This weekend in theaters you have to check out Actor and Executive Producer, Jake Gyllenhaal‘s latest sci-fi action thriller, Source Code (read review). Gyllenhaal was given the option that every actor dreams about, being asked “who do you want to work with and on what?” His answer? Moon director Duncan Jones and writer Ben Ripley’s script for Source Code.
Gyllenhaal seemed especially on point during the interview. This is definitely a project he has a lot riding on and has put a lot into. Find out what it took to get the project going and what it was like for him to make…
What do you think when you read the script? Especially since it was you who read it, got it to Duncan and really make it happen.
Jake Gyllenhaal: I read the first fifteen pages like you watch the first five minutes of the movie and I was completely engaged. Ben [Ripley] had written a script that was so vivid and visceral and I remember even sentence by sentence there were these capitalizations like “COFFEE SPILL,” you really could follow at a very logical way. There was a lot of very clear logic to it. I put down after the first fifteen pages because I thought, there’s no way it’s going to be able to stay as interesting, like it must’ve been a writing sample – dancing with aliens at the end or something, I had no idea what was going to happen.
So how did it come to be?
I eventually kept reading, I was enthralled with the script and it was amazing. I knew also, and when Duncan came on board which was — they kind of asked me, “If you had a wish-list of directors you would want to work with, who would it be?” And Duncan was the top of the list. I’d just seen Moon, I thought Duncan was amazing. It felt, to me, like he was originally at a character in the middle of his first movie, that was actually going through human issues while at the same time being visually stunning world, and the rhythm of his movie was amazing. It was incredible. I just never thought he would do it. The hee ended up wanting to do it! It was a shock.
There’s a feeling of Groundhog Day, and I thought you pulled it off incredibly well. It’s not boring when you go back. Can you talk about that? And what kind of input you might’ve put into the story?
We all knew that the only way the audience would be engaged was with variation, within each source code. And because Ben had written such a type-script and because each source code had a very specific theme, when you really read the script, you see, we named each Source Code almost chapter by chapter. The first source code was like “Absolute Confusion” — the more confusing the better. The second one was very clear, “the sim[ulation]” — so on and so forth of the different themes. The second one, knowing it was a sim, Duncan would come up to me and say, “Make it weirder, treat everyone like they are a computer game, make it even weirder, respond to them even stranger.”
Did that help you as an actor get into each scene?
Because we had these clear set rules, we could then bury it. Not to get even more complicated about it but we knew that Michelle Monaghan was going to be the unconscious aspect for the viewer so any variation she had, would be an unconscious response by an audience. Like if her arm went up, [the audience] wouldn’t completely know if there was a variation but they would sense it. I was more conscious, in that I could affect the people around me and the audience would say, “Oh there’s a difference.” And then Duncan could enter the scene, exit the scene, and shoot the scene in many different angles, on an unconscious and conscious level. We were constantly thinking about variation and I think that’s what makes, each time you go back, so intriguing because by the second one you know, you’re not entering or exiting the same way.
Were your scenes shot chronologically?
JG: In a way. The train sequence for me was shot chronologically. We shot the first day of me waking up and so on and so forth. Every source code was in order. Occasionally we would pick up pieces because we had Paul Hirsch literally upstairs editing the movie while we were shooting. So he’d say, “Well I need a closeup here, I need this,” or “Can you get an insert of that?” So we would do that, and after we finished off the train sequence we moved on to the pod sequence and we shot chronologically within the pod sequence. In a way, yes, but in way, no.
Did it help to have that much structure rather than popping all around?
JG: I great faith in the script and knew that it worked. And knew that no matter how we shot it, and had great faith in the fact that we had Don Burgess shooting the movie, we had Paul Hirsch cutting the movie, we had Mark Gordon and Jordan Wynn producing the movie. So to me, if we had shot it completely out of order — I don’t know. I think we might’ve shot the first scene last because I asked if we could shoot it again. The thing about playing this character is you learn so much even as you go on, that you want to play on those clues even earlier on. To me, it was an advantage but it also felt a bit sometimes like a disadvantage because I would have loved to — every clue you put in, you know someone can come back and watch it again and go, “Aha!” I had those “aha!” moments. I would’ve preferred it anyway because I knew the script worked so well.
The very first scene with Michelle, every single time you’re getting back into that. I was really impressed because there were times where it really felt like you were in an acting class. Was that the experience? Did it feel like acting class?
JG: Yeah it did. All the source codes, in particular the pod felt like real acting exercises. A lot of the time I was acting with myself. I didn’t see Vera [Farmiga] on the screen. I didn’t see anything. I was literally doing the solo, one man show with myself. Like a kid would when they pick up an object and go, “Oh hi, Mr. Croc, how are you?” It was that kind of world and that really brought out a lot of exploration.
