Sure Jake Gyllenhaal is good-looking and a great actor—yet in his many recent interviews, this 35-year-old actor has revealed a much deeper side to his personality.
In his new film, Demolition, directed by French-Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallée (Dallas Buyers Club, and Wild) he portrays a man struggling to deal with the grief of his wife’s recent death. In a car accident, in an instant, this man loses his wife. Vallée seems to be drawn to this type of material. He is an atypical director who employs a hands-on type of style in his moviemaking. He is a “run and gun” type of director (much like our own publisher of this magazine) taking many situations that most of us wonder silently how we could cope if we were the characters that he brings to the screen.
When Vallée sent Gyllenhaal the script for Demoliton, the actor quickly accepted the role. The unique director takes the audience into the tragedy of losing someone so close and so fast, helping you to feel the pain as if it were your own, then spins your emotions with the oddly surprising humor that can arise as we human beings experience grief. Gyllenhaal’s character, Davis, is so distraught after his loss, that he really doesn’t know how to feel, as the story begins with him writing a complaint letter to the company whose vending machine failed to dispense the package of Peanut M&M’s that he purchased. Finally, after receiving multiple letters, the woman from the company (played by Naomi Watts) reaches out Davis, to see if he needed someone to talk to. As a result, he finds a way to grieve, along with a finding a path to healing. The process seems to be infectious and ends up helping the son of Watt’s character to find a better way in his life, as well. The beauty of films like this and others that Vallée has directed is that they take you on the journey that a character is going through with such truth and beauty—yet helps you to feel the absurdity that life can throw at you from time to time. Ultimately, we get through these tough times in a way that may seem or feel unfathomable to someone else. It’s the cracks that make us whole sometimes. Look for Demolition due to be released on DVD soon.
STRIPLV: Tell us a little about the story behind how you were brought in to do the film, Demolition?
GYLLENHAAL: My process of getting involved in this movie was really a simple one. It involved, really, Jean-Marc sending me the script. He had a few months before shooting the movie, and he offered me the movie, and I read it and I was deeply moved by it. And within a week, I was in it, working on it with him. I was really sort of impressed with his point of view and how he wanted to make the film.
STRIPLV: What was it about the script that intrigued you, and what was the final catalyst that made you decide to take on the role of Davis?
GYLLENHAAL: What drew me to it was that, as I read the screenplay and as we made the movie, every time I thought that I was moving into something that was “eye-rollingly” conventional, the script would kind of lead me into a totally different place, and I was always surprised at how unconventional and surprising, and also really how uplifting and funny it was.
“ There’s the initial moment for everyone in the audience when they see this movie where they, you know, they kind of cover their mouth and go: ‘Oh, God—should I be laughing at this?’ ”
GYLLENHAAL: And then all of a sudden as they give in, almost more than half the movie [later], there’s significant laughter. And I think it’s because there’s a joy in being part of a universal feeling, which is: we don’t walk through this world without experiencing loss, and hopefully we don’t walk through this world without experiencing love. I know there are people who haven’t [experienced love], and Davis is potentially someone who, at the beginning of this story, could be one of those people. And as a result of taking everything apart, he’s not. He learns how to love.
STRIPLV: What do you think it was that Davis did or didn’t do to create this void in his life?
GYLLENHAAL: You know, I think he’s a guy who’s followed all the rules, who’s said: “Oh, I’m supposed to be married at this age. I’m supposed to be making this much money at this time.” And I think because of who he is and the way our society works, he’s been allowed to, in a way. But he’s lacking the richness of a real life somewhere, and I think this tragedy that happens opens him up to all the things that life can offer. And as a result, I think he’s, throughout most of the movie, really trying to search for what feels right to him—and tries to find himself again.
STRIPLV: What parts of your character do you think audiences will be able to relate to the most?
GYLLENHAAL: What’s relatable is that he is struggling. He is struggling to find who he is. I think that’s… seems to me, I don’t mean to be like... (throwing hands up in the air—shrugging) I speak for myself when I say this. We’re all searching for who we eventually want to be. The life that we think we want to have is not always the life that we actually do want to have. And I think that’s incredibly relatable.
STRIPLV: What was it like on the set working with the incredibly brilliant director, Jean-Marc Vallée?
GYLLENHAAL: You know, Jean-Marc is… he’s just…. He’s adversed to vanity. He’s adversed to the sort of Hollywood system. He’s adversed to convention, generally. And yet he has a huge heart and doesn’t stray away from the harder things to handle and his feelings, but ultimately always comes back to this sort of semi-conventional idea that love, kind of, and honesty and truth, kinda conquer all—and that the truth kind of does set you free. Working with him in his process is a whole other thing. I love… I’ve never been on a set before [like his], and I’ve made many movies, where you come to work and there is no: you walk on set, you put on your wardrobe and then you start working…
“ There’s no makeup or lighting, and everything is handheld, and [Vallée’s] moving in for a close-up, and then the next take he’s running across the street getting a wide shot. It’s really the type of process. It’s how I work as an actor—how I wish to work as an actor. It is not cumbersome. It’s agile, and he’s always looking for an honest moment.
STRIPLV: Can you tell audiences who may not have seen the film yet, why the title, Demolition?
GYLLENHAAL: Demolition is, in this movie, about demolishing things that existed before—things with history, whether it be happy times or painful times. And I think that the destruction and demolition of his life is obviously literal and it’s also figurative. And so it’s his internal life and his external life. I think he misunderstands it when people tell him, “You know, you have to take things apart in order to put them back together.” And I think he sort of assumes: “Oh, I’ll do that in the real world. I’ll literally tear my house apart.” The demolition of a house or a structure holds, they say, all the energy that you’ve had in it. And I think it’s also an inner journey and a metaphor for the demolition that we have and we must go through to change. And in this case, the humor comes when “demolition” becomes literal. (chuckling) You know, like, that’s the part that I love about this movie is that situations happen in life where we grieve and we have to change. In some ways, we know that story. We’ve seen that story. But in this case, this character sort of misinterprets it and kinda gets it wrong. And so he literally tears down his house (chuckles again) and everything around him, and I think that’s funny. You know, I think there’s a real sense of humor in that, in the misunderstanding of what healing is about. And what he’s trying to get to is: feeling. He’s trying to understand why he’s not feeling. Within the journey of him trying to figure that out, he discovers his feelings.
STRIPLV: It sounds like this movie really touched a chord for you. Was there a particular moment in the film that really struck you the most?
GYLLENHAAL: I think what moved me really was, so often we are told how to experience a situation, how we’re supposed to experience a situation, we’re supposed to feel—not only literally somebody telling you that, but just convention. You know, the movies we see, the books we read, the magazines we read, on the Internet, whatever it might be—we’re told: “This is the way it should be.” And every human being is so specifically and individually themselves—and I think that doesn’t leave much room for reacting however you would react as yourself. And so this is a movie really about the specificity of one guy and how he responds to grief, and the things he loves and losing them and trying to put his life back together. And I like that, because I like things that feel new and different, particularly when you seemingly are grappling with something that seems typical and is done in a totally typical way. I think that’s just great. I think it’s wonderful.