Self made man

Danny Boyle on calla lilies, Eighties fashion and Steve Jobs.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Steve Jobs director Danny Boyle
Steve Jobs director Danny Boyle Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

After the opening act with screenwriter Aaron Sorkin and a follow-up with star Jeff Daniels, the third act of my Shakespearean conversation on Steve Jobs is with director Danny Boyle on Alan Turing, John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Benedict Cumberbatch, a Katharine Hepburn line, costume designer Suttirat Anne Larlarb (Sunshine, Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours, Trance) dressing Kate Winslet influenced by Phil Oakey's The Human League girls, Michael Fassbender becoming Jobs, Walter Isaacson's biography and the revenge of the calla lilies. At the New York Film Festival Centerpiece Gala event, Seth Rogen, Michael Stuhlbarg, Perla Haney-Jardine, Fassbender, Winslet, Daniels and Sorkin were brought up on stage at Alice Tully Hall where the director announced that we were seeing the "world premiere of the finished version" of his movie.

Michael Fassbender as Steve Jobs
Michael Fassbender as Steve Jobs

Kate Winslet, as Head of Marketing Joanna Hoffman, gets to wear three wildly unflattering outfits with matching hairstyles that vaguely fit the decade, a conscious choice, I am sure, by costume designer and longtime Boyle collaborator Larlarb. Joanna Hoffman is the only person to persistently stand up to Jobs and Winslet revels in her transformations.

Katherine Waterston plays ex-girlfriend Chrisann Brennan as a cipher. She does that mainly through her voice which has many shades, neutral and desperate, resigned and annoying when we don't want her to be annoying but a shining protector of her child. Steve Jobs has no problem talking about his aiding "underprivileged kids", while ignoring the one right in front of him.

The triumphant Jobs return, garbed in the famous black turtleneck and belt-free jeans - iconic images like this are sprinkled throughout and legends are partially explained. A huge photograph of computer science pioneer Alan Turing covers a wall. Turing, a great admirer of Walt Disney's Snow White, killed himself by poisoning an apple.

Katherine Waterston as Chrisann Brennan
Katherine Waterston as Chrisann Brennan

Inside The Vault of the St. Regis, Danny Boyle observed our brunch gathering of Oscar voters and came to the conclusion that certain things did not change since the 1980s.

Anne-Katrin Titze: I have three questions about details for you. The first is about the calla lilies. "The calla lilies are in bloom," as Katharine Hepburn says. How did the calla lilies in Steve Jobs come in?

Danny Boyle: Oh yeah, the calla lilies. Those were his favourite. There's a story in the book [by Walter Isaacson]. We are in New York now. Ironically, he [Jobs] comes to a hotel very like this, and he refuses to launch whichever product he's launching there until the room is filled with calla lilies. It's the middle of the night or something. I think it's Joanna Hoffman [played by Kate Winslet], or one of the amazing women who supported him, who has to find a room full of calla lilies at midnight in New York. Of course she does because it's New York. In some cultures, they are linked with revenge.

AKT: I see.

Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet) with Steve Jobs
Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet) with Steve Jobs

DB: And we had this idea that he would kind of have a secret agenda in the second part of the film, which is a revenge agenda. And everything is a clue to that. He's putting lilies around everywhere.

AKT: I mentioned the Shakespearean quality to both your writer and star earlier. Here it is again, with the revenge plot.

DB: Very much so.

AKT: The second question is about the enormous picture of Alan Turing.

DB: I'm glad you brought that up. Someone who was really important to him. That's part of the texture of the film. Those figures that he cared about to focus on were really important to him. These were key real people who broke new ground. He admits that he can't put Turing front and center because nobody would recognise who he is. There was John Lennon, Bob Dylan, because you will recognise those more pop figures.

Steve Jobs with 5-year-old Lisa (Makenzie Moss)
Steve Jobs with 5-year-old Lisa (Makenzie Moss)

That didn't stop him valuing Turing just as much. It's interesting, there is a funny story that talks to this. When we showed everybody the picture, they said, nobody will think that's Alan Turing because he doesn't look anything like Benedict Cumberbatch. It's this weird thing of should the actors be lookalikes or not? He doesn't look anything like Alan Turing, but he did a great performance.

AKT: Michael Fassbender doesn't really resemble Steve Jobs either.

DB: But he becomes him!

AKT: There is of course connected to Turing the whole foundation myth. Turing, who killed himself by poisoning an apple, loving Disney's Snow White. Jobs seems to be someone to say "print the legend," in a way.

DB: Yes, that's very true.

AKT: Somebody who cannot even admit that he is the father of his own child.

Steve Jobs with 19-year-old Lisa (Perla Haney-Jardine)
Steve Jobs with 19-year-old Lisa (Perla Haney-Jardine)

DB: A great storyteller. He told these extraordinary narratives and bewitched us with those narratives. Many of which were not inaccurate but they were certainly…

AKT: … not entirely accurate either?

DB: They excluded a lot of facts that weren't interesting to him or not the kind of story he wanted telling. His key motive is trying to launch a friendly computer. Something that's your friend. Something that's appealing and warm, unlike computers were. Yet, he was the opposite of that as a person. He was clearly aggressive and difficult and challenging. Difficult to get to know in any intimate kind of way.

When he launched a product as a CEO, he also made the idea of the CEO friendly. Because when he did the launches, he was speaking to you. He made fashionable the idea of someone speaking to you personally. He wasn't a kind of figure in the boardroom. This was a guy in jeans who is talking to you like it was your neighbour. Again, that's his storytelling.

AKT: He had to find the friendliness outside of himself because he didn't have it in him?

Seth Rogen as Steve Wozniak
Seth Rogen as Steve Wozniak

DB: Not easily. He clearly did it through the products. He put that love in the products and, as Aaron says, he wanted that love coming back at him, not personally, because he rejects it, but actually through the product, he appreciated it. And we do, we love his products in a way that we love no other products. People become obsessive about them.

AKT: My third question is about how in the three part structure, you change Kate Winslet's costumes so completely. She is wearing these outrageous things. Great work for the costume designer.

DB: Suttirat Larlarb, she was wonderful. Her and Kate had a blast going through the nightmare that is the Eighties to women's fashion.

AKT: I agree.

DB: We had all of these big crowds turn up for the big crowd days. We gave them instructions, there were people who came for free, we invited them on the internet, and said to them - you're going to dress in Eighties costumes. When men turn up in Eighties costumes, you realise, there's absolutely no difference between what men wear now and what men wore then.

Steve Jobs with Steve Wozniak
Steve Jobs with Steve Wozniak

AKT: Well, sleeves were bigger…

DB: There's hardly any difference. It's women who dictate fashion! Most of the men in this room, they are wearing stuff now that they could wear in 1988.

AKT [laughing]: Some more than others!

DB: So these women turned up with extraordinary gear on. One of the things that influenced Suttirat and Kate was… We had a band in Britain called The Human League, led by this very fashionable guy called Phil Oakey and he had two girls [Susan Ann Sulley and Joanne Catherall] who sang with him. And they based [the costumes] on The Human League girls. So anybody who knows The Human League girls will recognise Kate Winslet's outfits.

Read what Aaron Sorkin and Jeff Daniels had to say about Steve Jobs.

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