to hear you talking about a movie you weren’t particularly proud of, because in this movie, Steve Jobs, there’s a lot of failure, too. It could have easily been a much more positive portrait. But really it’s pretty measured in it assessment of him as a visionary.

You know what — yes. He got it wrong about the original Mac. Sculley tells him, our research doesn’t show people think the price is too high, our research shows us they don’t think it does anything. 

Was it important to you to portray him as someone who had stumbled?

Yes, someone who had stumbled. But he only stumbled bottom-line-wise. The Macintosh was what Steve wanted it to be. It’s just that people didn’t buy it.

The movie is structured in a very unusual way — three acts, each unfolding backstage in real time, just before particular product-launch events. Did you always know you wanted to build the movie that way?

I can tell you that before I knew what I wanted to do, I knew what I didn’t want to do, and that was write a biopic.  There’ve been some great biopics. But that structure is so familiar to us that it’s been lampooned in other movies — Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. It’s just not what I wanted to do here.

But I didn’t know what I wanted to do instead. With The Social Network, there was, at the center of it, a lawsuit that I was interested in. Steve Jobs has been involved in plenty of lawsuits, and I could’ve centered this around the antitrust suit or something.

“I’ve just compared myself to a cute puppy. But that’s a reasonable comparison, OK?”

You did have Walter Isaacson’s biography.

Walter’s book — it’s comprehensive, he is a well-credentialed journalist, and he was given complete access by Steve. Walter’s book was an excellent piece of journalism.

But this movie and Walter’s book — this movie couldn’t have lived without Walter’s book, but they are two different animals.

I spent about a year meeting with and spending time with people who knew Steve very well, people who were very close to Steve — all the real people who were represented by characters in the movie, with the exception of Steve, who’d passed away by the time I’d started, and a few dozen others.

Where I was lucky is that Lisa Jobs wasn’t willing to speak to Walter — her father was alive at the time, and she didn’t want to participate — but she was willing to speak to me.

Same with [former Apple CEO] John Sculley, who really hasn’t spoken to anybody since he left Apple around 1986, but, again, was willing to talk to me. Not because I’m special but because he recently remarried, to a wonderful woman named Diane, who felt it was time he come out of hiding and tell his version of the story. As the character says in the movie, “The story of how and why you left Apple, which is quickly becoming mythologized, is not true.” That’s something that John wanted to say, and Diane helped him say.

Somewhere in the middle of this, I found out that at the Mac launch in 1984, they couldn’t get the computer to say hello. That something had gone wrong, that it would’ve been easy enough to cut the voice-demo part of it — it’s 15 seconds out of a two-hour launch — but that Steve insisted that this computer be the first computer to introduce himself. It was incredibly important to him that it say hello. I liked that as a metaphor, first of all, but also, suddenly, I began clinging to the way of writing that I am comfortable with, which is more as a playwright than a screenwriter or a television writer. I’ve been faking my way through movies and television, relying on directors who are able to add visual interest to the stuff that I write. (The walk-and-talk, for instance: It’s not me, it’s [West Wing director] Tom Schlamme — he said, “Instead of having these characters in one room for 11 pages, can’t they go and get a cup of coffee while they’re talking, or go to the Xerox machine?”)

Because I like claustrophobic spaces, compressed periods of time, especially if there’s a ticking clock, and I love behind the scenes — in this case, literally behind the scenes, at places like Symphony Hall in San Francisco — I thought, Okay, what if getting the computer to say hello was the first act? That was the intention — this would take place in the moments leading up to this product launch, backstage, they have to get this computer to say hello.

The “hello” part is almost a red herring, though.

In doing my first-person research, points of friction began to make themselves apparent. With, obviously, Lisa, with John Sculley, with [Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak], with [Macintosh co-creator] Andy Hertzfeld and [Macintosh team member] Joanna Hoffman. Can I begin to dramatize those points of friction during a third of a movie, where the intention is to get the computer to say hello?

I knew that the second and third acts would have to be at presentations, too: I wanted the entire movie to be three scenes that were all in real time, all taking place backstage in the moments leading up to a product launch.

What was it about those product launches — which play a critical role in the movie but aren't themselves shown?

Steve loved stagecraft and put a lot of time, money, and effort into his product launches. It’s probably because of Steve that CEOs can longer just stand at a podium when speaking at their annual stockholders meetings, etc. As for why the launches themselves weren’t included — in a screenplay you don’t need a reason not to show something, you need a reason to show it. As interesting and entertaining as the launches were, there wasn’t any tension out on stage. The tension was behind the scenes.

Was that an easy sell to the studio?

I’d never before, when I’d signed on to do a movie, auditioned my idea for the studio. I just give them the script. But with this, it was so different from what I imagined they were expecting that I had to tell them, beforehand, that this was what I planned to do.

