SXSW:Source Code Interview with Jake Gyllenhaal

I have been a fan of Jake Gyllenhaal for a long time now, I mean Bubble Boy long time. His new film Source Code opens nationwide April 1st. I sat down with Jake to talk about how he prepared for such a solitary role and what he loved about the script and more. Be sure to check out Source Code when it comes out. Believe me, it really blew me away with how much I enjoyed it. Check out our Source Code review here. Warning: There may be spoilers in this dialogue for Source Code.

One of the things I find most amazing about you as an actor is your ability to express things through your eyes.  There were a few scenes where you had to show humor while everything was very serious around you.  I wonder, as an actor, what you think about when you’re doing all this serious stuff, but you’re trying to throw some humor into the over all sense of it?  If that makes any sense?

Jake: No, it does.  I don’t make any sense when I answer questions, as you’ll see, so we’re in the same wheelhouse here.  In this movie, I had to be totally aware of what was going on in the story.  I had to think about the many different variations that the audience would be thinking about at the same time as being present in the story itself, and what was going on with this guy.  I watched it last night for the first time, the final version of the movie, and I remember that there’s that sequence where I asked the woman for her phone, and then she gives me her phone after she’s freaked out that I beat up the guy downstairs.  I take the phone, and I’m looking through it, and I thought that’s a big jump for an audience to do that.  Duncan and I talked and I said, ‘maybe I have money, and I offer her money?’  He was like, ‘that’s a great idea, get us a hundred bucks!  Put it in his wallet!’  So we tried a take and I gave her the money, took the phone, and I called up Rutledge; I thought, ‘oh shit, how am I putting all this stuff together so fast?’  Duncan and I would continuously have to think about these things.  So that’s all to say that a lot of the choices, particularly narratively, in this movie, as an actor we’re thinking about how the audience was going to respond.  So the humor comes out of that, knowing we did variations of it – knowing that the audience might go, ‘What?’ and then we go, ‘What?’ and they go, ‘Oh, they know too.’  (Laughter)  I like that.  I love playing a character that’s engrossed in the situation he’s in, but also it’s sort of bringing the audience along too.  Duncan and I both love movies that involve those kind of characters.

There’s a real connect-ability, and you probably know that.  It’s just such an easy way to connect.

Jake:  Thank you.  Well, I genuinely care a lot about the audience that’s watching the movie.  I was so excited last night, because I thought we pulled so many things off that we were worried about or whatever.  I thought, ‘We’re all together here!’  and no better place than Austin.  I just felt like there’s a real (this is very abstract, but) there’s a real connection with an audience that’s hard to make, because it’s not live.  It’s not live when you’re acting.  But someday, someone will see it, and it pulled it off, and the humor comes from that.  I don’t believe any situation is without humor, regardless of the oddities of being a human being.  They’re tragic, joyful, and humorous, all at the same time.

In the pod, when you were acting it was just you, right?  There was no screen, no visuals, just you in the pod?

Jake: Just me in the pod.

How difficult was it?

Jake: Ah, so much fun.  I actually am an actor that feels most comfortable on stage, and to me, it felt very much like , ah…we would play scenes out — six, seven, eight page scenes — in one take.  I have a harder time doing little pieces.  I have a much easier time doing one whole take.  It was wonderful, because someone would either be reading the lines to me through a speaker, or sometimes Vera would say the lines, and have done a variation of the lines.  It offered endless possibilities, and opportunities, and choices.  There are takes that are not in the movie that are just crazy, and I love that.  I loved it.  And, yes, there was no one on the screen, I couldn’t see, and I was just talking to a green screen.  People were all on the same page.  I look up and there was a window, because the production designer put a window up there, obviously for light, but as soon as you put a window, there’s a huge question.  So how do you answer that question?  Well, I look up there, and what’s up there?  There’s an entire take where I’m up there, trying to find out what’s up there.  We do it for a little bit, and the editor, Paul Hirsch (who’s brilliant), asked that question, and we answered it.  The whole movie’s so fun, because it’s full of questions all the time.

I think the thing that’s interesting about Colter is that he stays very vulnerable; he gets hurt, he acts frustrated.  I was wondering how important was it to both you and Duncan to have a hero that wasn’t exactly the macho type?  You know, someone that does get pissed and maybe acts like a jerk at times, if that’s admissible? (Laughter)  He does!

Jake: When somebody’s tried like that, I mean, how would you feel?  He says, “One death is service enough,” and then you take me, and I’ve apparently signed another thing that says, ‘no, not one death, five deaths.’  Or, ‘you get to get reincarnated by the US Military.’  (Laughter)  You know, it’s like, ‘What? I didn’t agree to that!’  There’s going to be a lot of emotions that are stirred from that.  Duncan never ever said anything was wrong, or steered me in a direction differently.  Sometimes I’d go nuts on a take, and he would say to do something different.  He knew I’d get him what he needed.  He’s a character who gets an opportunity to know that he’s going to get be reborn.  He’s in the pod, but they’re going to send him back in, so he can throw a bit of a tantrum, because they still need him and he knows that.  He doesn’t need to totally behave himself.  In the train it’s the same thing.

