From creators Brian Koppelman and David Levien (billions) and based on a true story, the Showtime series Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber follows Travis Kalanick (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who started one of Silicon Valley’s most successful companies in Uber, but who was also ultimately kicked out of his own boardroom. The upstart transportation company rocked the business world as Travis’ win-at-all-costs approach fueled its meteoric rise into a multi-billion dollar machine while also being responsible for its downfall.
During this 1-on-1 interview with Collider, Kyle Chandler (who plays venture capitalist Bob Gurley, a man that went all-in with Uber only to quickly learn that also came with heavy consequences) talked about how he knew this would be a fun story to tell, not having any previous knowledge about Uber beyond the app, figuring out where Bill Gurley fit into the bigger picture, and the effect that Travis Kalanick had on those around him. He also talked about the recent announcement of an Early Edition reboot and what making that series meant to him.
Collider: This is such a fascinating and interesting character study to watch. When the opportunity to play this guy came your way, was it an immediate yes? Was it something you wanted to dig into you a bit first? How did you react to this story?
KYLE CHANDLER: Because of what the story is, I knew it was gonna be fun because it’s just so outlandish. Looking back, I probably thought, “I get to play a guy who’s gonna have egg all over his face quite often, and that’s a fun place to be.” He has no control and he can’t control what’s going on around him. How this whole thing started for me was that, after reading the book, I knew then that answer was yes. When I read the book, I realized that I’d never heard anything about any of this. I knew nothing about where Uber came from. I didn’t know Travis Kalanick. I didn’t know Bill Gurley. I didn’t know any of this stuff. I knew how to push the buttons on my phone. But after I read the story, it was so incredible that I didn’t know the story and I assumed a lot of people don’t know the story, so I wanted to be a part of it. It’s a really big true American story that hasn’t been told. From a business and an actor point of view, then you find out who’s putting it together, who’s doing it, who’s making it, who’s writing it, and this and that, and I was like, “This is something I can’t say not to.” With my pro list and con list, everything is on the right side.
Where did you start with Bill Gurley? How did you figure out who he is and understand him? I don’t even really know anything about what it is to be a venture capitalist.
CHANDLER: I really didn’t either. I knew the role he played, and I knew how he had to function within that world with Travis. I initially started out watching him on YouTube. He speaks quite a bit and he has a blog, so I read a lot of that. He’s from Texas and he’s a straight shooter when he’s speaking. He can speak about how fusion is different from fission, and go into the details of it within a five-minute little speech and you’d understand. He’s just good at making things simple. I like that. That made sense to me. And then, you have to take this guy who’s whip-smart in his own right, and set him down in Silicon Valley and make him deal with the Travis Kalanick character. Bill Gurley has got four children and a happy marriage. He’s been d around the block many times before, but all of a sudden, he’s got Travis Kalanick to deal with. That’s what I liked about it. After their handshake and they agree to work together, the seed money’s there and Uber gets off and starting, so what could go wrong? But that’s where it goes.
Travis is such an interesting character because he’s an asshole and he even seems to know that he’s an asshole and embrace that he’s asshole, while Bill seems like this good guy in a world that doesn’t really have many good guys. How do you think being in Travis’s orbit changed him?
CHANDLER: I can’t speak for real life. How he changed for me is that, throughout the series, I have to look at all the things that you just spoke about, with who ill is and make him question what he’s doing all this for, and which reasons are worthy of him and which reasons are not. He has to recalibrate who he is. It’s a little moral play going on. There’s smoke. Am I gonna see the smoke, or am I not gonna see the smoke? Am I gonna turn a blind eye because it gets me what my motivations are driving toward, or am I gonna have to put my foot down now and say, “I can’t take that. That’s a no-go.”? It’s a play along those lines, and that’s fun. As an actor, you’re dealing with those decisions and it’s moral trauma. You’re dealing with these things, and that’s where the fun of it comes from.
It was fun to do these scenes working with Joe [Gordon-Levitt] as Travis. He’s pretty duplicitous. As soon as you sit down with him, you’re wondering what’s going on behind those eyes. What is he really thinking? What is he really saying? There needs to be a bubble above his head with what he’s really thinking. That’s fun, as an actor, to play. In the real world, I don’t know how it changed him, but I think he was worn by it. It had to have worn him. I don’t think that’s who he was. I think he was different, that’s a good point. I think he came out of this different, for sure. At the very end of the show, there’s a scene where they say goodbye to each other. The feeling that I have at the very end of the show – and I don’t know if Bill felt this way – but there’s the question of how much it was really worth it. There’s this feeling of, “Okay, next.” It had to have been a tough run.
It was just announced that CBS is going to reboot Early Edition with a female lead at the center of it. Are you surprised it’s taken this long for someone to bring that show back? What does that show and that moment in your career mean to you?
CHANDLER: First of all, when I saw it, someone felt it to me. I think it was a DP friend of mine down the street here, from friday night lights. He felt it to me and I started laughing. If anything was gonna show up on my phone, it wouldn’t have been that. I start laughing. It’s a strange world. It didn’t really surprise me or anything. I’ll tell you what the show meant in my career. That was one of the first shows that we almost got to a hundred. That was back when you were doing 22 episodes a year, and it was hard work, especially that show because it was wintertime. We were using all those bridges late at night. We’d do a lot of Fraturdays. In the business, that’s when you work from Friday night until Saturday morning, but you’re still going back to work Monday morning, early. My first daughter, Sydney, had just been born when I got that job, so that was huge for me, as a young man and as a family man. That was really important. And it was a great experience.
The biggest thing I learned from that show was, I used to take the script and they would allow me to make changes. I would fax those changes to LA, and they would fax back, or let me know what was okay or not. In that way, it worked out very well because I was able to learn how to work scripts and work scenes. In my mind, I was directing, editing, writing and acting, and I had involvement. I was involved in the process, and I realized how important that is, to get everyone involved in the process together, so they have that ownership. That was a great show.
Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber airs on Sunday nights on Showtime.
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