As a matter of fact, I didn’t even do that — I just assumed that I wasn’t going to be allowed to do it. I sent an email to Scott Rudin, one of the producers — Scott’s become my closest collaborator and script editor, and he also is as great a Hollywood producer, he’s also a great theater producer. And that means a lot to me.  In my email I said, “Listen, if I were the mayor of show business, here’s what I’d do.” And I explained to him the three-act structure and said, “So can you help me translate what it is I really want to do into what it is I can do?” And he wrote back and said, “No, do exactly that, that’s a great idea.” I’m sure there’s someone at Apple who could retrieve that email — it was like two computers ago.

What did you love about the idea?

The real time of it, and the claustrophobia, was really important. Once you take away the four walls, it’s strange, something bad happens to me. I don’t know how to do it. I don’t know how to bring people into the scene, and I don’t know how to get them to exit the scene. It’s almost like when you get a new puppy, they give you a crate that’s just big enough for the puppy to turn around in but no bigger, because the puppy really likes the sense of security there. I’ve just compared myself to a cute puppy. But that’s a reasonable comparison, okay?

But these scenes have like 50 puppies — they’re just stuffed with action.

Yes. In that email, I made it clear — the first act isn’t going to be about fixing the computer and getting it to say hello. That’s just the reason we’re backstage. I knew the first launch should be the Mac, which was the first machine that he felt complete ownership of. And a machine that would fail. And with Lisa being 5 years old, he was still not claiming paternity of her. And this would be just days after the Time magazine cover came out that did not have him as Man of the Year, but instead had a computer as a machine of the year. It would be 48 hours after the 1984 ad ran in the Super Bowl — there was a lot of food out there on the table. Scott must’ve forwarded my email to Amy Pascal. Two minutes later I got an email from Amy saying, “This is a great idea, you should do this.”

Maybe this is the right time to say that it was Amy Pascal, who has taken more undeserved punches than anyone should ever have to — it was Amy who set up the movie, who hired me to write it, who approved of this very unusual and not-particularly-commercial-sounding idea. I’m just sorry that she’s not around for the birthday cake. She deserves it.

You probably also know from the Sony hack that I objected to Michael Fassbender at first. Which is the last thing you want, just on a personal level. I felt terrible, I had a long talk with him, a few long talks about it, trying to get him to understand, when I wrote that email, I was the last guy in the world at that point who wasn’t familiar with his work. Hadn’t seen 12 Years a Slave Yet, hadn’t seen Shame. I had the studio send a Michael Fassbender package right away. My point is, I thank my lucky stars every night that it turned out to be him.

He’s incredible. But let’s go back to your idea to do the movie in those three acts — behind the scenes, before product launches.

So that idea was approved. Great. Now I have the box that I feel comfortable in, but I don’t have the puppies. There’s plainly not going to be a eureka scene, where they discover what the key was to the Macintosh or the iPod, and it also doesn’t seem to me that he’s going to die. So I don’t know what the ending is going to be. So I got myself a structure but have sort of now invalidated a lot of material.

Including heroic moments.

That’s right. Generally in a biopic, toward the end of a second act, there will be a bad moment, and that moment will almost always be drugs and alcohol. If it’s about a musician, it’s absolutely about drugs and alcohol — I can’t think of one that isn’t. But you’re right, that’s something that I was thinking of, too: I’m taking away those good moments. I want to make sure that this isn’t just Steve yelling at people, “Fix the computer, dammit!” that kind of thing.

But I had Lisa. I’m sorry to talk about her like a commodity — I had her story. Lisa is a remarkable woman. She’s 37 now, and I was really struck by how cool she was — how nice she was. There didn’t seem to be any anger, any hostility, any damage from her childhood. And what was particularly important was,she would tell me a story about her father, and even if it wasn’t a particularly flattering story, she could turn it like a prism and say, “You could tell he really loved me.”

I really liked that. I couldn’t get past how Steve was to Lisa. Lisa helped me get past it.

“At some point, you have to stop being clinical and academic and checking with Aristotle’s poetics to make sure, and you just got to let it fly.”

Has she seen the movie? Does she know how much the movie is built around the story of her relationship with her father?

Once we had a rough cut, we offered to show it to her, but she declined, and I don’t blame her a bit. It’s got to be really strange — not just to see yourself, to see your father, see your mother.

What she knows is what I’ve told her and what she’s been able to read in the press — that she’s the emotional center of the movie. She never asked who would play her — there wasn’t any vanity there at all. But she did send me an email saying, “I just hope I’m not weak in the movie.” I explained to her that we see her at 5, 9, and 19, and that at no point is she weak.

Especially that speech she gives to Steve toward the end of the movie, criticizing “Think Different” for its grammar and her dad for being such a bad father.

