Jake Gyllenhaal is pretty much the ideal candidate for a film interview. For what I do for a living, there's nothing worse than an actor who sleepwalks his or her way through an interview (though, considering how many he or she are often subjected to in a given day, it is at least understandable), not giving any thought to what is actually being said, just spitting out rehearsed line after line of predetermined PR-speak. I'm honestly not sure if Gyllenhaal would even be capable of that. He's quick-witted, but also puts so much thought into his answers that often I just want to interrupt and tell him that everything will be okay. It's obvious that Jake Gyllenhaal cares -- which is almost unique in a world in which it's cool not to care.
Gyllenhaal is promoting "Enemy" (which opens theatrically on March 14 and is on VOD through DirecTV as you read this), a psychological thriller that premiered at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival. Oh boy, this movie. I honestly couldn't wait to find out Gyllenhaal's thoughts on this film. "Enemy" is immensely fascinating.
Directed by Denis Villeneuve (who also worked with Gyllenhaal in this past fall's "Prisoners"), "Enemy" is the odd story of a teacher named Adam who, while watching a movie on DVD, notices a man who looks like himself playing a small role as a bellhop. This leads Adam on a quest to find this mysterious doppelgänger, and forces him to discover some sinister revelations about himself -- culminating in one of the most shocking final scenes in a movie that I've ever seen.
I met Gyllenhaal at a hotel in Soho. When I arrived, he was admiring the poster for "Enemy" and pointing out the large amount of producers it took to get the movie financed. For whatever reason, this was a more relaxed Gyllenhaal than the last time I spoke to him (that last time, Gyllenhaal was still filming "Nightcrawler," an experience so intense, at times, that he smashed his hand through a mirror while filming a scene). That last time, there was a fierce determination in Gyllenhaal. This time, it was almost surprising how often he let himself laugh -- even while determining where we should sit.
Jake Gyllenhaal: I'll take the other side. Usually your kind sit on this side and my kind sit on this side [laughs].
We're mixing it up. You have a beard now. You look different.
Oh, good. Probably because I was preparing for another part while we were doing "Prisoners." I finished that movie, now I'm going to do another movie.
The last time we spoke, you referred to "Enemy" as "I don't want to call this a film, it's more of an experience."
Yeah. I mean, I hadn't seen it -- the final, final version.
So the first time you saw it, were you as shocked by the final scene as a regular viewer?
I knew the ending, I mean, I knew that was happening.
But had you visualized what that would look like?
I hadn't seen exactly what Denis had chose ... oof, that. You know, Denis is okay with the snakes in "Prisoners." He was wandering around the room, picking them up and that was not my preference. I didn't want to have anything to do with picking up the snakes.
You have something in common with Indiana Jones.
Yeah, I'm not super into that, either. I mean, if need be, I guess I would? But if need not be, I won't [laughs].
I think you're on the side of most of society. No one is thinking what a weirdo.
Yeah, even the thought of it...
After I saw that scene in Toronto, I just looked at my friend next to me and exhaled, "What the fuck was that?"
That's so awesome [laughs].
And you think there's maybe 20 minutes in the movie left when that happens.
So you don't feel the movie is ending, and then you're hit with that.
It's nice that you felt that there was 20 minutes left, because I guess maybe you wanted there to be 20 minutes left.
When you watch it again, there are a lot of clues as to what's going on.
It's so weird how much sense it makes to me. I feel the same way about other movies in my career. Like "Donnie Darko," or something -- they make so much sense to me and people are always like, "What does it mean?" And I can't describe why it makes so much sense to me. When he goes and walks into that room [in the last scene of "Enemy"], now it's like, 'Of course. Yeah. Of course that happens."
The plot could have been a screwball comedy. The premise...
Only with a very sinister tone.
Yes. I think you described it perfectly ... because there's a full commitment to the reality of what's happening. And, at the same time, a total absurdity -- and also a sort of trippy nature to it. I mean, when I see my character as a bellhop at the beginning of the movie, it's like, "What?" Do you know what I mean? That's absurd!
Well, yeah, I couldn't imagine watching a movie at home and seeing myself in the movie. Well, I guess that's a little different for you...
[Laughs] Well, if I put in a movie that I knew what this classic movie and then all of a sudden it was me in it, it would super freak me out.
Like if you saw yourself in "Star Wars."
We all see ourselves in "Star Wars."
