By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Audiences may remember Ahna O’Reilly as the neglectful young mother she portrayed in 2011’s hit period drama “The Help.” She also has a small, but pivotal role in the indie hit “Fruitvale Station,” where her character’s actions set off a tragic chain of events.
Moviegoers are likely to see a lot more of the titian-haired Northern California native in the coming months as she has a full roster of films in the can and several more about to go into production.
O’Reilly plays the first love of Apple Computer’s enigmatic founder in “Jobs.” As Chris-Ann Brennan, she and Steve Jobs (Ashton Kutcher) fall in love as teenagers. But their relationship sours when the young woman reveals to her boyfriend that she is pregnant with his child. The inclusion of this heartbreaking relationship into the biopic’s plot serves to underscore the many facets of the late genius’ personality. The film was directed by Joshua Michael Stern from a screenplay by Matt Whiteley.
O’Reilly, 28, knows a little something about multitasking workaholic men. She dated actor-author-director-teacher James Franco for five years before their 2011 breakup. They remain friends and will be working again soon on a film.
The actress recently spoke from her Los Angeles home about taking on the role of Brennan and how she managed to track her down.
Q: Where are you today?
O’Reilly: I’m in Los Angeles. I was just in New York yesterday and I just got back. I’m in my kitchen.
Q: So many of the gadgets we use today we owe to Steve Jobs.
O’Reilly: Isn’t it funny. When we were shooting it, I was constantly in awe of how many of us were taking pictures with our iPhones or using our iPads or listening to our iPods. It was pretty incredible.
Q: The movie shows a warts-and-all look at Jobs. The way he treated Chris-Ann really was cruel, especially how he responded to her revelation that she was carrying his child, by saying, “I guess you have a problem.”
O’Reilly: I know.
Q: Did you do a lot of research on Jobs or know much about him?
O’Reilly: Yes I did. In fact, I’m from Palo Alto (Calif., near Apple’s Cupertino headquarters), actually. It’s pretty incredible. When we shot up there, I stayed at my parents’ house. It was wonderful.
Q: Did you get a chance to speak with Chris-Ann Brennan herself?
O’Reilly: I asked the producers and my agents if anyone had a way of contacting Chris-Ann. Do we know if she’s around and is she available to talk? I kind of just got a straight up “No. We haven’t been able to find her and we don’t know how to contact her.” So I thought I’d just use my imagination and do my own research, and I was fine with that. And then I happened to speak to a friend randomly from home who when she heard that I was portraying a woman named Chris-Ann Brennan her face went white. She revealed to me that Chris-Ann Brennan was a co-worker of hers. So it was through a friend from home that I was very serendipitously able to get in touch with Chris-Ann. I did get to have an e-mail exchange with her. We were meant to meet in person but that fell through. But we had this really lovely e-mail exchange.
Q: What in particular were you interested in finding out about her?
O’Reilly: I felt like I had this really unique and special opportunity to look into what (Jobs) was like before all the madness through a very intimate point of view. I know that (Jobs’ business partner) Steve Wozniak and all the guys that were working with him in the garage certainly knew him before he was the man he came to be, but with Chris-Ann, it was kind of the only opportunity we had to explore this really almost innocent and romantic side of him.
Q: What did you find out about him through Chris-Ann?
O’Reilly: He was a huge romantic but in a way that I don’t think we are aware of as much. I read this article she wrote for “Rolling Stone” about how he used to write her poetry. She gave me the impression that when they fell in love, he was very much a different person. Maybe not a different person, but she saw a very different side of him. So I was interested in exploring that because we don’t hear about that a lot. We all know that he’s a creative, poetic, brilliant man, this tech poet, but even before that there was this very sweet and innocent loving stage, and I was interested in his first love—which she was.
Q: So did your e-mail exchange help you in terms of creating your character?
O’Reilly: Yeah. But I didn’t get to study her in a way like what does she sound like and how does she move, and those are things actors are interested in when they’re portraying a real person. But she’s a very private person, understandably, so really all she gave me were insights into what their connection was like and that, for me, was helpful in creating the inner life of a person.
