After years of back and forth – and months of unmitigated messes – the Aaron Sorkin-penned Steve Jobs biopic, now apparently just called Steve Jobs (which makes it really hard to accurately Google, just saying) is finally happening, complete with a director and a cast and everything ostensibly necessary to make an actual feature film. There are even on-set photos to prove it!
Unfortunately, said on-set photos aren’t doing much to clear up lingering concerns about the troubled feature, simply because third-choice star Michael Fassbender doesn’t quite resemble Jobs. Like, at all. Here, take a look. Fassbender certainly looks like something (someone who looks good in a blazer? most definitely), but he sure doesn’t look like Jobs. But does that really matter when it comes to an ambitious and full-scale biopic like Steve Jobs?
The other big story of Steve Jobs (beyond its protracted struggle to get to the screen) is that Hollywood has already pushed out a (relatively) star-studded Jobs biopic within the last half-decade. The Ashton Kutcher-starring Jobs wasn’t a hit – it barely made over $35M in worldwide returns, and it’s currently sitting at a decidedly rotten 27% on Rotten Tomatoes – but Kutcher looked staggeringly like Jobs once he slipped into character. Remember?
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It’s not often that we can so directly compare two films about the same subject in order to focus on a single element. In this case, that’s the appearance of the lead actor. Kutcher may have looked a lot like Jobs, but the final film wasn’t up to snuff. Would the film have been worse if Kutcher didn’t look like his subject? Probably, or at least it would have looked considerably more shoddy or cheap (isn’t that strange? Kutcher didn’t even have to bulk up his appearance with prosthetics or makeup), but that doesn’t change the essential quality of the film, which was just “not good” (not good, not great, not really much of anything but an interesting exercise in biopic-ology and how to make an exciting story feel consistently boring and lifeless).
In the specific case of Jobs, having a leading man who looked like his subject didn’t automatically make the film better. But what happens when the opposite is true?
In light of the kerfuffle regarding Fassbender-as-Jobs, I’m reminded of another upcoming biopic that features a headlining star that doesn’t look like the real-life subject they are portraying. Even without seeing the film just yet, the lack of resemblance is jarring and, quite frankly, extremely distracting. Moreover, said casting has been so widely maligned that the film may have even bigger fish to fry beyond “oh, she doesn’t look right, does she?” concerns.
In August of 2012, a flurry of information hit the web regarding an “unauthorized” Nina Simone biopic that is currently in post-production (directed by Cynthia Mort, it also stars David Oyelowo). Among the many complaints lodged against the feature by various people with their own vested interests – including Simone’s own daughter, Lisa Celeste Stroud, who recently appeared in the Sundance doc What Happened, Miss Simone? – were claims that Zoe Saldana, who was cast in the lead role, was unsuitable for the part because of her appearance, among other things. At the time, Stroud (who goes by the stage name “Simone”) noted:
“I have seen many names regarding who you think should play the role of Nina. Remember Angela Bassett as Tina Turner? SHE NAILED IT! Angela Bassett is an ACTRESS! And, we all know she lip synced along with Tina and did an amazing job. Personally, I prefer an actress to a singer. Just because a person is great at one does not mean they will be great at the other. If written, funded and CAST PROPERLY a movie about my mother will make an lasting imprint.”
Despite Stroud’s misgivings about the project, the now-titled Nina is currently in post-production and is expected to hit theaters sometime this year. Although official stills from the feature are not yet available, a brief Google search pulls up some on-set photos that feature Saldana in costume (and darkening makeup) as Simone. They’re not heartening to see. If anything, attempts to make Saldana look more like Simone, a woman she doesn’t resemble in the slightest, have only made the disparities in their looks more apparent and more distracting. (Additionally, having just seen so much real Simone in the Sundance doc, I’m concerned about Saldana’s ability to portray such a vibrant, complex woman, though perhaps Nina will mark a massive step forward for the actress.)
Fassbender doesn’t appear to be party to the additional elements that make Saldana look so terrible – he’s not laden with prosthetics or makeup, and attempts to make him look like Jobs appear to be mostly limited to hair and dress. This may actually prove to be a canny decision. Fassbender is an extremely talented actor, and in a world not compelled to compare looks, the casting of such a talent in such a cool role would likely be met with universal applause. Once we add in a desire to make someone simply look like someone else, all bets are off. They shouldn’t be.
Steve Jobs will open on October 9.