Arts Express: Jake Gyllenhaal Talks Prisoners

Prisoners star Jake Gyllenhaal showed up with his fellow crew at an honorary Warner Bros luncheon in New York City, celebrating the film. And though nursing a bandaged fist, Jake explained that it had nothing at all to do with his tense ordeal as a small town cop in the gritty Denis Villeneuve directed psychological crime thriller. Rather, some extreme physical moves on his latest upcoming film, Nightcrawler. Which landed Jake in a hospital emergency room.

But not one to let a little real life drama mess with his characteristic upbeat charm, Jake joined in for some dinner and conversation. And leading the list of topics on the table, was his passion for the Prisoners project, and what led him to go for it. “That was mostly about the investigative journey, and how to navigate that,” he said “What Detective Loki figures out and when, and how that sort of parallels with what else is happening. And I love that, the collaboration was so layered and intense. And the psychology of characters, and that detail and exploration.”

But it wasn’t all a breeze, according to the actor. “I could feel myself resist how dark this world was. I could feel it inside, so visceral that it made me panic. But it broke me into this world.” And when asked about being drawn to darker fare lately, Jake replied, “Things come to you, I really do believe, they do come to you for a reason. And it’s not just the project. It’s the people behind it, and who they are. So that’s kind of what is driving my choices at this point. And even more so than the material itself.”

“But the hardest thing for me as an actor, is to ask questions,” he continued. “And as a detective, you have to delve into the mind of a psycho killer. And also the mind of a father who just had his child abducted. And I just had a feeling of, what would someone like that do.”

As for what optimum circumstances get his creative juices flowing best, Jake didn’t hesitate to answer. “Well how about you as a critic? Don’t you find, like when I was a judge at the Berlin Film Festival, I remember like waking up at 7am to go see movies at like 8:30am. Or whatever.”

“And I actually think that watching a movie is such an unconscious thing,” said Jake. “It’s almost like you’re in a dream. That when you just come from a dream, as opposed to when you’re about to enter into a dream world. I think so.”

“Like in theaters at night,” he continued. “But if I were a critic and really wanted to observe a film, I would watch it in the morning, because my mind is probably more engaged. And write about it. Which is probably at night. Yep. And anything after not eating! Like if the movie’s good. You usually get a feeling that it’s good. Whether or not you’re in a good mood, probably. Yeah, yeah!”

“But I love working at night,” said Jake. “Like I love gigs at night. Like when I go in and do my work, no matter what’s happening in my life. And occasionally things work, and occasionally they don’t, you know? There’s a fine line.”

What about the research he embarked on, to get into the head of this anxiety ridden character? “The research, just watching an interrogation, I have that picture in my mind when I go in. It’s that research with the people who are actually doing the job. And you bring all that research back with you,” he replied. “But I never like, you have to go look, I can do this, I can do that.”

“But part of me wants to move as far away from acting as possible,” Jake revealed. “That doesn’t mean I will. It’s just like, even the way we’re all spending time. This is our lives, this is our time. It’s our jobs and we do it, but it’s our time. And if we’re gonna exchange, we should exchange, you know what I mean? So anyway…”

And how about those snakes, how scary was that for the star. “The snakes were no fun,” Jake admitted. “But Denis had no fear. He’d grab them by the fistful! And I pretended I wasn’t afraid of them. There was a risk, but Denis wanted everything to be real. Though at the end of the shoot, we had to make sure we had them all. And didn’t leave any behind!”

Prisoners is currently in theaters.

Prairie Miller is a New York multimedia journalist online, in print and radio, who reviews movies and conducts in-depth interviews. She can also be heard on WBAI/Pacifica National Radio Network’s Arts Express.