Can you talk about working in an environment like that with Duncan, where he does not correct you about everything, versus say, David Fincher who’s specific about every little detail?

Jake: Well, Fincher’s specific about details, but he lets an actor be free within the number of takes he does.  But he lets an actor be free.  That’s a mark of a great director.  As soon as you start trying to put your hands all over a wet sculpture, it starts to fall apart.  There’s “over kneading,” that happens with…there are many different examples I can give.  But a great director, regardless of their process, always has an actor feel like they have a mind of their own.  Everyone just has very different processes.  (Laughs)

What was the one moment, when reading the script, that sold you to want to do this project?

Jake: The first ten pages I read, and I was like, I love this movie.  Then I thought it’s got to suck, it’s got to fall apart.  (Laughter)   You know what I mean?  It’s just got to.  But I think, ultimately even when it didn’t, it was when Duncan wanted to make the movie.  I went, ‘Alright, this is it.  I’m so psyched!’  I geeked out on it man, I geeked out.

So you’re a fan of Moon?

Jake: Yeah.  If someone gets at something that you don’t normally see in movies…Like I saw Susanne Beir’s new movie, In a Better World, it’s fantastic.  I don’t know a director getting at the things that go on in that movie like she does. I’d go anywhere for a director like that.  Duncan did that with Moon.  I couldn’t believe he wanted to do this movie after that.  It felt like we had hit the jackpot, and I didn’t know why, but I was going with it.  That, I think, was the deciding factor.  It’s his really unique vision.

Well, Duncan and Ben have described it as a non-linear film.  I’ve been over thinking it, I’ve been admitting it all day.  When you look at all the Source Codes in a linear fashion, the one thing that came to mind about your character was the five stages of grief.  At the end, he’s been through all this, he’s accepted it, and he’s got control.  He walks up to the bomber and is like, ‘Hi.  Beautiful day,’  and then you’re able to express your love to Christina finally in the last moments.  So there’s lots of anger, there’s grief, and then finally at the very end, acceptance.  That was the image that came to mind.

Jake: I think that’s beautifully put, because in the end also, where the line, “I love,” that connects to the line that the bomber says.  But he says, ‘Why, I wanted to destroy the world.  I’m going to bury it all in rubble, because that’s the only way we can fix everything.’   It’s just to get rid of everything, get it cleared, and then start over again.  I think what he comes to at the end, is like, ‘No, it’s a mess…everything’s a mess, and you made more of a mess when you think you’re cleaning it all up.  You can’t clean it all up.’  I love that he says to him that there’s no more burying the world in rubble today, it’s a mess.  And that is kind of an acceptance in the end.  This acceptance of life and what a mess it can be — what a beautiful mess it can be.  I love that idea, I think it’s so true.  When there’s that doubt where he’s like, ‘No, it’s not happening, I know what’s happening.  I’ve got control over this…What?  Fuck that!  I don’t?  Fuck you guys!’  (Laughter)  It’s true, I like that idea.

How hard is it for an action script like this to come across the table, that isn’t just about being in a high-concept situation as the one that’s in there, but also stresses characterization that represents an acting challenge?

Jake: Rare.  It’s rare.  The script was wonderful to read — so wonderful to read.  But I knew that the characters and the ideas can get really muddled.  Someone could avoid them very easily and say, ‘It works, so we’re not going to go there.’  Emphasizing the director, as soon as Duncan came on, I knew we were going to go there — the emotional place.  This movie works because Duncan wasn’t afraid of the cerebral aspects of the movie, and then immediately in the end go to the heart of it too.  It is rare, but I think it’s even more rare that a director can pull it off.  A lot of times they try — ‘It’s in there, but we’re going to avoid it a little bit, or coat it with this.’  Duncan doesn’t do it.  I think it’s the director even more than the script that’s handed to you.

When you saw it last night, and you saw the explosion for the very first time, did it evoke any feelings for you?  Did you feel any shock to see it that way or was it just another explosion?

Jake: The first explosion?

