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The Rewards Behind Jake Gyllenhaal’s Extreme Physical & Emotional Character Plunges — Deadline Disruptors

Deadline logo Deadline 5/17/2017 Mike Fleming Jr
© Provided by Deadline

In a whirlwind month, Jake Gyllenhaal has just completed a lauded run starring in a Broadway revival of the seminal Stephen Sondheim musical Sunday in the Park with George. Between performances, he found time to preside over the Tribeca Film Festival launch of Hondros, the documentary about slain war photographer Chris Hondros produced by Nine Stories, the ambitious production company Gyllenhaal runs with Riva Marker. Now, it’s off to Cannes for the premiere of Bong Joon-ho’s Okja, one of Netflix’s first productions in Asia and its first to be accepted into Cannes.

And from there, it’s all about making sure the Nine Stories-produced Stronger gets its due as the second feature out focusing on the Boston Marathon bombing. Gyllenhaal plays Jeff Bauman, whose legs were blown off as he waited on Boylston Street to watch his future wife cross the finish line, and whose courage under extreme adversity made him a symbol of the resilience of the city of Boston.

After starting his career in traditional leading-man roles, Gyllenhaal has evolved into one of the most dynamic and interesting performers in movies. He has spent his thirties taking one extreme emotional and physical deep dive after another, into complex characters that range from a dying mountain climber in Everest to an emotionally gutted widower in Demolition, a hollow-eyed sociopath in Nightcrawler, a chiseled, emotionally damaged brawler in Southpaw, and an astronaut disillusioned with life on earth in the alien thriller Life. Gyllenhaal breaks off as big a piece of himself as is needed and is carving out a career not measured by grosses as much as these other factors.

Okja helmer Bong describes his appeal. “Just looking at Jake,” he says, “looking at his eyes, you can sort of feel sadness or a craziness that exists.” Gyllenhaal smiles at the reference as we get underway. In fact, when I suggest that his Nightcrawler character seems more a reptile than the wolf he claims to have used as inspiration, we split the difference on the character it took him about three months to find. “Like a desert creature,” he muses. “Scaly, not necessarily something you want to touch or get very close to, but who can survive in very hard conditions? That works.”

You have Okja at Cannes—it sounds almost like a gentle version of King Kong, in which there’s a creature to be protected. Is that a fair assessment?

It’s really a story about a young girl and her relationship with this creature. I think it’s really a story about growing up, in the way you could probably think about Pan’s Labyrinth—it’s fearless in how he talks about being an adolescent, or going into the world. I think it’s a family film in that way because of it, but it is really in the sensibility of Bong, because I think it’s cross-cultural. He brings a sense of humor, along with an emotion. His ability to play with tone—you know, those filmmakers that we love, no one can speak like they speak—he’s one of them. I don’t know anyone who sort of vacillates and also rides this wave of humor and emotion the way he does with this movie.

I’m a sad sack of sorts, a really wild character who comes in and is a disruptor. I play a guy named Dr. Johnny. He’s a zoologist, and he had, at one time, a very popular animal show, and it has since been in decline. He was hired by the Mirando Corporation—which is Tilda Swinton’s company, her character is Lucy Mirando—to be the spokesperson and head of this contest that they have, where each continent has developed one of these creatures. They’ve been genetically altered, and a different farmer on each of these continents has been given one of these creatures to raise. I’m the face of the contest, and because I’m a zoologist, I pick the most perfect specimen who’s going to then be cloned. He’s insane. He’s mad. He has horrible style, but he’s a wonderful character.

How much of a challenge is it to find the tone of that character, when you’re working with a director whose first language isn’t English?

Unfortunately, finding madness for me is not too difficult. But I do think Bong is a visionary. I don’t use that word very much. The way and the process in which he works is not like anything I’ve ever been a part of. He’s a visual artist, so everything is drawn, everything is very specific in how it’s shot. He edits on set, which is also kind of amazing to be a part of, and there’s a real specificity to his vision. You fit within his frame, but he loves actors, and allows for pretty broad choices.

