The Hero Project

11.15.12

Aaron Sorkin on Casting David Petraeus and Writing Steve Jobs

The screenwriter and producer says Americans are destroying our own heroes, from fallen generals to tech geniuses—and gives a sneak peek at his upcoming Steve Jobs film.
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Sorkin said he plans to end his Steve Jobs film with this classic Apple advertisement.

Aaron Sorkin loves to write a good scene. He is drawn to flawed, larger-than-life heroes. So he’s naturally tempted to take on, you got it: David Petraeus. 

At Newsweek & The Daily Beast's Hero Summit on Thursday, Sorkin said he "would love to take on" Petraeus in the second season of his hit HBO drama The Newsroom. "Unfortunately, the time line ends the day before" news of the scandal broke.

Steve Jobs, on the other hand, will make his debut in another Sorkin project, a film whose plot he revealed on Thursday: three real-time scenes about the creation of the Mac; Jobs’s following company, NeXT; and the iPod. Sorkin said he’ll consider the project a success if he can make people remember the iconic Mac ad: "Here's to the crazy ones."

"If I can live up to that ending ... I will have won,” said Sorkin.

Sorkin recalled that he had a quote "phone relationship" with Jobs. In fact, he said the Apple founder asked him for help in writing his famous Stanford commencement speech.

Sorkin said he thinks the public is "eating our heroes alive" with snarky tweets and expressions of superiority. "General Petraeus plainly is a hero in the classic definition. He's put men in harm's way ... he's protected us." He calls the story of Petraeus's affair with Paula Broadwell a "Shakespearian twist."

In the end, said Sorkin, "He made a very human mistake."

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'We're eating each other alive,' Sorkin says of today's less-than-compassionate culture.

In the interview, Newsweek editor in chief Tina Brown asked Sorkin how he would portray President Bartlett if he were making The West Wing now. "I'm not 100 percent sure The West Wing could work today," Sorkin said. Tired of seeing leaders depicted as "either Machiavellian or as dolts," he tried in the 1990s drama to portray White House officials as people who "wake up in the morning thinking of something bigger than themselves." That, he suggested, might not be seen as realistic these days.

For Sorkin, a hero is "the difference between a good man and a great man." Brown invoked Sorkin's film, The Social Network, about Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, saying Sorkin managed to turn that "oppositional, narcissistic little twerp" into a hero.

Regarding Jobs, Brown called the Apple founder a "flawed genius," to which Sorkin replied, "There's no point in writing about someone unless they are flawed.”

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Sorkin ended his panel with this archival Apple ad.