Jake Gyllenhaal is making some of the most interesting choices of his career right now. Zodiac is a masterpiece and regardless of how he feels about the experience of shooting 100 takes for Fincher, the performance is among his best. More recently, he had the great one-two punch of Prisoners and Enemy for Dennis Villanueva, films that asked him to play three distinct characters in quick succession. If he’s feeling the stress of moving from one role to the next and leaving it all on the court in the process, he’s not showing it. Nightcrawler is another substantial notch in his belt, allowing him to play his most overtly creepy character yet. In the course of interviewing Gyllenhaal and director Dan Gilroy, each described Bloom as a coyote, but in the spirit of the season, I humbly submit that he’s more like The Blob. Bloom absorbs nearly everything he comes into contact with, not so much taking on their characteristics, but expanding his unique enterprise with those varied pieces. It’s a performance that saw Gyllenhaal lose a disturbing amount of weight, altering his face drastically. Those big, acting decisions tend to get a lot of attention from film journalists, and as you’ll see here, that was very much on everyone’s minds.
This was a roundtable interview, which means I was one of eight or ten other journalists (that’s right, I’m a journalist!), all of us trying to get a word in edgewise before our fifteen minutes were up. I say this, because this was my first roundtable in many years, and my rustiness was evident in that I didn’t get a single question off the ground. So when you see a question that doesn’t strike you as something I’d ask, that’s because it wasn’t.
A little more context: In the film, Lou Bloom becomes what is know as a “stringer,” someone who films crime scenes and sells the footage to local news outlets. It’s not so much an indictment of the media as it is a character piece, but there are a few questions about the media in there anyway and now you know why.
Nightcrawler is out this Friday (Halloween!) and this is the first of three interviews I sat in on with Jake, director Dan Gilroy and Rene Russo. Look for the rest later this week, but in the meantime…
It’s good to see a normal Jake Gyllenhaal here instead of Lou Bloom.
What does that even mean?
It’s so refreshing to see you after your performance as Lou Bloom.
I don’t even know what a normal Jake Gyllenhaal is.
You dazzled, as Lou Bloom.
Aww. Thank you.
What did you dig into or tap into to create Lou Bloom? Because he’s such an indelible character, a very complex character that has shades of Deniro in King of Comedy or even a little bit of Dustin Hoffman from Rain Man.
I’ll take them, I’ll take it all.
Absolutely stunning performance. And that couldn’t have been easy to achieve.
Not easy in the movie sense of easy. Do you know what I mean? I like to separate the two, of like, “life-easy” and then “movie-easy” and “life-hard” and “movie-hard.” But no, its wasn’t easy in that sense. It was a lot of preparation, but they were also great words on the page. Fucking great dialogue. I memorized it like a play and spent hours upon hours going around the streets in New York City running the lines. Like, trying to get them, getting three lines at a time, taking a run on the westside highway and being like, “Excuse me, sir? I’m looking for a job (runs through more dialogue at a rapid rate before stumbling and…)” what did I say? I, oh fuck! You know what I mean? So it was like, for months. So there was that and then it was just something that started to feed into my soul a little bit—into my bones—and the way he talked. I mean, the first line he has is, “I’m under the opinion that this was a detour.” I mean, nobody talks like that. And those word choices became a part of me. And then I just started losing weight, working with Dan (Gilroy) and we started rehearsing with everybody and he (Lou Bloom) just sort of grew up out of the earth.
When you’re fully immersed in a role, what is your daily life like? Are you blinders on just for that script and that project or can you balance both?
There was no real life with this role, because, just from the specifics, like the actual reality of it was like, we were up at night. So I wasn’t up during the day really, all that much. And when I was, I was pretty much totally out of it. I wasn’t eating a lot of food, so just on a physical level of the chemical response your body’s in, you don’t get out of it. You don’t get the weekend to be like, “woohoo! Now I get to stay up during the day and I’m going to eat.” You don’t have that. So through the entire length of production it was just THAT the whole time.
