Rising to greet you with firm eye contact and a hearty handshake, Jake Gyllenhaal temporarily shows all the courtesy and intensity his “Nightcrawler” character Lou Bloom burns with for the duration of the film. Unlike Lou, though, the formalities, once accomplished, fade into the background as the actor talks, with his enthusiasm about writer-director Dan Gilroy‘s journey through nocturnal L.A. interrupted only by easy laughter. He’s put back on some of the weight he lost to portray Lou’s feral stare, but when he talks about his character’s nature and needs, his eyes flash with recollected intensity. We spoke with Gyllenhaal in Los Angeles.
Where does Lou come from in you? Is it something you reach for, is it something you build up out of prior experience …
The word was the guide, you know? The word was definitely the guide here, at the beginning; I had an initial response and I wanted to play the character, but … it was so specific, for this character, his verbiage and the dialogue; his soliloquies, he talked so much. But there was a way in which he talked where he made his own language. The very first line of the movie is—I was about to say “the play,” which is interesting—one of them is … well, the first line Lou has is “I’m lost.” But the second line is, “I was under the opinion that this was a detour.” Something about memorizing the lines—and I memorized the movie, like a play—something about it started to lead me to the character. The punctuation, all those things, and I guess there’s a part of me, and I really do believe there’s a part of all of us that has Lou Bloom inside there.
Like you were saying, the rhythm, the punctuation, the cadence; it’s like he grew up on a diet of Business 101-speak.
He’s completely plagiarizing those Anthony Robbins self-help books; there’s a certain kind of general idea or things like, when he says, “I’ve never once swore in front of an employer.” (Laughs) Shit like that! I mean, where did you read that?
What article in the dentist’s office?
The dual-edged blade of modern American culture, where you can be anyone you want, and yet that will not be enough. How much of Lou is defined by his lean and hungry look, by his wants?
My grandfather—whose parents were immigrants from Russia—he really wanted me at one point to read this story about Billy the Kid, because Billy the Kid was an immigrant, essentially, and he was someone that came here to reinvent himself, and that America is made up, obviously, out of the idea of reinvention, and that Billy the Kid is this quintessential American character, and was an immigrant. He reinvented his identity to become the quintessential American. And I think that Lou is a product of the times; he’s been created …
First of all, I don’t think Lou is the sort of person to ever want to be seen on-camera, but I think he is a product of our need for information, he’s a product of the equality of information across the extraordinary spectrum of it, meaning … Incredibly important information is on an equal footing with unimportant information. Unimportant information is important; important information is unimportant, because it’s all equal; we’re just feeding the beast, it feels like, and Lou is a product of that.
When you get to sidle up to Bill Paxton and run scenes, as somebody who just loves movies, that’s got to be pretty great, yes?
And that speech he gives in that scene we have where we’re walking together … I love that scene, and it’s so well-written. But Bill’s one of those people … he’s been in great movies, he knows a great movie, and he’s been playing different parts in all of them; he’s a real character actor, too. It is a good sign when Bill Paxton is in your movie. (Laughs)
A lot of the time, you see L.A. in the movies and it’s The Hollywood sign or Sunset Blvd, but I like bullshit, strip-mall, come-in-through-the-loading-dock L.A., and this movie does a great job of showing that. As somebody who’s had to spend too much time, was it nice to shoot this version of L.A.?
Strip mall, deep Valley, flat topography; not the sort of grandiose Beverly Hills, Downtown, vertical L.A.; the complete horizontal, like you’re saying, back side of Los Angeles. And yes, it is the sort of “everyday L.A.,” but being filmed by Robert Elswit, there’s a extraordinary poetry to it.
It’s weird that Mr. Elswit’s efforts here make him feel like almost another member of the cast for this film, in terms of shaping all of the darkness …
He is; I knew Robert was shooting the movie—he agreed to do it before I signed on—I knew we were going to have a fascinating movie. It’s not just about so much of this is his, he’s a storyteller first and foremost as a cinematographer; I knew that he and Dan were going to be creating a world, an unconscious world, and I knew that Robert would stop at nothing to make an L.A. no one had ever seen before even in movies that he had shot; the standard being that high visually, and he being a sort of storyteller with his visuals—not just a visualist, but a storyteller first and foremost?
He is without a doubt one of the stars of the movie. Even shot-to-shot—and I’m in a position now where can look for those things, because I’ve seen the film 20 times, and I’ve seen 20 cuts—when I finally saw the final color-timing … what he shot is, not to go on a tangent, but he shot daytime stuff on 35 millimeter and nighttime stuff on the Alexa, and there’s a sort of seamless kind of quality to what he did, almost as if he compared the 35mm film in the nighttime and he matched the Alexa’s quality at nighttime, the colors that stuck out—even in background shots, an orange hue will cut to me, and over time, throughout the scene, the colors change behind us as the scene intensifies! I mean, it’s nuts! the red of that car, the streetlights of Los Angeles … those things, he’s a half of the movie.
So many careers get kind of sacrificed on this candy-cotton cross of “likeablity” and Lou Bloom is a stone-cold psychopath from the jump. What’s the appeal in taking on a character which is exciting to play but, for many people is gonna be hard to watch?
There are not characters written like this anymore; in fact, I would venture to say I haven’t seen a character written like this … it’s hard for me to judge how it’s performed, but in terms of who he was on the page, since like you know the ’70s in that way. There’s a complexity to who Lou Bloom is, and a commentary, a sort of comedic-social commentary, that Dan has the balls to communicate, that to me … I think he’s incredibly likeable.
In fact, I find myself rooting for Lou the entire time. I think there’s not one thing Lou says in this movie that is wrong; everything he says, I agree with; what he does is a different thing, but what he says … everything that he says, you could take him to court and you couldn’t find him guilty. And I think that creates a fascinating character to play. But I don’t know; he is disturbing. It is disturbing … I never think about it that way; I think you’re doing something wrong if you’re worried about being liked.
“Nightcrawler” opens on Friday, October 31st.