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April 21st, 2019

Jake Gyllenhaal Interview, Nightcrawler

Jake Gyllenhaal gives a brilliant, career-best performance as Lou Bloom, a perversely charismatic, wildly ambitious, and completely unscrupulous sociopath with a disturbing work ethic in writer-director Dan Gilroy’s riveting edge-of-your-seat thriller, “Nightcrawler.” Bloom is darkly funny and terrifying as he ruthlessly works his way up the bloody ladder of a nocturnal subculture in pursuit of a career in freelance TV news reporting. He quickly learns if it bleeds, it leads, and he exploits every gory detail to promote himself and turn his coverage into a ratings monster for the local news station. Opening October 31st, the razor-sharp satire also stars Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed, and Bill Paxton.

At our roundtable interview, Gyllenhaal talked about the appeal of the material and the well written character, his preparation, immersing himself in the intense role, learning the rapid-fire soliloquies Bloom delivers to justify his questionable methods, collaborating with Gilroy in his directorial debut, his physical transformation for the role, viewing his character as a creation of our culture, seeing L.A. in a new light through the eyes of veteran DP Robert Elswit, his thoughts on his work as an actor and his role as producer, his strategy for transitioning out of one character and into the next, and his upcoming projects: “Everest,” “Southpaw,” and “Demolition.”

Here’s what he had to say:

QUESTION: How did you first become involved in this project and what was the appeal of the material and this character?

JAKE GYLLENHAAL: I was sent the script by Dan and Tony (Gilroy), and Robert Elswit who was shooting the movie I know. He’s my Godfather. I got it and I called him up, because I knew Dan as a writer but I didn’t know of him as a director, and I was wondering what Robert saw because he’s really a storyteller. We talked a lot about it and his take on it was being sort of in the vein of those 70’s films and saying the same thing, like trying to have a Paddy Chayefsky kind of vibe to the whole vision of the film and that inspired me. To me, it’s just the character is so well written. The first couple of soliloquies that he gave that I read, I just thought, “This is like theater.” And when you find theater writing like in the theater on film but it’s realistic, it doesn’t matter who the character is, you want to do it.

Q: What did you tap into to create such a complex and indelible character as Lou Bloom that has shades of De Niro in “The King of Comedy” or even a little bit of Dustin Hoffman from “Rain Man”? That couldn’t have been easy to achieve.

GYLLENHAAL: Not easy in the movie sense of easy. I always like to separate the two – like life easy and then movie easy, and life hard and movie hard. But no, it wasn’t easy in that sense. It was a lot of preparation, but it was also there were great words, just fucking great dialogue that was written on the page, and I said it to the “T” punctuation exactly. I memorized it like a play. I spent hours upon hours walking down the streets. I remember early on, four months before, walking down the streets of New York City running the lines trying to get them, getting three lines at a time, taking a run on the West Side Highway and being, “Excuse me, sir. I’m looking for a job….What did I say? Fuck!” I did that for months. So there’s that. And then, it was just something that started to feed into my soul a little bit and into my bones and the way he talked. The first line he has is, “I was under the opinion that this was a detour.” Nobody talks like that. Those word choices became part of me. Then I just started losing weight and I started working with Dan (Gilroy) and we started rehearsing with everybody. And Lou just sort of became and grew up out of the earth.

Q: You’re almost unrecognizable in this film. Whose idea was the body transformation and what was the process to get there?

GYLLENHAAL: It was my idea to lose weight, but it was this mutual idea of mine and Dan’s that he was really an animal. He was really a coyote. And then I tried to figure out how I was going to make him into that, and the choice became a physical one. Dan is very thin and the way he talks, he’ll move his hands and there’s a thing about him. I just stole from things. I stole from Dan. I stole from a few people I’d known in my life. But the physical stuff came from me. As soon as I read the script, I saw it and I was like, “How do I make that? How do we do that?” Sometimes an idea of like, “Oh, maybe he’s thin” will then warp into like, “He wears clothes that are too big, but he’s not…” But that was the first idea.

Q: What about the ponytail?

