Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here.
Although he had been in a handful of film and television roles prior, most people took notice of Jake Gyllenhaal for the first time thanks to a little movie call DONNIE DARKO, a film that absolutely tanked at the box office but has since taken on god-like status in the science fiction film pantheon. Around that same time, BUBBLE BOY hit theaters, and while it didn't do much better financially, people still remember that quirky and charming character study.
Gyllenhaal can almost never be accused of following an obvious path to fame. Rather than always taking the obvious romantic-comedy, genre film roles (although he certainly has with THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW and PRINCE OF PERSIA), he has instead primarily focused on films with strong writing, great directors, and off-beat appeal and stories. Look at the list of films: Miguel Arteta's THE GOOD GIRL, Brad Silberling's MOONLIGHT MILE, John Madden's PROOF, Sam Mendes' JARHEAD, David Fincher's ZODIAC, RENDITION, Jim Sheridan's BROTHERS, and last year's LOVE AND OTHER DRUGS, about as far as you can get from the traditional romantic comedy. But it was portrayal of Jack Twist in Ang Lee's BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN that showed the world how far from whatever leading-man image Gyllenhaal might have he was willing to go. And for this daring choice, Gyllenhaal earned his only Oscar nomination to date.
I sat down with Gyllenhaal a couple weeks back just hours before his latest film, SOURCE CODE, directed by MOON helmer Duncan Jones, premiered at the SXSW Film Festival. In the film, he plays Colter Stevens, an air force pilot charged by his nation to prevent a domestic terrorist attack in Chicago, and although the film's trailers give away a great deal of how he goes about carrying out his mission, I'm not saying another word about this exceptional work. The film is layer upon layer of surprises, shocks, and reveals that should be preserved at all cost, even if that means you waiting a week to even read this interview. I think it's relatively spoiler free, but you may want to hold off just in case.
When I walked into the room, the slightly frazzled publicist introduced me as "Jake" to Gyllenhaal. When I corrected him to tell him my name was Steve and went to shake hands with Gyllenhaal, he immediately greeted me with, "Hello, Jake. I'm Steve." I found him extremely personable, filled to the brim with passion for this film, something of a devoted science fiction nerd, and so handsome it made me angry. I covered the living daylights out of SOURCE CODE at SXSW, so look for interviews with Jones, Vera Farmiga, and Michelle Monaghan in the next week or so, as well as a review of the film. Please enjoy my talk with the very fun Jake Gyllenhaal…
Capone: Hello, it’s good to see you.
Jake Gyllenhaal: Hey. You live in Chicago, right?
Capone: Yeah, but our site is based here [Austin]. So in my mind when I was watching this film, thinking that, because MOON was such and incredible experience, that you saw that film and just said, “Okay, whatever that guy is doing next, I want to be a part of it.” But I didn’t realize it until I began researching that you actually brought him this script. Tell me about your reaction to this screenplay when you first read it, and how did you get it initially.
JG: When I first read the script, it was a few years back, and I was like… The first 10 pages of the script I was like, “What the fuck is going on?” And thereafter, I would talk about this script. I’d say, “There’s this script. It’s amazing. This is how it starts…” And as soon as I would talk about how it began and then I would always leave people hanging, they would be like, "Wha?" Everyone would lean in, and it was like “That sounds amazing.” So I felt the same way when I read it, and there was just wanting to get somebody who understood that world.
I like to look at it as if it’s a drama, like there is the world of sci-fi, but this is a guy’s journey, a sort of rebirth, and as an actor what I always want to respond to is “What’s the human journey in the story?” You want to find someone who can make it visually cool and take you on a journey and be confident as a director, but you want somebody also who is going to be able to say ultimately, as a human being watching a movie, we all want to feel like if we were in that situation how would it feel? Not like, “We got it all together,” like you are so used to seeing.
When I saw MOON, what I loved about MOON was how flawed Sam Rockwell’s character is in that movie and obviously how visually confidant and amazing it is. He just has his own voice. It’s very clear, for someone who works in movies and watches a lot of movies, that he is a new voice. It was like you got somebody who knows what they are doing and I feel like--I don’t know how you feel--but I feel like you want to find somebody who is actually using their own mind, not catering to something else or what they think is cool, and Duncan is one of those people. So I saw MOON, I loved it, and then I remember us having a general meeting where I was like, “I’d love to meet him,” because that’s the wonderful part of my job, the opportunity to meet the people.
Capone: Sure, you get to say, “I’d like to meet this person,” and someone makes that happen.