I make some very broad choices in this movie, and a lot of it has to do with surety as a filmmaker, and his vision overall. He describes things in the most amazing ways. He once said, “His voice is like … “and then he drew a guitar. He said, “Not the strings of the guitar here, the strings of the guitar on the end. That you pluck at the end that you don’t ever play.” I love that about Bong. It’s always an interpretation and an artistic expression, in terms of how he talks to artists. But working in Korea and working with those crews, and being in that space was so much fun.

Your character in Nightcrawler—that was the most wonderful, murderous sociopath who just kind of snuck up on you. Wow.

It was such a good script, and the elements of all the people, all the department heads, and everybody in charge of the storytelling were really top notch. You’re in safe hands in that way, so I just took big risks with the character.

I was looking and it kind of felt like you didn’t blink that often. Did you? Is that a conscious part of your performance?

No. I don’t think so. There was something about the soliloquies that he gives throughout—there was a strange pace and rhythm to the writing, and punctuation—that I learned everything. That’s how I tend to learn things generally, how I memorize or prepare, is I try and learn it at a speed that can be unflappable when slowed down.

What do you mean?

Meaning, if I learn it at a very fast pace, it becomes an unconscious, more melodic memorization, as opposed to memorizing through meaning. Meaning comes to me when I read it first, when I’m interpreting a character, but in terms of memorizing, I don’t memorize based on that, I memorize based on sound. I don’t know if that makes sense. Because of that, I could deliver these things really fast, and in doing that, maybe I just didn’t blink as a result.

It’s more than finding a handle, it’s really a deep plunge into these characters you play. What’s involved in finding that guy?

It’s just time. It’s a lot of time. I’ve always needed a long runway. There are things that come, you’re sort of immediately inspired, and you kind of go, “OK, I can see where it is, but it’s far off.” I’m far into the alphabet before I even start at A. In the case of Nightcrawler, I had initial ideas. I had a number of ones that didn’t really stick, and then it just became about a process with Dan [Gilroy, director] of slowly chipping away and discovering how this guy looked, how this guy behaved. It took me, like, three months. It was an intellectual process, initially. I went to my professor at Columbia who taught me this class called Contemporary Civilization, which was the famous class at Columbia. He’s a really brilliant guy, and I asked him about sociopathy, I asked him about that kind of behavior, and he gave me a number of books to read. We had a number of discussions about that. Then I just went, not another way, but that led me somewhere else.

You decide, “I’ve got to be gaunt,” so you’re physically preparing that whole time?

I don’t know initially that was a conscious choice. I just thought, I know that there’s a sort of physically imposing quality when you feel like somebody who’s physically imposing, and somehow that takes away, at least in my mind, from the sort of mental chess that he’s playing with people, and the intensity of his brain, you know?

I just thought, if I walk in, and I feel like this guy’s in shape, I go, “Where does he have the time to get in shape like that?” Mostly his brain is just thinking, thinking, thinking. He’s not sleeping, he’s thinking, thinking, thinking. He’s not really eating, he’s not fueling himself with that. His fuel is manipulation and human interaction, so that led me to think … I’ve talked about it a lot, but he’s sort of like a coyote. There were references to coyotes in the initial script.

When Deadline ran that first picture of you in the boxing ring in Southpaw, it almost crashed our site. As an actor, you have to use everything as a tool—and your body as a tool also—but I feel like people underestimated what a character you played there.

My idea of acting, and what to do—that changes too. A lot of that’s experimental, trying to figure out what the craft is, what you need to do, what you believe in, what can create a character. It’s hard to play a boxer without knowing how to box, or getting in shape, but there are other things where maybe it’s not as necessary—I think that’s an evolution. It’s an argument my sister and I have all the time about how much you need to change your body to play a role, and I do believe in the physical aspects of the character. I have great fun creating that. Not necessarily gaining or losing weight, getting in shape, those things, but I think the physical attributes of the character, how they behave, that’s why I love what I do. That’s so fun.