You say that you were filming at night, did at any point you felt like you were losing your mind? (Most everyone laughs).
What, are you talking about during the movie? (More laughter) Yes and no, but there’s some strange safety for me—which is probably dangerous—which is, when you’re making a movie you’re using it all for your work. Where I’m sure if, you’re writing a piece and you’re putting a piece together you’re like, “I have a goal with the thing I’m doing and somehow all of those other feelings will get channeled into the product that you’re trying to get created. So somehow it’s not as dangerous, but I’m shooting a movie with Jean Marc Vallee right now and we were in a car and he’s operating the camera from the passenger seat and I’m driving the car—and we don’t have a rig or anything like that—we’re driving to the highway and he’s like, “drive faster!” And it was easy to get caught up in the moment and go, “yeah, faster!” But then we’re like, “oh, we’re making a movie!” (Laughter). There is that that happens, so…I don’t know if that answers your questions.
(Police sirens start howling outside and Jake stood up, craning his neck to see the accident. Everyone laughs).
Did the film change your perspective about the news and the manipulation of things? Like the scene where Lou re-stages part of the crime scene by moving the body?
Kind of. I think I’ve always felt that way a little bit. I mean, there’s a part of telling stories, if you’re a part of telling stories anyway. You make movies and 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. What I noticed was—and the thing I learned was—unimportant information became important and important information was unimportant. So everything exists now in 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 there is no discrepancy between either. And that is a world in which Lou Bloom blooms. And I kind of knew that somehow, but I really got into it (as a result of the film). And I started to see there’s an innocence to—people talk about how disturbing the character Lou is—but, the “stringers” who do this work for real—when I started following them—it was fun in a way. It was innocent. I don’t think they were thinking about the way their work was going to affect something. We’re the ones who are responsible for giving them the opportunity. For people to pay for the footage that they’re getting. We are the people who create Lou Bloom. We’ve created him. He’s a creation of our culture. And so, that’s how I feel about the news now.
How did you first become involved with this project and what was the particular appeal of this character?
I was sent the script by Dan [Gilroy] and Tony [Gilroy]. And Robert Elswit, who was shooting the movie, I know because he’s my godfather. And I called him up and I said—I knew Dan as a writer, but I didn’t know him as a director and I was wondering what Robert saw—and he’s a great story teller. So we talked a lot about his take on it, of sort of being in the vein of those old 70s films. He was saying he felt a Paddy Chayefsky kind of vibe to the whole vision of the film and that inspired me. To me, it was the character was just so well written. I’ve said it before, but the first couple of soliloquies that he gave—I just thought—this is like theater. And when you find something like that, but for film and it’s realistic, I mean, it doesn’t matter who the character is, you just want to do it.
I’m glad you mentioned Robert (Elswit), because this is just one of the most beautiful films he has ever lensed.
I don’t know about that…
I know you’re partial. But because you shot at night, we see a beautiful LA that a lot of people don’t get to see, or even if you do see it, because of his work, it’s shown in the most beautiful possible light. Shooting, did you get a chance to see LA in a new light yourself, through his eyes and this experience?
Yeah. The last two movies I’ve made in LA have been filmed a lot at night and in parts of Los Angeles that I didn’t grow up in and didn’t know a lot about. End of Watch was South East LA, and we spent so much time there. So I started seeing LA in a totally different way than I did when I was growing up around it, even though I grew up right on the edge of Korea town. I didn’t really realize it until we started, but I lived right near Rampart. So I wasn’t really conscious of that. And then with this one, we were in the deep valley.
Dan’s intention 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 Santa Monica, it’s lit with this kind of crazy vibrance. But yeah, that “deep valley look.” I’ve driven through these areas and they’re so isolated, so that was the big takeaway: Regardless of your socio economic background, you’re so isolated. It doesn’t matter, it’s just the way we transport around here. Whether you take a bus or car, it’s not like a lot of other cities. Dan kind of burst that open while we were in these other areas that were waaaaaay deep valley. The last shot of the film isn’t the valley, but Glendale, which is a strip that could seem really impersonal, but it’s just so LA. It has the essence of Los Angeles on Glendale Blvd, you know? It’s a long winded answer, but I’ve fallen back in love with LA after having moved to New York.