I sent her the speech. She wrote back saying, “Oh my God, I’d give anything to have said that. I said something like that about three years later, when I was 22, but not quite.” I said, “Look — I get to rewrite and polish, I get to think about these things. Nobody ever gets it right the first time.”

In the final scene, Lisa, she asks Steve why he pretended that the computer wasn’t named after her all those years. He says, “I honestly don’t know.” I told Michael [Fassbender] that that’s the most honest thing you’ve ever said in your life. It’s not a blow-off. You’re not shrugging her off there. You’re confessing to her. There’s something I don’t know — there’s this thing about me I don’t know.

But you have her responding, essentially, “That’s not enough.”

She says, “That’s a child’s answer. To which Steve says, “I’m poorly made.”

But to you, ‘I don’t know” is the more important line?

“I’m poorly made” is the most important line. But that still has a flourish of poetry to it, you know what I mean? “I honestly don’t know” is just stripped bare of any poetry, any pizzazz. It’s just a bare confession.

And there’s none of the combative or argumentative affectation we’ve seen from him earlier in the movie.

There isn’t. Danny [Boyle] felt that the more verbose Steve was, the less raw and honest it would feel. So we denuded that scene a little bit. And even in the one moment you see him all by himself, after the third-act scene with Hertzfeld, that really shakes him up — you know, that Andy said Lisa should go see a therapist because she needs a strong male role model, all that. He’s alone by himself, and he just starts, to himself, kind of practicing part of the speech about a 500 MHz intel processor. He’s still covering — it’s not working well, but he’s still covering.

That played on the scene less as a rehearsal than as a mantra.

That’s exactly what it is. “If I just hold onto the boat here, I’ll be fine.”

I wanted to ask about the long second-act scene with Steve and Sculley, too, when Sculley surprises Steve and confronts him. It’s an extremely complicated scene, unfolding both in real time and in flashback, in which the real time is an argument about the meaning of the flashback, among other things.

We’re all very proud of that second-act scene, which is something [that] I think represents the very best of collaboration. I wrote a pretty good scene. Michael and Jeff [Daniels] were outstanding. Danny shot it beautifully. Elliot Graham, our editor, was the one that made it seem like a prison break — a bank robbery. He had the special sauce.

But you wrote it as cutting back and forth. What does building a scene that way do for you as a screenwriter?

Well, to begin with, it’s exciting for me. It’s a bit of a high-wire act. If you fail, which is pretty easy to do, you’re going to fail big. It’s not going to be a quiet failure, you’re not going to get past it fast. I can tell you that very early on, in early cuts, when it was just a little bit less good than it is now, it didn’t work at all. But we knew it was going to — everyone knew, you had to turn a screw here, that kind of thing.

There are so many arguments going on in that scene at once. The Mac and its fate, the 1984 ad, the importance of showing the product, open computing, loyalty, and even manhood.

It’s a lot.

It’s basically the whole movie, aside from Lisa.

If I were allowed to go on the Today show and show an eight-minute clip instead of a 30-second clip, that would be the one. And it comes from John Sculley — the real John Sculley. He’s a New Englander, he’s in his 70s, he’s been beaten up, he’s considered by the cult of Mac people to be an enemy, to be a bad guy, stupid.

That scene came from a long email that Sculley wrote to me explaining what really happened, taking me through the whole thing. “We were best friends, we finished each other’s sentences. And then the Mac didn’t sell. And our research was telling us …” He took me through the whole thing. And it became clear to me that unless Sculley was just lying, which he wasn’t, that Sculley did everything he could to have the disaster of Steve leaving not happen. And as he says in the movie, “I showed you my cards. I told you exactly what was going to happen, which is exactly what happened, unanimously, and you did it anyway. You ran into the sword.” Everything was in his email, which was more than just a bullet-point tick-tock of what went on. There was this unemotional businessman [who] was plainly still reeling from something that had happened 30 years ago.

Could you have written that scene without overlaying those two sequences, or did they depend on being folded into one another?

If you were my writing instructor, and you gave me an exercise — now do it without the cross-cutting — I think I could get a B+/A- on that. But just musically, it was time. If you look at a symphony, at an opera, at a ballet, at an extended piece of music, it goes through stages. There’s an allegro, a finale ultimo, a solo, a duet, a trio, an aria. At a rock concert, the way they format their playlist, it’s going to have highs and lows, gain speed and slow down, and somewhere in there is going to be a drum solo.

Drum solos are incredibly impressive — terrible to listen to, but incredibly impressive. When it comes to a line of dialogue, a couplet, a scene, a speech, or an entire act — I care as much about what it sounds like as what it means. I don’t care more about what it sounds like than what it means, but I care as much. And musically, it was time for that energy, that crescendo.

What are the sounds you’re going for?

