During a Steve Jobs screening on Monday night in New York, the movie’s screenwriter Aaron Sorkin explained his approach to writing female characters, which has long been a major point of criticism against him.
After the screening, which was organized by the WGA, Salon writer Andrew Ohehir did a Q&A with Sorkin and then fielded several questions from audience members. A woman in the audience asked Sorkin about Kate Winslet’s portrayal of Joanna Hoffman, Macintosh head of marketing and Steve Jobs’ right-hand woman. She described Hoffman as a strong female character (groan) in laudatory tones.
Sorkin—perhaps thinking about the backlash concerning The Newsroom, in particular, which was said to have a “woman problem” that he denied—responded by reiterating that he naturally writes all of his characters from the Sorkin perspective and doesn’t think about whether it’s a woman speaking.
He mentioned that he’s in the process of developing a screenplay called Molly’s Game, a story adapted from the memoir by pro-skier-turned-poker-ringmaster Molly Bloom. Of note is the fact that Amy Pascal made a reference to Sorkin sleeping with Bloom in an email discovered in the Sony hacks, as well as the fact that Sorkin later wrote an op-ed for the Times in which he suggested that this was not true.
Explaining what intrigued him about Bloom’s story, Sorkin said:
“Yes, she’s smart, funny and is kind of the smartest one in the room always and there’s no denying that she’s a woman. In fact, she’s often underestimated because she is. This is another true story, by the way. She becomes tabloid fodder, which probably she wouldn’t have if she weren’t a woman and if she weren’t an attractive woman.
But in writing Joanna, the fact that she was a woman was... [trails off] Let me try to give you another example.”
Sorkin then explained his process of writing all of his characters, using the example of The Social Network. He said he realized he was stupidly trying to write the opening bar breakup scene between Jesse Eisenberg (as Mark Zuckerberg) and Rooney Mara from a young person’s perspective:
“I sat down to write and suddenly it hit me that I had never before written characters this young, that these were college sophomores and I had never before written characters this young. So I started to write four, six lines or something, writing in what I felt was a language that [he laughs]—I said this is the stupidest thing ever in the world. Just write. Write the way you write. They’re gonna talk the same way, CJ and Josh and Scully ’cause I’m one writer.
So the answer is unless I’m actually writing about gender or unless it’s a romantic scene between a man and a woman, I’m really not paying that much attention to the fact that it’s a woman. I’m paying attention to the fact that this is Joanna Hoffman. This is her relationship to Steve.
And mostly, for me, it’s not tell the audience who the character is; it’s show the audience what the character wants. Joanna wants Steve to for God’s sake manage expectations out there: ‘I’m an expert at this, we are not gonna sell a million in the first 90 days, 20,000 a month after that.’ So have her have that argument with a very stubborn Steve Jobs. In a very slight soft Polish accent.”
Regarding the Molly’s Game screenplay, Sorkin said that he couldn’t reveal who’s playing the lead role or who’s directing, but that he hopes to have an announcement in the next few weeks. He described Bloom further:
“When she was 21, she was ranked as the third best mobile skier in North America and was headed to Harvard Law School after graduating from the University of Colorado with a Poli-Sci degree, summa cum laude, incredible GPA. In the last round of qualifying for the Salt Lake City Olympics, a freak accident kept her off the Olympic team and really kind of just shook her up mentally for a second. I mean, when you spend your whole life aiming toward this one goal—it was a really stupid thing that happened and in the last round of qualifying.
She decided to postpone law school, come to Los Angeles where she would just be young in warm weather for a year, which she had never been before. She was one of these kids who had to chase winter around the world. Through a series of usual, I hope entertaining circumstances, she ended up running the world’s most exclusive high-stakes poker game. And she moved the game from L.A. to New York and everything went fine until, without her knowing it, three members of the Russian mafia started playing in her game. The FBI was after these three guys and there was also an FBI informant in the game and she got swept up in this, and even though she had the goods on a lot of people, including a lot of Hollywood celebrities, she refused. Whether it was for money or to guarantee her freedom, guarantee that she wasn’t gonna go to jail, she refused at every step of the game to throw anybody under the bus. She would not name names.”
Sorkin added, “I just thought this is a really special and unusual movie heroine here. I like her a lot. I want to tell the story.”
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