Q: There’s a point in the movie where Jobs gets a letter from his daughter, and you think there’s going to be the follow up scene where they meet, and perhaps see him reunite with Chris-Ann. Was there anything shot like that or in the script that didn’t make it into the final cut of the film because it didn’t fit?
O’Reilly: Exactly. That’s it. There’s just so much story to tell. So no, the only time in the script that Chris-Ann is around is in the beginning. I‘ve often said they could do a whole movie about Chris-Ann and Steve Jobs. They’re could be dozens of chapters of movies done on Steve Jobs’ life and Chris-Ann and Steve Jobs’ relationship would be one of them. But there wasn’t enough time, in the allotted time of a feature, to tell everything. So unfortunately, that wasn’t there.
Q: What was Ashton Kutcher like to work with? He really does resemble Jobs when he was young.
O’Reilly: First of all, yeah, the resemblance between them is uncanny. Everybody’s jaw dropped kind of seeing him I remember at the first camera test. Ashton was wonderful. I’ve never worked with someone who was so committed. The extensive research that he did—he could tell you about every piece of (Apple) equipment, the history of it and what it did throughout the decades. Ashton, himself, as we all know, is a really brilliant businessman in the tech world. I think that carried over into his performance. Not only was he completely committed and so thoroughly researched, he was lovely to act with and kind of a wonderful scene partner to have. He was very connected and vulnerable and kind so I loved working with him.
Q: Did you get a chance to get to know him before you shot the intimate scenes together? Did you have to kiss him on the first day?
O’Reilly: No. On the first day, the very first day of shooting the whole movie, was at the actual real house of Steve Jobs in the garage where Apple Computer was created in Los Gatos (Calif.). That’s where we have one of our first fights. The only other time we’d gotten together before that was when we had a cast meeting that kind of turned into this impromptu rehearsal, probably a week earlier. So, no, we didn’t have to kiss on the first day; we had to fight on the first day.
Q: How long were you on the shoot?
O’Reilly: It was fairly short. My stuff was spread out maybe five or eight days. I don’t remember. It was pretty quick.
Q: Are you a PC or Mac person?
O’Reilly: (She laughs.) I’m 100 percent a Mac person. I feel like I was spoiled growing up in Palo Alto. It’s like I never saw a PC. I was definitely a Mac person from the get-go growing up in Palo Alto.
Q: You have so much else going on. You have a role in “Fruitvale Station,” which is getting a lot of positive response.
O’Reilly: It’s so exciting. It’s another Bay Area story. These two Bay Area stories couldn’t be further apart story-wise.
Q: Are you excited that the film is getting such position attention and is so timely with the outcome of the Trayvon Martin case?
O’Reilly: Yes. It’s been really a pretty amazing journey with that film. I could not be prouder to be a part of it. I’m not in that movie for long, but it’s such an incredible group of people that worked on the movie. It really felt like a familial atmosphere. Octavia Spencer, who is one of my best friends, does such a great job in it. I’m just so proud of everyone involved and very proud to be part of it, and so happy that it’s doing so well and that so many people are seeing it. The timing of it renders me speechless because it’s so strange and eerie and important.
Q: You’ve got “CBGB” coming up and Peter Bogdanovich’s “Squirrels to Nuts.” What else are you doing?
O’Reilly: Right now I’m getting ready to shoot another (William) Faulkner adaptation with James Franco and Rabbit Bandini Productions (which Franco co-owns) called “The Sound and the Fury.” We’re doing that in September. That’s the next thing I have going on. And then I have a movie called “Lucky Them,” which is going to be at the Toronto Film Festival in September.
Q: You and James are still friends. Are you going to be at his August 25 celebrity roast for Comedy Central?
O’Reilly: (She laughs.) I don’t know if I’ll be there but I can’t wait to see it. I’m sure it will be hilarious.