Mimicry and that creation is what I have loved since I was a kid, and that’s the thing I do it for. I love observing, I love human behavior. I love the oddities of it, the beauties of it. But it does at times get frustrating when you’re having to have conversations about the surface of things, without the acknowledgement of how much you care, or the story, or the conversations you’ve had with the filmmaker. But I don’t expect everyone to care or understand why I do what I do. That would be a futile effort. Most people have much more important things going on in their lives. I would say everybody does. And I understand that the perspective is fleeting. You see something on the street, you see a picture of someone, and it’s fun for a moment. Why is that picture interesting? Because essentially you can go, “Is that real?” And that gets passed along for a few days, and then everyone forgets and moves on.

You take some extreme plunges. Have you allotted a period of time for yourself now, where this is kind of your wheelhouse—to basically throw yourself under a bus every time you take a role?

The reason why I love Sunday in the Park with George is there’s a line in it where George says to Dot in the love story, “I am what I do…which you always knew, which I thought you were a part of.” I think there is part of me that really understands that, and then there’s also a part of me that knows, particularly now in my life, it’s time to settle down. I think, though, I will never deny myself, because it is who I am—that expression, if I have the opportunity to continue to do it.

I read somewhere that basically you were up there on a mountain dying in Everest. What did you have to do honestly to accomplish that scene?

I mean, we were up there in the freezing cold, and I was basically freezing. It was verging on hypothermia. It wasn’t something I have to say I enjoyed. It wasn’t a great, great moment, but it was interesting. It was interesting to know the elements. Look, people go to extremes all over the place. This job affords the opportunity to explore a lot of different extremes. And also not. You explore intimacies—those are conversations I don’t have a lot about scenes. What is it like exploring the intimacy of a relationship? That, sometimes, is more thrilling and dangerous than being up there in the obvious things. What did it feel like? You go, “I put myself through that thing,” and then you go, “Can you really feel that on the screen?”

These days you’ve got Tom Cruise actually hanging from the side of airplanes …

That’s what he loves. He really does. I think he’ll talk about it, and I’ve read about him talking about it. He loves those extremes. That is who he is, essentially.

What do you think when you see a stunt like that? Do you go, “This is the level I don’t go to —120 floors up in a Dubai skyscraper”? His rationale, which I know because he told me, is “If I’m 20 floors up and I fall, I’m going to die. So what’s the difference if I’m 120 floors up?”

That’s an interesting perspective. I don’t really believe in the same thing—20 floors may be enough for me, but I do think that I don’t need that. I really don’t. I do think there is an aspect to a performance and performing that always has to do with facing a fear of some kind. There are also things that make me go, “I don’t want to do this,” and I don’t do them. But I think about it, and I go, “How is this interesting? Is this something that is in me?” Because I think my biggest hope is that what I’m doing now, people feel comes from me.

You’ve been on Broadway, you’ve got this documentary you produced, you’re in Cannes with a crazy movie by this Korean filmmaker—what has a period like this told you about the course you’re on right now and the choices you’re making?

A number of years back I decided that this is really and truly a business. You have to love the quality of that—you have to love that piece of it. There’s often a relationship with the artist and business that’s at odds. Inevitably, I think that’s how we function, in a way, but I think what I realized was, see the space within which you really can evolve and grow, and where you thrive. Since I’ve been able to do it, and have been lucky enough to be in the business for a very long time, since I was so young, I think I’ve tried different paths. I’ve been given the opportunities to try those paths. Some of those have succeeded, and some of them haven’t.

All the movies that you like to make are the often-orphaned children that have to scratch, basically, to exist.

