Controversial Steve Jobs movie gets love from Apple PR vet

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Michael Fassbender received a Golden Globe nomination for his portrayal of Jobs.
Michael Fassbender received a Golden Globe nomination for his portrayal of Jobs.
Photo: François Duhamel/©2015 Universal Studios

The new Steve Jobs movie gets just about everything wrong, says the PR veteran who worked with the Apple CEO during the first Macintosh’s launch. From the situations to the dialogue, almost nothing’s accurate.

“How many things are not true in the movie?” laughed Silicon Valley PR vet Andrea “Andy” Cunningham during a phone interview with Cult of Mac. “Several hundred!”

But Cunningham said she loves the new Steve Jobs biopic anyway, because it captures the truth — a truthier truth.

Silicon Valley PR vet Andy Cunningham honed her skills at Apple.
Silicon Valley PR vet Andy Cunningham honed her skills at Apple.
Photo courtesy Andy Cunningham

One of the strange things about the new Jobs movie, which was directed by Danny Boyle and stars Michael Fassbender in the title role, is that lots of people who are portrayed in the film say they love it. But others who were close to Jobs — and aren’t in the movie, or who haven’t seen it — say they dislike it.

This disparity is turning the movie into the latest front in an ongoing culture war between Jobs’ friends and former colleagues, some of whom say Steve Jobs shows only the late Apple leader’s negative traits — and none of his good ones.

Both Tim Cook and Jony Ive have criticized its portrayal (while admitting they haven’t yet actually seen the movie). Jobs’ widow, Laurene Powell Jobs, reportedly worked hard to prevent the movie from even getting made.

But several people portrayed in the movie, among them Steve Wozniak, John Sculley and now Cunningham, say they’re big fans of Steve Jobs, Boyle’s R-rated film that opens in limited release Friday before a wider rollout later this month.

The battle over Steve Jobs’ legacy

The differing opinions are rooted in a battle over Jobs’ place in history. His accomplishments are indisputable, but his methods for achieving them are contested. Insiders like Cook and Ive appear to be afraid that the historical Jobs will go down as a tyrannical monster. The latest movie, which is already generating Oscar buzz, only cements that view, according to their line of thinking.

But Cunningham says Steve Jobs accurately portrays the “character” of Jobs, who could be supremely difficult to work with as he pushed everyone around him to greater heights.

“This man changed the world, and it was worth it,” she said. “It was difficult and challenging, but he stretched us to do things that we didn’t think we could accomplish.”

Cunningham was part of the small PR team that helped Jobs introduce the Mac in 1984. She’s built a long and distinguished career in the tech industry and now heads up her own firm, Cunningham Collective. She used to sit on the board of the Computer History Museum, among other things, and she credits Jobs with helping her hone her craft.

“I’m better at my job after working with Steve Jobs,” she said.

Andy Cunningham’s portrayal in Steve Jobs

Actress Sarah Snook, left, portrays Andy Cunningham in the new Steve Jobs movie.
Actress Sarah Snook, left, portrays Andy Cunningham in Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs biopic.
Photo courtesy Andy Cunningham

Cunningham is portrayed in the movie by Sarah Snook. It’s a small role that was included, according to Cunningham, because screenwriter Aaron Sorkin wanted the character of the handler — the unfortunate underling who tries to manage a young, tempestuous Jobs and make him engage with journalists.

The scenes featuring Cunningham in the movie were adapted from Walter Isaacson’s doorstop Jobs biography, for which she was interviewed. In particular, we see a big fight between Cunningham and Jobs over some flowers during a press tour in New York.

The scene in the movie is nothing like the scene in the book — Sorkin’s take is completely fictionalized — but Cunningham says that doesn’t matter. A greater emotional truth shines through.

“The point they make is that he’s very, very picky about his environment — and although it didn’t happen that way, it captured that very well,” she said of the flower fight. “They changed the way it happened, but they captured why it happened.”

Cunningham said the movie is like many before it. It’s a superb but fictionalized character study.

“It has the good, the bad and the ugly,” she said. “They capture it very well.”

Anyone who expects something like a documentary — which hues to the exact situations and the actual words spoken — will be disappointed by Steve Jobs, but that’s not what filmmaking is about.

“It’s absolutely not a biography,” Cunningham said. “It’s a great movie. It’s amazing. It’s shocking…. It’s Hollywood!”