Wednesday, September 11, 2013
The things you have to do to get back home
Jake Gyllenhaal covers VMan magazine's 10th anniversary issue and talks about changes in his life and his work:
It’s been raining, and the truck is trying to hit full speed from a dead stop, spitting earth and gravel at the limitations of torque and physics. The words “I’m not gonna let this motherfucker get away” are running through Jake Gyllenhaal’s mind as he gets dragged, one hand on the tailgate, about the length of a first down. Thing is, nobody on the set of his next film, Prisoners, told him to do this: not director Denis Villeneuve, not the guy behind the wheel (Hugh Jackman), not even himself. But it’s what would have been true.
In the film, the driver of the truck is a father pursuing his child’s abductor and Jake plays a detective set on—in this moment—preventing homicidal vigilantism. If this wasn’t fiction—if the father was real, if the cop was real, if the kidnapped children were real—the truck is there, so he’d grab the truck. “So I grabbed the truck, he drove off, and I just held on. Everyone was like, ‘Oh my god!’ And I said, ‘Did you get that? That was crazy.’ And it wasn’t even in the frame.”
It’s not the decisions you make but the decisions you witness yourself act upon that reveal your real nature. A glimpse of the subconscious can articulate identity at its core. So the question is: how do you manifest that? Jake Gyllenhaal loves this question. And so he ends up getting dragged by a truck, out of frame, without even realizing what he’s doing.
“I was searching for an experience. I was looking for an experiment,” he tells me over beers at Spain bar in the West Village, legendary authentic shithole for the New School writer and philosopher set. He’s referring to his motivation to sign on to Enemy, directed by Denis Villeneuve, with whom Jake would immediately work again on Prisoners. “I needed something way out of the box and I didn’t know what that was necessarily, and I wasn’t really sure what I was looking for. I feel like that’s always a good place for me. Whenever I’m not sure what I’m looking for, I always find something interesting.” ...
“My experience on End of Watch…” he says, pausing, an expression of cherished pain washing across his face. “It redefined for me how I wanted to make movies. It was an experience I had no idea was going to be as influential on me as it was.”
“I made a number of changes in my life,” he says when I ask how he filled the year that followed Watch. “I moved from Los Angeles to New York City, really to be closer to my family, and also—I had made a lot of promises to myself about getting back to theater, which is what I love, and I really wanted to follow that. I wanted to be around that community. So I just made this sort of big move out East, which is the opposite move people usually make, and I basically took some time.”
A couple days later, Jake sends me an e-mail that says “I had reached a point in my life and career where I had to ask myself what I really believed in, what I wanted to leave behind. I felt like those questions warranted exploration. I believe deeply in the reality of both the light and dark side of things and everything in between. I am interested in exploring people and situations without a filter.” And when a director’s mission statement about an upcoming project made its way to Jake, asking, “How unbearable is it to be in front of yourself, to totally recognize yourself in another being?” he knew he’d found his experience, his experiment.
“It’s about somebody searching for themselves,” Jake says. “It’s about dual identities and the search for identity in all of us. I’m not even sure I would call it a movie. It’s one of those films that’s about a question, and I wonder if it’s ultimately anything more than a question.”
When I ask Jake if he can pinpoint any big epiphanic moments in his life, he points to the year-plus after filming Source Code and before his balls-deep approach to End Of Watch. His publicist, Mara Buxbaum, told him to watch the documentary The Promise, about the making of Bruce Springsteen’s seminal record Darkness On The Edge Of Town. “Which may seem like a strange irony,” Jake says, “one’s publicist instigating a search of one’s soul, [but] she has a way of recommending things at the right time. She could see that I was searching and offered [the film, which premiered at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival] as a bit of a guide.” He continues: “I have listened to Springsteen since I was a boy. My father was always a big Springsteen fan. The “Born in the USA” tour was the first concert I went to.” ...
Jake says: “You constantly have to stay alive, stay awake, listen to yourself. I want to try and make choices that, no matter how they turn out, I can always say I know where this started in me.”
Denis says: “Truth in a performance comes from the actor’s instinct, his subconscious. But to let that happen, he needs to lose control.”
Bruce says: “What’s the part of yourself that you can’t compromise or you’ll lose yourself?”
Jake says: “I was looking for an experience. I was looking for an experiment."
“Jake loves the sensation of having given everything in a shot,” says Villeneuve. “Like, he would die at the end of each take, [and] doing sometimes 35 or 40 takes. Again. Again. Again. Searching. His generosity was very moving. I think actors are better when they are free, [and] in danger.”
“I’ve been waiting for that for years,” Jake says. “I’ve been waiting for a director to be like, ‘Oh yeah, get hurt.’”
“He can go really deep into a performance and totally lose control,” Villeneuve continues. “Too many actors are not able to deal with this. When you lose control, you also deal with your own ugliness.”
I get up, look at my books, and suddenly remember something: When Jake first started to personalize how storytelling informs self-awareness, he footnoted that this has always been its purpose in culture, and then cited Homer’s Odyssey, “which so many stories are still similar to. It’s about the things that have to be done to get back home—they change you for the rest of your life. You don’t get back home unscarred. And whatever those things are that scar you, whatever mistakes you’ve made, they’re lessons. The movies I’ve tried to make are like that, they say it’s an imperfect journey. No one will get back to where they need to be without scars. No one will get back without having to sacrifice something.”