But at the same time…Take, for instance, a project like Nightcrawler. First of all, it’s all about the relationships that you have. The people who really truly love you, who really love your work and who want to work with you. I think that energy is what goes through an entire movie at the foundation. The excitement of having a conversation with the filmmaker, the person who is at the helm is everything. Whether you’re starting it just as an actor for hire, or whether you’re developing a project with them. However you help them facilitate their vision, if you share that vision, not necessarily perfectly, but if you can do that, if you can find that energy, that’s where I get excited.

But I think Nightcrawler had a very commercial aspect to it. We said, “OK, we can make it within the budget.” I’ve had a lot of experience marketing movies and then selling movies—I can go out and I can do that. I found myself in an interesting place. I think very much empowered, and very empowered by the people I work with. I love being on a set where everyone’s together in the space. So often, in a huge film, it’s rare when you feel like you’re really in a community where everyone knows each other. That’s why I love the theater. You’re in a theater and it doesn’t work without all of us working together. The people who really know what’s happening are all of the stagehands. I was broken-hearted to leave that theatre.

As I was sitting in the theater watching you on stage, I said to myself, “What is the power of doing these performances where it’s not permanent?” I mean, when you’re making a film, you might go, “Man, I nailed that take. People are going to remember this forever.”

Do you think that people really remember movies forever?

I do.

I think that that’s the hope, but I think we remember our experiences. You can go back and see those things, but I think the magic of an exchange with an audience is really humbling. If you’re on stage, so often at night you go, “That was a great show,” and people go, “That was good.” Then you go, “That was a shit show,” and they go, “That was good.”

Right, because they’re not with you every night.

Yeah, but also the structure of the piece holds. The energy, the foundation of what it is, the storytelling holds, whether or not you have the minutiae of this choice there, and a lot of it is giving in to that idea. I think as actors we believe that we have more control than we actually do, and I think that we’re given that belief if we have a certain amount of success. But the truth is, even in a movie, the number of times I’ve seen certain actors—not all, but some—cut a scene, or stop in the middle because they feel it’s not going a particular way, you don’t have that opportunity on the stage. You don’t get to see the perspective of the filmmaker, you’re not sitting there behind the monitor, you’re not sitting behind the camera. Sometimes on a film, I’ve walked out of a scene going, “That was not good,” and everyone’s going, “That was amazing,” because there’s 70 other people, sometimes more, sometimes less, that are creating that space, and creating the tension that you have no control over. You don’t have that perspective. To me, it’s not really about permanence or impermanence; I think the effect you have on people lasts.

My dad, when I was a kid, was a great sandcastle-builder. My dad won prizes for his sandcastles. I think one of the things that messed me up, that made me into an actor and also gave me my love for the imperfect, is based on the fact that my dad was like, “At the end of the day, this thing goes away. The ocean takes it away and that’s it.” I think that was a big part of what I was taught as a kid that has given me a lot of strength—the love of impermanence and the exchange. I admire movie; being a movie actor, and having those opportunities has always been a mystery for me, because I don’t know that if that’s the full animal that I am, and I’ve had a very interesting relationship with it.

You did a couple of big movies—Prince of Persia, Day After Tomorrow—and for a moment, it looked like you were going to be Spider-Man when Tobey’s back gave out. But now you’re on this track of playing these men who go to physical and emotional extremes. What does this give you that maybe was lacking in that other period?

I definitely have made choices not necessarily being so sure of what my artistic instinct was. I think some of it was just trying my hand. I don’t know, I’ve answered a number of questions about this over time, because people are like, “Prince of Persia didn’t do well.”

I once sat in George Clooney’s office at Warner Bros., and there was a picture on the wall of him as Batman. I said, “Why would you put that up?” He said, “Because every time I look at it, it reminds me to never make a choice based on the wrong reason, which was to become a global movie star and hate every second of it.”

I was raised on commercial films as a child. It’s inevitable—you’re not going to go see movies that are in obscurity.

But given that your parents are also filmmakers, I wonder if perhaps the stuff you’re doing now…maybe that was kind of a household sensibility, in a way?