It is a cliche, but do you feel like New York is a better place to live as far as nurturing your acting?
What nurtures my acting life is just my life. And my life and family happens to be in New York. The majority of my family is there. So that’s really what makes the connection the most real.
I took business in college, so I was amused by some of your bargaining powers and some of the jargon Lou uses in the film. I think the film portrays America in the sense that, you can have nothing or everything depending on how ruthless you’re willing to be. Was that aspect of the film coming from you or Dan Gilroy?
All of the things that Lou says are almost plagiarized from all that corporate America shit and self help stuff. By the way, I don’t think Lou says anything that I wouldn’t agree with. If you think about it, really. What he does is different from what he says. How he justifies what he does is with what he says. But he just turns what we all use, you know, our idea of success at any cost. All those things. He does something different, but he says 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 un-ring the bell.” (Laughs) And he’s talking about manipulating a guy to go kill people, you know? But he’s still saying stuff that we use. The thing I always thought about Lou, and I think Dan already knew it too, because it’s just in his bones, is I think he was pretty gangster, you know?
Is the experience the thing for you with a project like this or is the box office and critical recognition a part of it too?
I really can’t think about any of that stuff while I’m doing my work. It really doesn’t help my work at all. The only time it helps me is when a director comes to me and tells me where we’re going and then it changes the choice of that scene. That’s very helpful to me. But most of the time if you think about how someone is responding, it becomes like you’re watching yourself while you’re inside of something. It just becomes unnatural and an unnatural human thing. 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, so it’s a different beast. And because I’ve seen so many cuts of the movie and been involved in this process really intimately—not just as the actor but also in producing it—because of that, I want people to see it and it does matter to me in a different way. And when I walk in to a screening I’m nervous in a different way than I am as an actor. But I know how I feel about it, and that’s what matters to me the most.
After playing such an intense role, do you need to take a break before taking on another?
I do, but (laughs) sometimes you feel like you don’t get to take the shot. If you’ve got the opportunity to take a break you have to take it when it comes. So after this movie and I went off and did this Everest movie—about this expedition in 1996 that ended tragically—and that was strangely cathartic, because we were out in the middle of nature and I was excited to be eating. But to shake off the character takes a while. After the everest movie I did a boxing movie with Antoine Fuqua [South Paw] where I spent six months training for that, and then I did this other movie with Jean-Marc Vallee [Demolition] and I had two weeks between them. You change your body or you explore a piece or a side of yourself and you have to pull back out. But somehow I think the universe leads us, whether it be in life or creatively or through work, whatever it is there are all these clues everywhere. So, I bring one character into the next with me. I did this play, and then I immediately did this movie with Dennis Villanueva called Prisoners and I just stole shit from that character. And I was working it out on stage as I transitioned out of that character and into the movie. Thank god I landed on my feet, but you just roll with it.
You’re almost unrecognizable in the film. Whose idea was the body transformation and what was the process to get there?
It was my idea to lose weight, but it was a mutual idea between Dan and I that Lou was an animal. He was really a coyote. And then I just tried to figure out how I was going to make him into that and the choice became a physical one. And Dan is very thin and he talks with his hands and I just stole that. I stole from Dan, I stole from a few people I know in my life, but the physical stuff came from me. As soon as I read the script, I saw it and thought, “how do I make that?” Sometimes an idea of, “oh, maybe he’s thin” will warp into, he wears clothes that are too big.
There was one more question about Jake’s ponytail in the film and while it and the answer were equally fascinating, the audio wasn’t clear enough for me to find any coherence in what Jake said. My most sincere apologies to any ponytail enthusiasts among you.
Tomorrow, director Dan Gilroy discusses the similarities between Nightcrawler and Invasion of the Body Snatchers!