GYLLENHAAL: The ponytail? That just happened one day. I came to Dan and he was like, “No, I love it!” Every time he goes and does something serious, he puts his hair up. And Dan’s like, “Oh I love it!” The first time we did it, I was driving in a car and Riz Ahmen’s character is like, “We’re going way too fast!” and I’m driving while I’m putting my hair into a ponytail. How many times have you driven in L.A. and you’re driving with your fucking knee, just for a minute while you do whatever you need to do for a second? And I was doing that and he’s like, “You’re going way too fast, man!” and I go, “You’re not listening.” I was putting up my hair and it just happened, and Dan loved it, and we just kept it in.

Q: When you’re fully immersed in a role, what is your daily life like? Is everything blinders on just for the script and the project or can you balance both?

GYLLENHAAL: There was no real life with this role. Just from the specifics of it, the actual reality was we were up at night. I wasn’t up during the day really much, and when I was, I was pretty much totally out of it. I wasn’t eating a lot of food. So just on the physical level of the chemical response that your body is in, you don’t get out of it. You don’t get the weekend and be like, “Woohoo, now I get to stay up during the day and I’m going to eat.” You don’t have that. For the entire length of production, it was just that. I was in it all the time.

Q: You said that you were filming at night. At any point did you feel like you were losing your mind?

GYLLENHAAL: Are you talking about during the movie? Yes and no. But there’s some strange safety for me, which is probably a bit dangerous when you’re making a movie, where you kind of go, “I’m making a movie and I’m using it all for my work.” Where like I’m sure, if you’re writing a piece or putting a piece together, you’re like, “I have a goal. I have a thing I’m doing,” and somehow all of those other feelings get channeled into the product that you’re trying to create. So somehow it’s not as dangerous a little bit. I’m doing a movie with Jean-Marc Vallee (“Demolition”) right now and we were in a car. He’s operating. He’s in the passenger seat with the camera and I’m driving the car. We don’t have a rig or anything like that. We’re driving on the highway and he’s like, “Drive faster!” I’m like, “Yeah, Faster!” And then we’re like, “Wait! We’re making a movie. This is real life. Don’t wreck the car!” There is that that happens.

Q: After the movie, did it change your perspective about the news and how it’s manipulated?

GYLLENHAAL: I think I’ve always felt that way a little bit. There’s a way in which you tell stories. You’re a part of telling stories anyway. When you make movies, there’s a sense of manipulation always. You’re always wondering how the audience is going to feel if you do this or is it going to be better that way? I started to see that real life can be manipulated and it is inevitably in order to feed a news cycle or information. What I noticed and I think I learned from this was that I always kind of knew when I saw that unimportant information became important and important information was unimportant. Everything exists now on a totally equal level in this very weird way because there’s just such a need for information that very important things are right up alongside very unimportant things, and that there is no discrepancy between either. And that is a world in which a character like Lou Bloom blooms. I kind of knew that somewhere, but I really got into it. Also, I think you start to see that there’s an innocence. People talk about how disturbing a character Lou is, but the guys, the stringers who do it for real, when I was with them, it was fun. It was fun in a way. It was innocent. I don’t think that they were thinking about, “Oh this is going to affect something.” We’re the ones who are responsible for giving them the opportunity for people to pay for the stuff that they’re getting. We are the people who created Lou Bloom. We’ve created him. He’s a creation of our culture. That’s how I feel about it.

Q: We see a beautiful L.A. that a lot of people don’t get to see thanks to Robert Elswit’s stunning work. When you were shooting at night, did you get a chance to see L.A. in a new light yourself through his eyes and this experience?

GYLLENHAAL: The last two movies I made in L.A. have been a lot at night and in the parts of Los Angeles that I didn’t grow up in and didn’t know a lot about. When I did this movie “End of Watch,” it was Southeast L.A., like all of Southeast L.A. We spent so much time there. So I started seeing L.A. in a very different way than I had when I grew up around it, even though I grew up right on the edge of Koreatown. And then, I didn’t really realize it until we started driving through with some cops. I lived right near Rampart when I was a kid and I grew up around there. So I wasn’t conscious of that. And then, this one was deep valley (San Fernando Valley). Dan’s whole intention with this movie was to show Los Angeles as not the Los Angeles that we know, not the downtown we’ve seen in films. We see a little bit of Santa Monica, but even the Santa Monica we see is lit like this crazy vibrance. There’s that deep valley look. I’ve driven through. We’re all isolated. That’s the thing about L.A. that I started to see making movies here is that no matter what your socio-economic background, you’re isolated. It doesn’t matter. It’s just the way we transport around here. Whether you take a bus, a car, whatever it is, it’s not like a lot of other cities. Dan kind of burst that open and we were in areas that I had never [seen] like way deep valley. The last shot is not deep valley, but Glendale, that area which is a strip. That could seem like really impersonal, and you don’t know what it feels like, and it’s so L.A. It has the essence of Los Angeles. I’ve fallen back in love with L.A. after having moved to New York.