No. Well, part of it was like this idea of an artist being a particular way. Which I like to throw out. I think maybe there’s this sort of idea that, if you wrack yourself, if you put yourself through that kind of turmoil, that you’re an artist, and I don’t believe that. There’s a sort of seeming pretentiousness in this, but as an artist and as an actor, your body is a very important part of it. There’s this perpetuated idea that if you destroy it somehow, that you’re really giving to what you do. That’s something I’d like to throw away, because I believe that’s an important part of longevity, of life, of having a life that is worthwhile. That’s important—taking care of oneself, being thoughtful.

Was there something specific that made you feel, “I’m going to try it this way”?

I would go back to the beginning. Look at what you really believe in. What you can speak to. That’s the reason why I’m on stage, the reason why I’m singing. I’ve sung since I was a kid, something I’ve always done. Do I sing all the time professionally? No. But for years, my biggest joy was singing on stage. It is still. To me, it feels like home. I have a pretty clear instinct of how I can be my best self. When I did End of Watch with David Ayer, I remember David and I, we were both at particular places in our career, where I was trying to figure it out. I didn’t know how much I liked preparation, but I realized that was a huge part of my love, of the study of the craft of acting, that I had left out for a number of years.

I thought of Donnie Darko as an example a number of years back, because I thought when we made that movie, I was cast at the very last minute. When I came into that project, we were kind of working on that script as we went along. We had a certain amount of money because of Drew Barrymore, and Nancy Juvonen, who were producing the movie, and the cast of characters was an amazing amalgamation of personalities. We brought it to Sundance, and it didn’t sell. Finally it was cut down a little bit more, New Market bought the movie right after they had done Passion of the Christ.

There was all this talk about whether or not it was going to get a theatrical release. It got it, and then it sort of didn’t work in America. Then, I was doing a play on the West End, and I was 22 years old and I was doing press in London because it was coming out in London, and all of a sudden there was this groundswell. It found its roots and I went, “I’ve always believed in this movie. I always knew somewhere inside me,” and I guess to begin anything you have to believe in it, but I always knew that it had something special, and it found its way. It didn’t find it in normal ways, in the conventional ways. I feel that’s the way it’s gone with me. Though you can look at it from the outside, probably and say it looks pretty conventional, from where I sit, and probably within the business, it’s not.

Do you put pressure on yourself in terms of how your choices perform commercially? What makes these things a success for you?

Let’s not forget that it was really amazing to make Donnie Darko. The people were really wonderful. Oftentimes we forget about those things because we ostracize people when something doesn’t “work”. I made wonderful relationships out of Life. Bonnie [Curtis] and Julie [Lynn] who made that movie—Skydance were wonderful, they were great producers on the project. Daniel Espinosa and I have a project that we’re developing again. Ryan [Reynolds] has become one of my close friends as a result of that. There were numerous successes out of that film. In terms of the business of it, you give what you can give. Ultimately, who knows?

The armchair quarterback in me says, “Jake grew up in a household with a father who’s a director and a mom who’s a screenwriter, and they probably had flush times, and times when there were gaps between jobs. Maybe producing is a good way to make sure he doesn’t become an actor who waits for the phone to ring.” How true is that?

It’s a little bit of that, along with the movies I like to make and the filmmakers I like to work with—they don’t always come initially from the pool of the initially most hyped. I like to work within discovering talent, and working with people like that is very exciting to me. I like looking for material outside of the system. When Denis Villeneuve and I first worked together, we made this small movie in Toronto—Enemy. People knew Denis and loved Incendies, but now Denis is Denis. You know?

Partly because of Prisoners.

Obviously. It’s because of all the amazing work he’s done, and just who he is. He is not an anomaly, he is a very special human and an extraordinarily talented filmmaker. His way with humans, his kindness, his humility as well as his incredible powers of persuasion and enormous visual and emotional talent is unmatched. There’s always a Denis coming from somewhere, just as there’s someone like me, too, for him in that space. Facilitating that is what I enjoy. I really enjoy those relationships, really giving opportunities.

