Even in a cast that includes such heavyweight performers as Michael Fassbender, Jeff Daniels, and Kate Winslet, Michael Stuhlbarg stands out in Steve Jobs as Andy Hertzfeld, a key member of the late Apple CEO’s original Apple Macintosh development team. We recently chatted with the acclaimed actor, who broke through in the title role of the Coen Brothers’ A Serious Man, about director Danny Boyle and writer Aaron Sorkin‘s masterful biopic, about his roles in this year’s Pawn Sacrifice and Trumbo, and about his next films…
Nerdist: Within Steve Jobs’ tight three-act format, your character comes alive as much as Jobs himself. How would you describe the role of Andy Hertzfeld in Jobs’ world?
Michael Stuhlbarg: I think Aaron did a remarkable job of plucking Andy out of Jobs’ story, to perhaps reflect back on Steve a sense of maybe some things that were missing in Steve’s life. Andy, just by nature, is one of these straight shooters. A very moral guy, kind of an open book. Along with being brilliant and one of the original members of the Macintosh team, he has a really generous spirit. To see those two characters juxtaposed against each other shows an interesting dynamic of how gifted people might function differently in the world. And also to get to see over the course of time how they change, and how Andy, regardless of how he’s treated, still maintains a friendship with Steve over the course of time. Enough to want to show up and cheer him on. It says a lot about his character, and also that he cares about Steve. Yeah, I find it moving, and I find it a lovely thing on Andy’s part.
N: Did you have a chance to meet the real Hertzfeld?
MS: I got to meet Andy, and he sort of opened his life to me. He showed me Palo Alto and we had food together and I met his wife and saw his home. We talked a lot about his experiences, and I just tried to absorb as much about him as I could. I think in regards to his relationship with Steve… Andy is a brilliant guy, and loves Steve with all his heart. I think he would have loved to work with him even longer. But the circumstances just weren’t right for him.
N: How did you and Michael Fassbender prepare for your scenes together?
MS: We were really lucky to have had the opportunity in this occasion to rehearse for two weeks before each of the three sections of the screenplay. We would rehearse for two weeks, we would shoot for two weeks, we would take some time off in between, and we would do the same thing for each portion. So along with reading as much as I could about Andy, several of the real folks came in besides Andy — Joanna Hoffman and John Sculley and Steve Wozniak all came in and spoke with us — so we had the advent of being around the real people and feeling their spirit, in talking to them about what Steve was like, what their relationship was like, and how they felt about each other. During the course of our time rehearsing and prepping we developed our own kind of chemistry among us all. We were thrilled to tell the story with Aaron’s great dialogue, and having Danny there to guide us throughout the whole process was a dream.
N: Do you have you a favorite moment in the film?
MS: I love Seth Rogen’s line in which he talks about how you can be both a genius and decent at the same time. That they don’t have to be exclusive of each other. That had a lot of resonance for me in my life, in terms of how I want to go about pursuing a career in this business. In whatever pursuit it is that I’m after, I’m always trying to remember that kindness goes a long, long way. I think that’s something that people will definitely take out of this film as well.
N: You have another film out right now, Pawn Sacrifice…
MS: Yes, it’s about the 1972 chess championship between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky. I play Paul Marshall. We shot it in Montreal, and it was a great story of a very peculiar man, another genius who’s troubled and lived an interesting life. I had great fun making that.
N: You also have Trumbo, with Bryan Cranston as the famously blacklisted writer…
MS: It’s about the communist screenwriter Dalton Trumbo. I play Edward G. Robinson, who was a close friend and a co-worker of Dalton’s. They worked together on at least one or two screenplays. A lot of these stories take famous people and show you who they are behind the scenes, which is kind of fun. One of the things about getting to play Edward G. Robinson was learning who the man was away from his movie-star exterior. The next film I have is called Miles Ahead, which is about Miles Davis, during a five-year period in his life during which he’s struggling to figure out which direction to go musically and in his life. I play a record executive who’s there to try to get Miles to collaborate with one of my clients. I’m excited to see that. It will premiere at the New York Film Festival. And I just finished making a new film called Story of Your Life, directed by Denis Villeneuve, with Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker. Which is about aliens coming to the earth and observing us and us trying to find a way to communicate with them.
N: Was it refreshing after doing a series of true stories to be able to escape into fantasy for a change?
MS: [Laughs.] Absolutely. It’s nice to be able to challenge myself by playing real people. But at the same time it utilizes a different part of the brain to just invent new things. It was refreshing and delightful. I had a great time working with Denis and the whole group. It was a very different kind of a part than I’ve played in a while. But I had great fun; and yes, it was really nice not to have to answer to anybody about that. [Laughs.]
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Image Credits: Universal
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