Q: Do you think New York is a better place to live as far as nurturing your acting life or does it really matter?

GYLLENHAAL: What nurtures my acting life is my life, and my family and my life happen to be in New York. The majority of my family is there. And so that’s really what is my connection to something that feels the most real and the most grounded, and it’s the thing that’s made my work I think more interesting to me.

Q: I was amused by the bargaining powers and jargon Lou used in the movie and how the film portrays America as a place where you can have nothing but end up with everything if you’re ruthless enough. Can you talk about that theme?

GYLLENHAAL: It’s in the writing. Almost all those things that Lou says are plagiarized from all the corporate America shit and self-help stuff. I don’t think Lou ever says anything that I wouldn’t agree with if you think about it. No, really. What he does is different than what he says. He justifies what he says but he just turns what we all use, our idea of success at any cost, all those things. He does something different but he say what we would want him to say. If you go back and watch it, you go, “Oh that makes sense.” When he says, “When it comes to your work reputation, you can never unring the bell,” it’s just like, “What?!” He’s talking about manipulating the guy to go kill people, but he’s still saying the stuff that we use. I would say the thing I always thought about Lou that maybe Dan knew in his bones because he agreed about it is that Lou’s pretty gangster. In my mind, I just thought he was. There’s just that vibe. He has that vibe.

Q: As an actor and producer, are you concerned about success and results? Or is it just the work and that experience which matter to you? What about the recognition, the box office, and the awards? Do you think about those things?

GYLLENHAAL: I really can’t think about any of that stuff when I’m doing my work. It doesn’t help my work at all. The only time the idea of results helps me is when the director comes to me and reminds me of where we’re going, and then it changes the choice that I’m going to make within a scene. That’s very helpful to me. But most of the time, I think if you start thinking about how someone is responding, it’s like you’re watching yourself while you’re inside of something and it just becomes unnatural. It’s an unnatural human thing and I don’t think that it’s good for the creative process. But then it comes out, and now I love the film and I want everyone to see it. We worked really hard and I’m very proud of it. And so, it’s a different beast. And because I’ve seen so many cuts of the movie and I’ve been involved in this process really intimately, not just as the actor in it, but also in producing it with Dan and with Tony (Gilroy) and with Jen (Jennifer Fox), because of that, I want people to see it and it does matter to me in a different way. When I walk into a screening, I’m nervous in a different way than I am as an actor. But the response is ultimately I know how I feel about it and that’s what matters to me the most.

Q: After playing such an intense role, do you need to take a break before taking on another one?

GYLLENHAAL: I do, but sometimes you don’t get that shot. I feel like when you don’t get an opportunity to take a break, then you’ve got to take it when it comes. After this movie, it took me a little bit of time but I went and did this “Everest” movie. It’s a movie about Mt. Everest and the tragic expedition up there in 1996. It was strangely cathartic because we were out in nature and I was just excited to be eating. But just to shake off the character takes a while and I could feel it. After the “Everest” movie, I did a movie with Antoine Fuqua. I did this boxing film (“Southpaw”) and I spent six months training for that movie. And then, I just started a movie with Jean-Marc Vallee. I had like two weeks between and I was like, “Okay!” (takes a deep breath and exhales). Even though you don’t know, you change your body. You explore a side or a piece inside of yourself, and you have to pull back out like you’re steering a ship and you were in a storm but now the sky is clear. You’re like, “Oh, okay. We’re headed that way now. Alright.” But somehow I think the universe leads us all into places, whether it be in life or creatively or our work or whatever it is. There are all these clues everywhere. So I kind of bring one character into another one with me. I did this play, and then I immediately went and did this movie with director Denis Villeneuve called “Prisoners,” and I just stole shit from that character and put it on the screen. I was working it on stage as I transitioned out of that character, out of the character on stage into the movie. Thank God I landed on my feet. You just roll with it.


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