Yeah, the very first time, because that really had a pretty big impact on me, I don’t know why…

Jake: No, my best friend was with his girlfriend, and he lives here in Austin, and I was really excited for him to see it — he happens to be a documentary filmmaker.  He’s this very smart guy and he’s not fooled very easily, and the first explosion, he literally grabbed my leg!  (Laughter)  He was holding his girlfriend’s hand in one hand, and he just grabbed my leg, and I was like, “What the – !”  (Laughter)  I knew exactly how that moment was going to play out, and I think what I always worry about is that moment is actually in the trailer, so how are people going to feel about that?  They’ve seen it.  I was still like, ‘Oh, I know what’s happening, but then what?’  Yes, it’s a very sort of shocking moment for someone who doesn’t know what’s going to happen, but I was really excited at whatever anybody’s thinking, or going to call, or knows how it’s going to happen, they have no idea how it’s going to end.  You have no idea, because you get to the end, and you go, ‘Wait, the edge is right there, I see the edge of the cliff and we’re thirty minutes into the movie!  This doesn’t make sense.’  I love that!  That’s what gets me.  I was like, ‘Everybody in here’s going to have a good time!’  (Laughter)  I just love that!

When you jump off the train — well, obviously you don’t really jump off the train —  but how did they film that?

Jake: Ugh, that’s brilliant – that’s Duncan.  If we had more money to make this movie, you would have had more shots like that from Duncan.  He basically had to very, very finely pick what moments he wanted to emphasize.  And that’s also what’s brilliant about him.  This movie was a small movie in comparison to what it looks like.  The shot is three different shots.  It takes place over three different environments.  The first one was on stage on a non-moving train, which is green screen, and it was a crane shot that came around — the train was cut in half, which they cut in half after we finished shooting the train stuff, because we could only afford one train.  So they cut it, after we had gotten whatever we had needed, and the shot starts of the back of my head, and as the crane pulls around to the front of the train I jump off and I land.  I had to roll in a certain way, which on the first take worked perfectly.  Then we shot the second part outside on the train station, and I had to roll, like, I had to throw myself into a roll four or five times and then land there on a spot where the crane stopped at one exact spot, every time.  Then, they CGI’d in the middle, making it one shot.  They always wanted it to be one shot.

It looked so real.

Jake: Yeah.  Everyone was like, “Oh God!”  You know?  But, that was not written in the script.  It wasn’t, “and he jumps off the train.”  Duncan said, ” that’s an opportunity.”  I just can’t wait for when he has even more resources.  Fincher does this, too.  Like when he does the twins in The Social Network, where he uses CGI to actually help the story.  They’re all through that movie, but they’re not about show-y, making it look like, ‘We’ll blow everybody’s mind.’

You’re never in the box, right?  That’s just a CGI.  A view with your brain exposed.

Jake: Yeah.  That’s a mold of me.

Was that unnerving?  To see that mold?

Jake: Yeah, Duncan didn’t want me to see that.

That was very unsettling, I thought.

Jake: I didn’t see that until I’d finished shooting.  I was just doing off-camera lines for Vera, because I wasn’t on that set.  So, I would just sit in this dark room.  I would see her monitor and I would read my lines to her.  And one day, he was like, “Come here, I want you to see this.”  It was my second day.  I have this picture of me of like (posing with a thumbs up next to mold)  (Laughter)  Everyone was like, ‘Whoa!’  And I was afraid of that getting out on the internet that that’s what happens, because that’s sort of the essence of it.

As simple and non-cynical the ending is, do you feel that there’s a darkness there, that he does take over Sean Fentress’ body?  That is kind of bad, you know?  It’s terrible.

Jake: Yeah, but I also have a belief that the movie is about how souls kind of meld in.  We become new people and different people in every interaction we have.  Like, whoever’s with us, we interact with them and we become a different person.  It shapes us in a different way, but little do we know that it’s happening all the time.  I think that there are little births and little deaths happening on a daily basis.  Who knows?  I mean, when you look at the reflection in the mirror at the very end, that’s Sean Fentress.  Where’s Colter?  Is that really Colter?  I mean, we see Colter, but she sees Sean Fentress.  So, who’s getting the raw end of the deal here?  It’s a question that’s up in the air.  Duncan said last night when they said, ‘Well, where’s Sean Fentress?’ and he was like, ‘He’s dead.’  (Laughter)  But, I believe you need a very steady hand to make rules, in a director.  I think they’re both all good.

This other movie you have coming out, ‘Nailed’, is there anything you can tell us about that?  David O. Russel’s no longer associated with that, right?

Jake: Well, I wonder who’s associated with that, if David O. Russel’s not associated with it, because it is David’s movie.

Were there re-shoots after the fact?

Jake: No.  It’s still in the process of a number of people who are non-creatives trying to figure out how to make something creative.  I’m anywhere that David O. Russel is, if he’s not there, then I’m not either.

Thank you for your time. Nice meeting you.

Jake: No, thank you, bye.

by Angela Davis

transcription by Rachael Edwards

About Angela

Angela is the Editor-in-Chief of Lost in Reviews. She and Ryan created Lost in Reviews together in 2009 out of a mutual hatred for all the stodgy old farts currently writing film reviews. Since launching the site, Angela has enjoyed reviewing indie films over all other films, picking up new music from all corners of the world and photographing live shows. She is the co-host of Blu Monday and a member of the Kansas City Film Critic Circle.

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