This doesn’t have to do with sound, but before you can do anything, if you’re talking about a confrontational scene, two people have to disagree about something. It could be about the correct time of day, but it has to be about something. Hopefully it’s about something more interesting than the correct time of day, and hopefully both of them are right. When you can do that, you now have the ingredients to get to work.

“It isn’t even really about technology. And the parts that are about technology, I don’t understand.”

I’d say, more than in anything else you’ve written, the arguments in this movie are genuinely balanced.

I know. And I know that you’re trying to find a nice way of saying I set up straw men.

I wouldn’t say that, actually, but I do wonder how you go about writing an argument that has that much dramatic force and is genuinely also balanced-seeming.

So you have a goal for the scene — by the end of the scene, here’s what we’re going to know that we didn’t know at the beginning of the scene. You have the intention and obstacle — this scene happens because Sculley wants Steve to please help correct the record on the circumstances under which he left Apple, because Sculley’s getting killed out there. Literally, his kids are getting death threats at school because people think he killed Steve Jobs. The obstacle is Steve, who is kind of enjoying this. And has four years worth of built-up anger at Sculley to deal with. And part of that anger and ammunition that he’s going to fire is new information that we haven’t heard before. Last time we saw them, it was the two of them against the board when it came to the 1984 Ridley Scott ad. Well, it turns out, at least Steve believes — and this is one of those things where I don’t want to accuse anyone of lying, but Lee Cloud says that Sculley tried to kill the ad; Sculley says that he’s the only reason the ad ever made it on the air. I wanted both of those arguments.

They could both be true.

They could be. Yes. So you have the ingredients of this conflict, and at some point, you have to stop being clinical and academic and checking with Aristotle’s poetics to make sure, and you just got to let it fly. You know when you’re there, when you’ve got everything ready and you’re in the right mood. You’ve got energy. You’ve eaten, exercised. Nobody’s around — I can’t write if there’s someone else in the house, even in another room with the door closed. Because I’m talking out loud as I’m writing — I’m performing all the parts, I’m jumping around, smoking. At some point, when you’re ready, you just gotta start having this argument with yourself.

A lot of that, for me, the getting-ready part, happens when I’m driving. I’ll have music on, in my car, I’ll try to get on a freeway, some place where I don’t have to worry about where to turn, just stay in my lane.

The movie gets a lot of energy out of switching lanes, so to speak — especially in the first act, Steve is conducting arguments with a bunch of people at once, and keeps stepping out of one argument, sometimes in the middle of it, into another. What effect does that have?

I wanted every time he was having an argument with somebody, I wanted there to be grass stains on his shirt from the argument that he’d just had with this person, and the argument he’d had with the person before that. I wanted him getting beaten as he went from thing to thing. It’s more interesting — the more you can put your character through, the better it is for everyone.

Also, with each new argument, he didn’t have to start from a standing jump — his engine was already running pretty hot, so the character had to check himself. He’s just had this thing, and now Woz is saying, “Hey, can you mention the Apple II team at the launch?” And instead of saying, “Woz, just get the fuck out of my face, would ya?” Now he’s got work to do. “Woz, man, you know how much I love you, but that I cannot do,” that kind of thing. It’s just compression. You want compression.

We did a bunch of panels — that’s what you do now, in this period, a panel for SAG, a panel for Writer’s Guild. I like that — people in the audience ask very interesting questions, and I like that kind of discussion. And someone at one of the panels suggested, have you ever thought about writing this all over again from a different character’s point of view? Like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Make Steve Jobs a minor character in this, but every time someone walks out of a door, if someone was in a scene with Steve and they walk out of the door, follow that person instead of being with Steve. Well, no, I hadn’t thought of it, because I just finished writing this. But you could do that. I think you could write a drama about any of those characters, including the fictional composite character Carl Pforzheimer from GQ, whom we hardly ever see. Tom Stoppard showed us, with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, that any of these characters can be elevated. In this movie, it’s Steve Jobs.

When did you figure out where the movie would land?

From the beginning, ever since I knew that nothing else was going to matter to me if I couldn’t get past the manner in which Steve was a father. Even just saying that out loud — I’m really uncomfortable judging the way somebody else was a parent. But the fact is he denied paternity when he knew, of course, that he was the father. And even after that, he found odd ways to hurt her. How in the world do I write about the iPad and the iPhone when this is in the way? And then, once I was able to get past that, then I knew that it’s not like you can resolve the Lisa thing and then have some kind of resolution to Steve and Woz. Parents and children are the most important thing there is.

It’s also the most human part of him, and I wasn’t writing about a machine. It wasn’t an origin story, an invention story.

Not really even about technology.

It isn’t even really about technology. And the parts that are about technology, I don’t understand. I don’t understand what any of that means.

*A version of this article appears in the October 19, 2015 issue of New York Magazine.