You’re working with him again on The Son, based on Jo Nesbo’s novel.What can we expect?

I’m very excited to be working with Denis again, but also working on something from the ground up, where I can use the resources that I have, as well as all the resources that he has, to make the movie he wants to make. There are a number of projects that we’re working on; there’s so much that I can’t talk about, which is what’s really frustrating, because it’s actually really exciting. I really love working with him creatively, and I love him as a human being, and I can’t wait to work with him again. On this, or on anything else. That’s a friendship and a partnership that I love.

Nocturnal Animals was such an emasculating role for you, because it’s a father’s worst nightmare—if your family is threatened, do you act, or do you hope you can sidestep it? What was it like for you to wear that character?

That was a difficult character space to be in. Because it was—like you said—trying to ask myself questions about the reality of the situation: how I would actually behave; what is masculinity? Which was a conversation that Tom [Ford, director] and I had a lot. I do believe that a lot of acting is about wish-fulfilment. We play roles in which we pretend we were the one who was able to always defend. The superhero. It’s fun, because we know that’s not necessarily possible. That role…I ran a lot. That tends to be something that I do. I just did this movie Stronger about Jeff Bauman. I spent all of my days in a wheelchair. Simulating the idea of having lost my legs above the knee, which Jeff did. He now walks on titanium legs that are pretty extraordinary. Still, that’s hard to even walk on those legs, to watch anybody who has an injury like that, and to watch them walk. I ran then, too. At a certain point when we were in Boston, even when we were in pre-production, throughout that journey, I was running almost 10 to 15 miles sometimes.

Is that out of anger on his behalf, for a ridiculously cruel terrorist act and the aftermath?

I think there’s a lot to that. We were mining that story, the situation and the strength, and the difficulties that he went through to get to the place he is now. That’s part of the fraudulent aspect of what we do in making movies. In a situation like Jeff’s, I’m constantly aware that there’s no way I can get near what he went through, though that’s the effort. That’s what you try to do. As much as I spend time with him, as much as I know him, as much as I learn about the situation, as much as I talk to everyone around him, as much as I spend time with them, there’s no way. It’s fraudulent. You’re constantly reminded of that. But you’re in that energy, you’re thinking about that often. At the same time, too, I think there’s a gratefulness for my own position. It was all just an expression of trying to get out a certain energy. It was also running around the space, trying to clear your head, feeling a sense of sometimes creating distance between the character and yourself.

When you looked at that project, what convinced you that this was something that you had to do?

It was just so beautiful and so funny. Beautiful, tragic, but also it was undeniable. It’s a story of a human being working their way through the inexplicable. Out from a narrow space—beyond narrow—into an opening. The metaphor of that, setting aside the reality of the situation, was everything to me. Jeff is a representation for every one of us, though we have not experienced that. I think there are many events happening horribly and horrifically almost daily now; there are bombings and explosions, and people lose their lives and lose so many things from those events. But I think the reason to make this film—and Jeff and I talked about this—is that when you’re with him, you feel it. The thing you feel is life. You feel like you are touched by him. It is still a quagmire to me, that character. The things that Jeff and that character have taught me, not just the character, but also the process of making that movie, I would say I am most proud of that experience.

I think it’s an incredibly important story to be told. I live a life where people do recognize me. Not everyone, but I live that life. When I’m with Jeff, I’m his shadow. We threw out first pitch at a Red Sox game, and it was a big event. It was on Patriot’s Day, the marathon was starting. Erin, his then wife, she was running. She eventually crossed the finish line for the first time; she never crossed it in the first one she ran. It was a big moment for everyone. All I was on that day was a shoulder to literally, figuratively, get support from. It was all Jeff.

You also produced Stronger. How does being a producer inform your work as an actor? You probably knew everyone’s lines, didn’t you?

