The man and the ghost

Jeff Daniels on Steve Jobs and the fall of an international marketing rock star.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Danny Boyle, Jeff Daniels and Aaron Sorkin
Danny Boyle, Jeff Daniels and Aaron Sorkin Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Jeff Daniels, in the second act of a three act Shakespearean conversation on Steve Jobs, calls his character John Sculley at the start, "an international marketing rock star." He discussed working with Michael Fassbender, knowing Aaron Sorkin scripts from Newsroom, being a shadow, and loving Woody Allen's The Purple Rose Of Cairo, opposite Mia Farrow.

The opening act was Aaron Sorkin, who adapted Walter Isaacson's biography, Steve Jobs, for the big screen. The third act will be director Danny Boyle on Alan Turing, John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Benedict Cumberbatch, costume designer Suttirat Larlarb dressing Kate Winslet, influenced by Phil Oakey's The Human League girls, Fassbender becoming Jobs and the revenge of the calla lilies.

Jeff Daniels as John Sculley:
Jeff Daniels as John Sculley: "Aaron wrote with Sculley this Shakespearean fall …"

Jeff Daniels had two films at this year's New York Film Festival - The sneak preview of Ridley Scott's The Martian starring Matt Damon, and Steve Jobs, where he portrays Apple CEO John Sculley who goes through a big transformation. At the Universal Pictures' brunch, in The Vault of the St. Regis, Daniels revealed how Sculley appears to him.

Anne-Katrin Titze: Sculley to me at times seemed ghost-like. As if he were not entirely of this world. Was that a sense of him you got, or not at all [as screenwriter Aaron Sorkin insists]?

Jeff Daniels: Certainly near the end, he is a shadow of his former self. Aaron wrote with Sculley this Shakespearean fall where the guy starts out with Jobs in a great relationship. Sculley is an international marketing rock star with Pepsi - and now he's with Jobs. That's how it starts. He is powerful, he is confident, he is successful. In the middle, there's the big confrontation and the blowout and his career gets ruined.

And then at the end, when he comes back to see Steve - a scene which never happened, by the way, they never reconciled - he comes back and the whole trick to him was to play him like now all he is, is a guy who spends the day walking his dog. That's all he did. He is no longer what he used to be at the front of the movie. So he is less. That's what John went through. John's doing terrific now.

AKT: You met with him?

JD: Yeah. There was a price that he paid and it took a long time for him to come back from that.

Jeff Daniels in Woody Allen's The Purple Rose Of Cairo:
Jeff Daniels in Woody Allen's The Purple Rose Of Cairo: "I love that movie!"

AKT: So Steve Jobs made him a ghost of himself?

JD: He was no longer what he used to be. And he had to recover from that. If that's the ghost, it's certainly what he felt like.

AKT: You have a great scene with Jobs about adoption. It all comes back to the fatherlessness. You mentioned Shakespeare - these are grand themes.

JD: Well, the father/son thing that Shakespeare did so well. It's a universal theme throughout centuries. He [Sculley] was trying to figure Steve out. Even towards the end, the adoption, you know. "You weren't rejected, you were selected." He was trying to figure out this very very complicated, complex person. I don't think he ever did.

AKT: Did you enjoy working with Michael Fassbender?

JD: Oh, sure! Michael worked real hard, which is what you have to do on an Aaron Sorkin script. Having done Newsroom for three years, you just have to spend a lot of time with that script to get those lines in your head so that you can get on top of the lines and perform it. There's a lot more work before you can perform it. And Michael had the big load on this movie. He worked his tail off. When he shows up ready, it makes for great scenes. A wonderful working relationship.

AKT: Do people still come up to you and bring up The Purple Rose of Cairo as the first thing?

JD: I love that movie!

AKT: So do I.

JD: I loved working with Woody. My god, it's one of those movies…

AKT: You were great in that. Another ghost.

JD: Yeah, another ghost. That movie will outlive me. And I'm very, very proud of that.

Now I have had my Purple Rose Of Cairo moment.

Read what Aaron Sorkin had to say about Steve Jobs and coming up, director Danny Boyle's take.

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