JG: It’s kind of the wonderful part of your job, too, right? [Laughs] So, we met and he said he’d love to meet me too, because he had a project he was working on and he was interested in me for, and SOURCE CODE didn’t really come into my mind at the time, I just thought “He’s really cool” and I have an amazing agent who says like “This guy is cool, check him out.” “They're amazing films. This one is really moving.” So I constantly watch those movies. I just love watching new filmmakers, so when I was finishing up this one movie, there was a real interest by Mark Gordon, who produced the movie. He wanted to make the movie and very much like a go-getter producer, and he was like, “Well, who would you really love to work with?” I was like, “Well, I’d love to work with Duncan Jones. I think he would be amazing for this movie.” He’s like “Okay, let’s see.” So, they sent him the script, and like literally a week later he was like, “I want to do the movie,” which was crazy. It’s like this moment of like, “Is this really happening?” And four months later we were making the movie.
Capone: You make it sound so easy.
JG: Sometimes things come together that easily, and it seems to not have to do with anything about the business of things, it just has to do with people believing in something, and he believed in it. He believed in the story, the movie, me, he was down, and so the journey began. Then, I read the script knowing his voice--or thinking I knew his voice--in a totally different way, and it made sense to me for the first time. I was like, “Now, it’s going to be this,” and Duncan was the guy who as soon as that… You know there was that pod world, and the pod was originally written one size, and you always come back to the thing. And as the story progressed, Duncan wanted the pod to get bigger and bigger and bigger. That was the first thing that he brought into the mix, and then he started taking stuff out of the script to sort of simplify the story, which is what I think makes it so strong. It just didn’t end; it was always like that with him.
Capone: In addition to the obvious, like him being comfortable in those confined-space environments and there are a few, even the train is fairly confined, both films are about guys who don’t really know what their new role in the world is. They have been given a task and they don’t even understand exactly what they are anymore, and he does handle that in a way that is not ridiculous; it’s completely believable. I wanted to ask you about that pod world. What was that like for you? Was that confining? That seemed really like an awful place to be.
JG: Well we made the movie… It’s a small movie, you know? We ended up getting a stage for the train. It was a normal soundstage, and then when we moved to the pod everything kind of… We had the extras for the train and we shot that part first, and then we moved to the pod, and everybody went away. It was like we had a crew, and we shot that part on the Red camera. So, you are dealing with a whole different way of shooting when you start going digital, so everything changed when we went to the pod.
I remember we were shooting in this strange industrial place in Montreal that was like run down--an old building that it seemed like you were walking into what would be the source code. I walked up these stairs, and there would be stray cats running around all over the place, and when we were shooting: no light anywhere. So, yeah, it was confining, and ultimately what Duncan was asking of me over and over again, these scenes took place over sometimes five or six minutes alone, he would allow me to--particularly as you get farther into the story--play the whole thing out every single time. So, every single time, we would do like 10 takes of what would be a five-page scene, and very often, he didn’t want me to have anybody on the opposite side, so I was almost talking to myself. So, I’m memorizing both sides of the conversation, and when I’m like “Is somebody there?”, nobody was there, and he would let things roll.
Toward the end, when I came out of the source code and I came back into the pod, I would do these crazy things to get really out of breath and really disoriented. So to start every scene, I would hold my breath and I would get out of breath and then I would jump into this pod and then I’d play out the scene, and then he'd cut, and everyone would be quiet, and then we would go back, and he would go “Go back again, get out.” And he would put me out. I would run, I would do kung-fu exercises. I would get there. And then I would hold my breath, and they would strap me in again, and we would go again all day like this. It kind of drove you mad, but I embraced it, and the thing that’s great with Duncan is he was with me there sort of every step of the way. I was alone, but he was there.
Capone: Tucked away in this story is this unconventional love story, but it’s also Colter trying to make good on some things he did in his own life that didn’t work out the way he wanted and thought he would have more time to deal with. But there’s this desperation tucked in that love story, and the thing with his father too. He's like, “I have to get it right before we're done, or she’s going to die or my dad is never going to know how I felt.”
JG: At first, he's lost and then as he finds where he is supposed to be, he’s even more lost, because as he solves it and he get to the end, he knows he may never see the people he’s made the connection with again, so there is really no let up. You get to “Please find the bomber,” and then as you get closer and closer to finding the bomber you realize, “When you solve it, you are going to lose all of the relationships that mean anything to you and you don’t know where you are going to go.” So there really is no end to the pressure that’s on him; it’s a Catch 22. Some part of him, I always thought, and I would talk to Duncan about this, once he realized where this was leading, would he just keep knowing and saying, “I don’t know where the bomber, I want to go back and see the girl,” knowing that 100,000 people might lose their lives? I think that journey and keeping that story alive, that was to me the most important thing, the whole time. Every time he got to it, it wears him down.
