“Do you want to sell sugared water for the rest of your life, or do you want to come with me and change the world?” Steve Jobs famously demanded of John Sculley when wooing him to work at Apple Inc. In contrast, Jeff Daniels didn’t need the full-court press from Aaron Sorkin to play former Apple CEO Sculley in Universal’s upcoming Steve Jobs biopic. After three seasons working with Sorkin on HBO’s The Newsroom, there was simply no other answer but “yes.”
“Aaron and I were winding down on the third season of The Newsroom, and we had heard there was this movie about Steve Jobs that Scott Rudin was producing. We kind of threw it at Scott; Aaron [told him that I] would love to play Sculley, so they put me on the list. Aaron then walked up to me on set one day and said, ‘Do you want to play Sculley?’ I said, ‘Sure,’” he recalls, noting that yes, the answer really is that simple when you have friends in high places.
“We had just spent three years together; I love the guy, and I love saying his words,” he enthuses of Sorkin, adding, “We have a great creative marriage together.”
It’s no accident that the close friendship between Daniels and Sorkin so clearly resembles the legendary bromance of “dynamic duo” Jobs and Sculley (pre-fallout, of course). The latter were friends who finished each other’s sentences, only to part bitterly on irreparable terms after one of the largest shakedowns in business history, leaving Jobs “fired” from his own company as a result.
Because Jobs was so beloved, Sculley has been somewhat villainized in the media—which made accepting said role more challenging—albeit more fun—for Daniels. After landing the pivotal part, the 60-year-old thespian quickly got to work learning about Sculley, and began figuring out how to humanize him. “He’s corporate America with a heart, which, in this divided country, supposedly doesn’t exist,” Daniels says, noting, “[Steve and John] had such a tragic relationship; if it was a Shakespearean play, it would have been a tragedy. They started off with such a bromance! When Steve said, ‘Do you want to spend your life with sugared water, or do you want to change the world?’ John jumped right in. For the first couple of years, it was the two of them—I met John, and that’s what he said—but then he had to make a business decision, and Steve just went nuts on him. It wasn’t a power play—it was John trying to do the prudent thing that was best for the company; they didn’t have a lot of options.”