The rise and fall of BlackBerry is one of Canada’s most unbelievable stories, and director Matt Johnson weaves a personal story about friends, with one of the biggest success stories and failures in tech.
BlackBerry starts when the company’s real story got serious, as Jim Balsillie (Glenn Howerton) convinces the company founder Mike Lazaridis (Jay Baruchel), and Mike’s best friend and partner Douglas Fregin (Johnson), to make him co-CEO.
In those early days of the company, they literally had next to no revenue, but the trio had an incredible idea for a phone that could send email, with a keyboard, and it would go on to make the company a $20 billion success story. But the story doesn’t end well for BlackBerry, and this film digs into that story.
The film is both a tech biopic, and a riveting drama, and Howerton is jaw-dropping as this executive who always seems to be on the edge of a rage, while he also pushes Mike and Douglas to make something great.
I sat down with the three stars in Toronto recently, and they shared a bit of what it took to make the fantastic Canadian film.
Talking about Johnson as both a director and actor, Howerton and Baruchel sang his praises.
“I think I can speak for both of us; he’s the reason why we’re here and why we did the thing,” Baruchel said. “He wrote a special script with [Matthews] Miller, and it’s a really great story. But the biggest draw was M.J. I’ve been a fan for a long time, and even when the movie was at its most personally or physically difficult for me–no matter what, no matter if it was too fucking hot, too dirty, whatever–I knew that the cinema was spectacular.”
“I knew because he has this lovely way of talking to people and talking to everybody the same way, and there’s a wonderful spirit; we’re all kind of in the backyard playing cops and robbers together and just trying to make a thing as good as we can.”
For Howerton, playing Jim Balsillie was a challenge of balancing the real man and what the film needed.
“The real Jim would say I was not as humorless as the way I played it, but it felt very interesting to me. I wanted there to be a massive dichotomy between how Jim is and how these guys are, and they’re a group of tech nerds and they’re all like kids in a sandbox, and I’m the one who’s coming in and being like, ‘If you guys would just listen to me, we can actually do something with this. If you just put down your video games for one second, we can turn this into something.'”
“So, for me, it took that kind of level of seriousness to create the push and pull between between Mike and Jim.”
“I can tell you something related to this,” Johnson said. “I just did a screening of this film in San Francisco for a science board, and the person who was doing the Q&A worked at the Perimeter Institute, which was financed by Mike Lazaridis, so he knew Mike and he knew Jim as a scientist.”
“At the end of the Q&A, I said, ‘So, hey, I haven’t asked anybody who knew them, how close were these characters to what they were doing?’ And he said, ‘Well, I can’t really talk about Mike; he was my boss, so I will not make a comment.’ Then I said, ‘What about Jim?’ and he said, ‘Oh yeah, that’s Jim.'”
“So I think the real Jim Balsillie may be thinking he was funnier than the way that Glen played it. I think the way that he was perceived was very much what we put in this film.”
Johnson and Baruchel also talked about the film’s references, including the final shot and the way it calls back to Raiders of the Lost Ark. Watch the full interview above for the full interview.
BlackBerry is in theatres now, and you need to see it.
All photos courtesy of Elevation Pictures.
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