The Real Jim Balsillie Had Some Surprising Thoughts On His BlackBerry Portrayal

The Real Jim Balsillie Had Some Surprising Thoughts On His BlackBerry Portrayal
The Real Jim Balsillie Had Some Surprising Thoughts On His BlackBerry Portrayal

Critics and audiences alike are loving the 2023 movie BlackBerry, with Glenn Howerton’s performance as Jim Balsillie earning high praise. Howerton approaches the role with red-hot intensity, unlike anything he’s done before: bald, stubborn, and downright intimidating. Gone is the typical charm and charisma Howerton is known for, and instead, audiences are treated to a fierce, cut-throat businessman whose refusal to compromise and killer instinct helped build an iconic brand.

Matt Johnson’s comedy-drama BlackBerry follows the rise and fall of Canadian tech company Research In Motion Ltd., which became a major player in the cellular phone market after releasing the BlackBerry personal device. The film is loosely based on the book Losing the Signal: The Untold Story Behind the Extraordinary Rise and Spectacular Fall of BlackBerry. CBC’s The National interviewed the book’s author, Jacquie McNish, and the real Jim Balsillie to discuss the film, including how accurate BlackBerry actually is — and how Balsillie felt about Howerton’s portrayal of him.

BlackBerry Is Entertaining — But Not Very Accurate

BlackBerry 2023, Glenn Howerton

Both McNish and Balsillie praised BlackBerry in the interview, but noted that the movie was not very historically accurate. The film is based on a true story, but is highly fictionalized for the sake of making a compelling, cohesive story. That isn’t to say that the film isn’t a faithful adaptation, though: as McNish put it, “a lot of the facts are wrong […] but when you’re in the film business, the entertainment business, often you interpret the facts, and reexamine and reinterpret [them].”

Balsillie also supported the film, while agreeing that it isn’t true to history. He suggested BlackBerry was “5% accurate and 95% made up,” and “not an accurate portrayal of RIM at all, nor [his] relationship with Mike.” When pressed specifically on how he comes across in the film, the retired businessman shrugged it off, saying “I’ve lived 60 years with the word ‘silly’ in my last name — so I can handle being teased.”

“I was relieved they found someone so good-looking”

The Real Jim Balsillie Had Some Surprising Thoughts On His BlackBerry Portrayal

Perhaps the most unexpected part of the CBC interview (and definitely the most humorous) was Balsillie’s perspective on his portrayal in BlackBerry. Ultimately, it makes sense, and explains why he would be so good natrured about the whole thing. Although Howerton’s take on Balsillie’s personality in BlackBerry isn’t flattering — as The National host Ian Hanomansing put it, he comes across “as someone without many good characteristics and a lot of bad ones” — the real-life counterpart was actually pretty happy about the casting choice, saying “I was relieved they found someone so good-looking to play me.”

Although Hanomansing stated that Balsillie doesn’t “come across well” in BlackBerry, Howerton’s Jim does give off a sort of predacious charisma in the film. He talks his way into RIM, and his single-minded determination was key in getting the BlackBerry cell phone into the market — at least, that’s what happens in the movie.

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