It’s taken me a little bit of time to really understand it—that’s been a really humbling process. I’ve learned so much about the business that I didn’t know. As an actor, I think a lot of people consider being a producer to be a vanity thing. I did grow up in a family of people who made movies; I recognize the chess that it is. I recognize what a novice I am, but I’m not interested in getting into it for a sense of vanity, I’m interested in really learning about how it works. That’s been really fun. As an actor I think you’re kept from all of that information. If your primary work is as an actor and then you start producing a movie, I think you start to see how all the parts work. One of the great things I was told by a director once was, “Do you know what I look at more than the monitor?” I said, “What?” They looked at their watch.

When we did Nightcrawler, we had 22 days to shoot that movie. I was not going to be the one wasting money in that case, saying, “I need another take.” I was ready to go if you needed one take. I could do that monologue in one take for you, and we could print that. I was ready. Because I knew that if I did it like that, then we’d have enough time to get seven more shots in. Speaking of George Clooney, I remember a story—there was some discussion about an actor, something about a trailer, and they were complaining about their trailer size. [Clooney] said something like, “Where I come from, a bigger trailer is not a good thing.” You know what I mean? I think as a producer, like when we did Stronger, all those things got stripped down, and it was fun, because the quality of work gets to change when you’re putting the priority in the essential things.

You worked with Chris Cooper on Demolition in2015 and you’d done October Sky together in 1999—it almost felt like full circle, in a way. Do you remember how he thought of you when you were this wide-eyed and maybe cocky kid?

He was very focused. He always is. I think I didn’t understand his focus at the time. It felt a little aloof to me, and I didn’t know if it was that he didn’t like me. What I’ve done is grown to realize why he is the way he is, why he’s focused. I’ve adopted some of that focus from his influence. We worked together again on Demolition, and we had done a little scene together in Jarhead. We’ve stayed in contact through all the years and we had so much fun on Demolition.

I think there was much more space for joking, because he knew how focused I was. Whereas when I was younger, he had to create that energy. He had to make sure that the set was established by that energy and that focus, to keep the honesty of the scene. I remember him saying to me when I was a kid, we were in a fight in the scene, and he came up to me and was like, “You’re just yelling, you’re not listening to me.” He said, “Just listen to what I’m saying to you for the take.” The simplest things in acting are always the hardest things to remember, in a lot of ways. Particularly at a young age, but so much is about simplicity in the end. I remember listening, finally, because I did have that skill, I just wasn’t using it. The entire scene became a true fight. It actually hurt. It was those things that I carried with me, and then evolved into things that, when we did Demolition, I had at my disposal. It made the process with him so fun. It was like, “See? Look at all the things I’ve learned from you.”

You got to meet President Obama. It sounds like he was impressed with you …

I don’t know about that. I don’t know about impressed with me, but he knew who I was because probably some staff member told him.

He’s a pretty pop culture-savvy guy.

He is, yeah. I was given a directive, and I think that’s really lovely.

What was his directive?

The directive was, “We’re going through really hard times. You have a responsibility as an artist to entertain, and to tell stories, and to give people hope.” It’s the same thing my mom has always told me; the same thing my dad has always told me: that’s the job of what we do. I think to be able to be told that by the leader of your country—that, as a citizen of this country, that is your duty—I was like, “All right, OK, cool.” When I read a script or when I do something, maybe what I feel is not a space that everybody always wants to see, but I believe that I do have that same idea of hope. I do. Even if it’s a crazy, dark character, I’m a very hopeful person. That directive was huge to me. I walked out going, “OK.”

Boy, that will put a little pep in your step.

Yeah, we should all feel like that.

What will it take to get you to accept your hereditary gifts and get behind the camera? Is it still an incubation period that you’re going through, maturity-wise?

I think it has to happen soon. Like you’re saying, I’m laying the foundation. I think once I decide to know exactly where I am, I’ll know it’s time. For many years I was thinking it was presumptuous to say that I would want to direct a film. It now feels less presumptuous … There are a couple of things I’ve been thinking about, but nothing specific yet. I do think within the next couple of years, and I feel like you’ll be the first to know.

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