clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Original Mac Team Member Andy Hertzfeld Talks About the Hollywood 'Steve Jobs' (Q&A)

The movie "deviates from reality everywhere -- almost nothing in it is like it really happened -- but ultimately that doesn't matter that much."

Andy Hertzfeld

Director Danny Boyle and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin have created what they call an “impressionistic portrait” of one of Silicon Valley’s most iconic figures in their forthcoming film, “Steve Jobs.”

The film, which opens nationwide on Oct. 9, doesn’t attempt to faithfully recount a history of the Apple co-founder’s life. But Sorkin sought out several key figures from Jobs’s early life while developing the story, which is set backstage in the minutes before three pivotal product launches spanning his career — beginning with the 1984 introduction of the Macintosh and ending with the 1998 unveiling of the iMac.

Among those Sorkin consulted was Andy Hertzfeld, one of the original members of the Macintosh team, who chronicled the computer’s development, from skunkworks project to launch and beyond, in his book “Revolution in the Valley: The Insanely Great Story of How the Mac Was Made.” He also appears as a character in the film.

We interviewed Hertzfeld about his involvement in the project and his appraisal of the completed work.

Re/code: How did you came to be involved in the film? Did Aaron Sorkin seek you out?

Andy Hertzfeld: I was initially contacted by the producer of the movie, Scott Rudin, in September 2012, asking me if I’d be willing to meet with Aaron Sorkin to discuss my experience working with Steve. I love Aaron’s writing, so of course I agreed to cooperate, meeting with him at the Four Seasons hotel in Palo Alto and then later corresponding by email as he was working on the script.

By the way, I did not get paid for any of this — I did it because of my respect for Aaron’s work.

What did you discuss with Sorkin?

In our first meeting, Aaron told me about his three-act, behind-the-scenes-at-three-launches framework, and then asked me for any details I could remember about backstage at any of the events. He did not specifically ask about my relationship with Steve, or even hint that he was considering making me a character in the movie, but in hindsight he was obviously thinking about that.

Later, via email, he asked me how Steve would react to a specific situation, involving the speech demo failing. I pointed out that it didn’t happen in reality, and we had a lengthy discussion about artistic license, about how okay it is to diverge from reality. Basically, he convinced me it was not a documentary, so veracity is secondary to artistic considerations, and “it’s a painting, not a photograph.”

What aspects of your relationship with Steve Jobs did Sorkin seem most interested in?

Initially, he was mainly interested in what it was like at the launches, but later he asked more about what it was like interacting with Steve or how Steve would respond to a given situation. He also asked about how my relationship with Steve evolved over the years, and why he stayed friendly with me.

Did you share any stories that illuminated a certain facet of Jobs’s character at that point in his life?

As you probably know, about 10 years ago I wrote a website/book of anecdotes about developing the original Mac, called “Revolution in the Valley.” I referred to various stories in the book when I was talking with Aaron, and around the third time I mentioned it, he said “Okay, I give up” and promised to read it, although I’m not sure if he ever did.

Did you talk about others who were part of the early Mac team?

I talked about many of my friends on the original Mac teams, especially Burrell Smith, Bill Atkinson, Bud Tribble and Susan Kare.

Did you have the opportunity to meet the actor who portrays you in the film? Did you spend any time together? It must be both flattering and a little odd to see yourself portrayed by someone else — how did you find the actor’s performance?

I met with Michael Stuhlbarg three different times during the course of the film. I was incredibly lucky to get someone as talented and scrupulous as Michael to play me, and he is also one of the nicest people I’ve ever encountered. The first time I met him, I drove up to the rehearsal space in SF and spent four hours answering Michael’s questions and going over my career with him. The following week, I met with the entire cast and crew during their lunch break (except for Kate Winslet and Seth Rogen, who were not around). And then, about a month later, Michael took the train down to Palo Alto where he met my wife and saw where I lived.

I think Michael’s performance was excellent, but I am probably the worst person in the world to judge it, since I hardly get to observe myself — it feels strange to me, kind of like the first time I heard my voice played back on a tape recorder. I couldn’t help but cringe at times, especially when they apparently put him in a fat suit for the third act.

Have you seen the finished film? What are your impressions of it? Does it capture the Steve Jobs you know? What, if anything, does it get wrong?

I have seen the film, but not a finished version — it was still a work in progress when they showed it to me in August. Again, I am in a poor position to judge it, since I am too close to it and my experience with the underlying reality distracts me from appreciating it as a film.

That said, I think it’s a fine movie, brilliantly written and performed and full of humor and feeling. It deviates from reality everywhere — almost nothing in it is like it really happened — but ultimately that doesn’t matter that much. The purpose of the film is to entertain, inspire and move the audience, not to portray reality. It is cavalier about the facts but aspires to explore and expose the deeper truths behind Steve’s unusual personality and behavior, and it often but not always succeeds at that.

How did this experience differ from other projects you’ve taken part in, such as the 1996 documentary “Triumph of the Nerds: The Rise of Accidental Empires”?

Well, “Triumph of the Nerds” was a documentary, so it was totally different. I was a character in the first “Jobs” movie, from 2013, so that was comparable, but there’s really no comparison since that was written by a rookie screenwriter who didn’t know what he was doing. They asked for my help on that but I declined after I saw the script, which seemed unsalvageable. The new film had an extraordinary team working on it, pretty much as good as it gets, so it was a privilege to be able to assist them.

This article originally appeared on