Duncan doesn’t shoot its bitty pieces of coverage, he shoots scenes all in one go so the situation of doing the first source code was amazing because we had real confusion at first with how, when you read the scene, these are two people in two different scenes. Like if we were doing it onstage, it would’ve been incredibly difficult because we would’ve had to hear different lines than were being sent to us, which is essentially what is happening. What we did was we wrote responses on her coverage that I would say to [Michelle] to make her feel not as uncomfortable. So she would say, “I took your advise, it was really good advise” and I’d say, “Oh it really wasn’t anything,” and she’d be like, “You’re acting a little strange.” Not like, I’m sorry I don’t know who you are strange, but the way I would say it to her where she’d be like, “That’s weird, it’s not like you to say.” And then on my side, I’d say, “My name is Captain Colter Stevens, okay I can help you out,” when she wasn’t on camera.
It was an acting exercise every single day. It was great fun because of that and great fun because Duncan really lets his actors go. He lets his actors and that’s a testament to him as a filmmaker. That’s what I saw with Moon and that’s what he let us do here. I don’t know what his attitude and demeanor are offset, but behaviorally he behaves like Ang Lee in a lot of ways. He lets his actors do what they are going to do and he has confidence in them. If there’s an issue or if he has a question, it’s put very simply. If he would come up to me and say, like in the second source code, “Make it weirder, just be weirder.” And that’s a very simple direction that I could work with. And then he’d come up after the next scene and be like, “Even weirder.” Someone told me a story about Ang Lee where he said something, well he said to me once “be less sexy”. That type of confidence, that type of very clear simplistic direction was the way Duncan was. So it was constantly an acting exercise and it made it incredibly fun.
You worked with a lot of different directors who have a lot of different styles. Do you like mixing it up that much or is there something you prefer when you’re at work?
JG: First and foremost, with the directors I’ve had, I’ve learned so much from all of them. Just as an actor, and a director, seems to me — what I can see as an actor they can rely on. I can fit their process and make them feel like they don’t have to worry about Jake. Jake’s got it under control. He’s going to deliver even beyond what the script delivered, which is what they always want. I do have a process. In order for me to get to where I think I can give that to a director — I feel very theatrical as an actor even much more than cinematic, but my strength is in being able to play a whole take all the way through which is why, Duncan and I work so well together. We do a seven page long scene like we do one whole take, as if I was onstage. I’m definitely not someone who can always deliver a sprint, I can’t just one line. I find the line through the understanding of the whole scene. It maybe just means I’m not that smart or whatever, but I find it as I’m in it.
I was thinking, one of the difficulties might’ve been Russell Peters breaking you up?
JG: Poor Russell [Peters] he had to sit there through a lot of the things, just sitting there in the background for so many takes. A lot of his lines in the movie are improv with his just being frustrated having to be there all day and saying one line. He says at the very beginning, “I’ll punch your face” and I think he meant that. He totally cracked us up, he’s a great guy. I love those Canadian comedians, man.
Talking about the improv. What kind of comedic points did you and Duncan add? Can you talk about that?
JG: My character was always with the audience all the time. My character is the audience’s eyes, so in order to be a step ahead of everybody we had to cover the story with, the people who I knew would be going, “What?” or “No way,” so if I could respond that way, we had a character, that part of the audience respond to the skeptics in the audience. The comedy element came out of us questioning parts of the story. Saying “What is the Source Code?” There’s got to be a moment when you’re like: “What?” So because of that it allowed for a sense of comedy. I also think in tragic, strange, sad moments in life, there is always comedy in those moments. My favorite moments are the comedic moments
You took on a lot with this film and really pushed it along. How did this role change you personally and professionally?
JG: Well I trusted my instinct wholeheartedly on this one. I read the script, I responded to it. There was something that connected in my unconscious and in my heart, in my head and it all kind of seemed to work in terms of the story and the character. I just knew I could do it. There was a confidence that came after I finished it. It kind of starts to swell up inside you when you read something and you know you’re trusting your instinct. The same thing with Duncan, I saw his movie — I really never thought he would want to do this movie, when they said, who’s your top choice of directors? And I said, “Duncan Jones.”
I knew something in my heart about it, but very rarely do you have that type of cosmic connection where it works, and someone agrees to do it too. That worked and that happened. That was strange. Compromise is a big thing about being an adult that I’ve learned, but compromising certain instincts creatively just isn’t always good. Unless there is someone who knows more about you that you do yourself. That happens when you are working with a brilliant director a lot of the times. I learned not to compromise the [artistic] choices that I make. I got to trust that instinct because I did with this and I’m so proud of this.
Are there moments in your life that you would like to repeat?
JG: Well it’s funny because I’ve been asked that a couple of times. I’ve lived a blessed life. I don’t regret regardless of what it might be, it’s always if you listen to it the best teacher in the way that it allows anyone, and I speak for myself, it has allowed me to live more presently. In the wake of something like what is going on in Japan, even around the world, I can’t think about something that I would want to go back and re-live in my life, because my life has so far been pretty extraordinary. I would want there to be something like this computer program imagine if you had the ability to go back into a nuclear scientist’s body in Japan, eight minutes or so, before something would have happened, you could warn thousands of people what was going on. That’s what I would use it for. It’s hard to think about something for myself in the situation that’s going on right now. It just keeps making you think of what is happening in the world more or so.
Check out Source Code in theaters April 1st! No Fooling!
I’m not putting the trailer into this review because there are too many spoilers. If you really need more convincing you can watch the trailer here.