It’s interesting, because we decided in the first or second source code I would ask, “Where is my father? Has anybody contacted my father?” It’s sort of dawning on him at that moment that the only person that really cared about him was his father, and that he dismissed it for all of these obligations that he thought were right ones.” That starts to dawn on him, and as it starts to dawn on him, that’s when the love story starts to evolve, so those are the things that I like that you get to play. And when we got to shoot that scene where I call and have that conversation, that was a crazy rough day, because I didn’t realize… We shot it in chronological order, so I didn’t realize how much that was going to affect me when we got to that scene.
Duncan and I spent about an hour before we shot kind of rewriting a little bit to get at what the conversation was, but I was wrecked after that day and I didn’t realize that all he had been doing was getting to that point where he could say those things and then try and make the most out of the rest of the time he had.
Capone: Right. You mentioned you shot in chronological order. That actually leads perfectly into something I was going to ask you, which was each time he pops back into that train you had to make his actions and reactions a little different. Did you two have conversations about his actions incorporating a little bit more knowledge each time?
JG: Well, Ben Ripley had written the script pretty precisely, in that if you follow the instructions of each source code, you could see that particularly through Colter’s eyes, he was starting to get clues and behave differently. But Duncan then mapped out the schematics of each source code, and the initial source code, because it was shot chronologically, was the most important to him. We spent three hours before we shot a single foot of film on the first day, after, by the way, two weeks of rehearsal where pretty much everyone knew their way. He was like, “If we mess this up…”
Capone: People are going to figure it out pretty fast.
JG: Yeah! But then as we went through each source code, we had a path, and then he would allow me to improv within the beginning of the day based on each passenger’s path and how I would affect them. So, I could make a different choice. Then when we had put that into stone, then we got out coverage, and we started to work it out. But for Duncan which shows to me incredible confidence, he wanted it crazier and crazier every time.
He was like so anal the first day with that first source code, and then as we started to move along with the source codes, it became things head trip, so I would play with Duncan sometimes knowing he knew and I knew the path of everyone, and I would mess something up and he would be like “Did you mean to mess that up? Do you really want to do that? Because we have to stick to that if you do that.” I’m like, “Yeah, I’m kind of into that.” And so it was strange. It was an amazing acting exercise in the middle of incredible structure and then the emotional journey, too.
Michelle [Monaghan] and I have talked a lot about, and we did when we were shooting, how the very first scene was very difficult to figure out too, because I’m saying things to her that she's not hearing and vise versa. So we mapped out my dialog that she would hear. So on her coverage, I said what she wanted to hear. I was talking to her like I was Sean Fentress. Her very first line is “I did it,” or something like to that affect, and I’m like “Oh you did? That’s great.” Then she would go “Yeah, yeah I did.” Then we would cut to my coverage, and she would respond to me as if , “Are you okay?” So that when you cut it together, you have two people--and that was like all Duncan. So, we have variations upon variations, and that made it really fun as an actor. It’s rare when you can do that, you know?
Capone: I haven’t really heard what you are up to next. I’ve heard little things here and there about things certain passion projects to other things. Do you know what you are doing next at this point?
JG: I’m talking now, so it’s hard for me to go into specifics, because you never know, but I can say that I’m very excited about something. [Laughs]
Capone: I’ve got to say, I would love to see the Joe Namath bio film finally happen for you. That’s a killer story.
JG: I know. He as a person and as a character is just… That would be the best. The one thing is is Duncan and the making of this movie and the process of this movie has inspired me to be bold, in the same way that DONNIE DARKO or a couple other movies that were experiences did. Ultimately, every movie is a lesson, but this was just an intimacy that I don’t want to not have again.
Capone: I can’t believe that DONNIE DARKO is only 10 years old.
JG: [Laughs] Why? What did you think?
Capone: In my head, it's much older. You were like such a kid in that movie.
JG: I know. Was that 10 years ago? That was probably 11 or 12 years ago from when we actually made it.
Capone: Of course. Anyway, it was great to meet you. Thanks a lot.
JG: Nice to meet you too, man.
-- Capone email@example.com
Follow Me On Twitter