And I speak for everybody when I say that. And I don't usually speak for everybody -- but I speak for everybody when I say that.
You mentioned your trippy movies, where does "Enemy" rank on your "trippy movie film canon"?
Mine? I don't know if I can answer that question. That's a question for you to answer I think more if you know the movies that I've been in. I mean, for me, it's not trippy at all.
C'mon, it's a little trippy.
It seems the most honest.
That's an interesting answer.
[Laughs] I don't know what's really going on in my head.
I'll put it this way: "Enemy" is trippy as a first experience. But after you finish it, maybe not as much because it makes more sense.
I mean, it is very much in the vein of, for me, like "Donnie Darko." But I like playing with reality, that's what's so fun about movies. I love movies that follow reality and how we experience it one way or another and the feeling we have in it. And I love creating your own rules and playing with that, too ... and when a movie breaks the structure that we're normally used to, people would consider that trippy -- but it's the same thing as a feeling busting in inside you and you're going, "What is that feeling?"
When I spoke to Denis Villeneuve about "Prisoners," he said the idea for "Enemy" happened when you went out for dinner one night and drank too much wine.
We didn't drink too much! We both had a glass of wine.
He told the story that suggests you two got drunk and came up with this idea.
Well, we didn't know how potent the wine was -- let's just say it that way. There were some moments that happened in our conversation. Not only did we connect and just sort of have an amazing discussion, but this woman turned to me at one point who was sitting next to us with her husband and she said, "I hate to interrupt your dinner, but I just want you to know that everybody always says that you look like my son. Can I show you? You are an exact duplicate of my son." And I was like, "Oh, okay." And she showed me this picture and Denis was like, "It's crazy! You look exactly alike!" And we didn't, in my opinion. But, it was the movie! How you could you not do a movie? Unless Denis planted this woman there [laughs].
So you didn't know what "Enemy" would be until that happened?
No, I didn't know what it was going to be until we sat there.
She should have a credit on the poster.
The woman? Yeah, I know. I bet that he planted her. No, but those things happened in our conversation -- those sort of fateful moments and I realized it was something that I had to be involved in.
I'm not sure how much you care, but you are showing up in everyone's Oscar "people who should have been nominated but weren't" lists for Detective Loki from "Prisoners."
People have been really, really complimentary and very kind in talking about that character. At this point, I'm just happy to be able to keep working -- to be able to do those things. And that's nice to hear -- how many nominees are there?
There can only be five [laughs]. I think this year in particular, there are such incredible performances by actors and that's exciting because my only interest is trying to work with people and be as honest as possible. I know it sounds a little funny, but it's very hard to do in your work. And I feel like when you do it -- I'm sure you feel it in your work, too -- when you do it, you're like, "All right, cool, people respond. Cool." And to see actors really wanting to do it and they're doing it beautifully?
I mean, this is, like, we can talk, talk, whatever. Fuck. But you see Matthew McConaughey and the work that he's done, particularly in "Dallas Buyers Club" and stuff and you just go, "Beautiful, honest work." Whether there's an award for it or not? I mean, what he does when you experience him onscreen is beautiful work.
At the same time, having interviewed McConaughey three times recently, I get the impression he wishes more people had seen "Mud." You mentioned my work and, yeah, I'll admit, if I do a piece I'm proud of and no one reads it, it bothers me. So, with a movie like "Enemy," which I adore, if no one sees it, would that disappoint you?
No. It's not about that. I mean, you want people to see a movie and you want people to experience it and all I'm thinking about -- not all I'm thinking about -- but a lot of what I'm thinking about, particularly with a movie like this, is the audience. You're asking questions going like, "Have we answered this question and that question? Can we go over here? How can we full them there? How can we move them there?" This movie was about making a movie for an audience in a lot of ways. It is an experience. That's why I say "it's an experience" ... but my job -- really my job; I think it's given me a lot of comfort and what inspires me -- it's really what I get to do on the day that I show up.
Like, yeah, you're going to write this piece and it's going to be out there, or whatever. We're having this now. So, am I thinking about that? I'm thinking about what we're having in this moment here. And that is, to me, the work that I do, too. Because this is my life now. [Laughs] Do you know what I mean?
Yes, and you're spending it with me in an interview, which is sad so I'm going to leave.
[Laughs] Well, that says a lot about how you feel about yourself. Go watch "Enemy" again!
Mike Ryan is senior writer for Huffington Post Entertainment. You can contact him directly on Twitter.