Home >industry >Oscar favourite Steve Jobs is one that Sony didn’t want

Los Angeles: 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 US theaters on 9 October, some gambling touts have made Fassbender, 38, the early favourite to win an Oscar for best actor.

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 3 November 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 on 5 September 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 US release on 23 October.

As of 4 October, Fassbender was first on awards tracker GoldDerby’s best-actor Oscar prediction list with odds of 12-5. DiCaprio was second at 9-2 for The Revenant, scheduled for release starting on 25 December. Eddie Redmayne, last year’s winner, was at third at 5-1 for The Danish Girl. Book maker Paddy Power Plc had Fassbender at second, with odds just over 2-1, behind DiCaprio at 13-8.

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 13 November 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.

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 US 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. Bloomberg

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