If there’s one actor who has earned my complete attention, meaning if his name is on the billing I’ll most likely be attending a screening no matter what, it’s the 36-year-old, still yet to be nominated for an Oscar, Jake Gyllenhaal.
The man has taken on a host of darker roles these past few years, starting with Denis Villeneuve’s child abduction thriller “Prisoners”(2013), Dan Gilroy’s frighteningly on-point news media send-up “Nightcrawler” (2014) and the film I reviewed most recently, the perfect post-election picture focusing on America’s cultural divide between disenfranchised working class red states and privileged neoliberal blue states, Tom Ford’s harrowing neo-noir “Nocturnal Animals” (2016). The latter of which got under my skin and stayed with me in the most distressing way, but nonetheless is a must-watch.
Gyllenhaal’s recent output has only made me a bigger fan than I already was, so naturally I was ecstatic when given the opportunity to participate in a recent conference call with him for Daniel Espinosa’s upcoming space horror film “Life” (2017). So ecstatic, given he’ll forever be seen to me as my boy Donnie Darko, that before asking my questions I totally didn’t sing to him my own little rendition of Gary Jules “Mad World,” causing everyone on the conference call, including Gyllenhaal himself, to immediately become weirded out and uncomfortable. Alright, I might have.
“Life” stars leading men Ryan Reynolds as Rory “Roy” Adams and Gyllenhaal as Dr. David Jordan, two members of a six-piece crew who, while returning from Mars, locate a sample of a new biological life form that is to be one of the most extraordinary findings for mankind. But in typical space slasher movie fashion, the green goo singled-celled organism proves to be threatening not only to the crew, but also to our home planet. Stuck aboard their ship with the organism on the loose and growing stronger, the crew of the International Space Station must find a way to stop it before it endangers all of humanity.
Despite the brooding tone the trailer conveys, Gyllenhaal reported that “Life” was a fun movie to make and will surely be fun to watch for audiences as well.
“I’m not used to having as much fun as I had on this movie,” said Gyllenhaal. “I tend to beat myself up playing characters that have recently been in pretty trying circumstances and environments in movies that have been pretty extreme, but this was a really fun one to make.”
He went on to discuss his relationship with co-star Reynolds, who’s proven to be a beloved comedic figure lately with the recent hard-R box office hit “Deadpool.”
“I’ve never laughed so much on set before. But honestly, whenever you have a movie with Ryan Reynolds in it, it’s going to be funny. He just inevitably is an extraordinary comedian. I think that it’s part of his extraordinary talent. I just gave you, like, the most cliché actor response at how great I think he is,” he laughed. “But I left it all up to him. He’s a lot funnier than I am.”
Having yet to see “Life,” I have to admit my first impression from its marketing campaign suggested that it would be a mere knock-off of Ridley Scott’s massively influential “Alien” (1979) or, more recently, a pale imitator of Scott’s captivating but problematic prequel “Prometheus” (2012). Gyllenhaal claims there’s more going on with “Life” beneath the surface that attracted him to the role and separates it from the previously mentioned films.
“Yeah, I mean there’s sometimes a subject matter that is so similar that you’re like, nah…,” he laughed. “But over the past five or six years, I have really tried to not pay attention to what else is happening and really try to go with my own instinct.”
He then elaborated, “But for me, I feel like you can only really give to people what you love, and if you’re trying to please people all the time, you’re going to be miserable. So I am thankfully blessed to be able to make those choices, and frankly, I didn’t see ‘Prometheus,’ but I know about it, obviously, and I think he’s one of the best filmmakers in the world. So for me I was just drawn to the group of people. It was just such a wonderful group of people, and I consider them all to be so talented that I just wanted to do it, and I knew that it would be original as a result, and it is. That’s how I go.”
Gyllenhaal also discussed the process of being on wires for most of the film, as all of “Life” is set in zero-gravity.
“You’re in the scene where you’re literally spinning around in a circle as you’re trying to have a serious conversation with somebody. It definitely adds something that I can’t really put into words. There is no up, there is no down, no right or left, in the International Space Station.”
He went on to say, “So, as a result, I think the movie has that feeling, too. I don’t think the audience will ever know which way is up or down, or right or left. The perspective will always be shifting, and because we’re also dealing with this creature and most of the time we don’t know where it is, or if it’s a figment of our imagination at times too—all of those questions are at play.”
Gyllenhaal concluded by emphasizing how he’s going to continue to take on more challenging, potentially gloomy roles.
“I do really like the darkness of the world. I don’t like to just do the same thing all the time, but it always has to have something somewhat interesting or political or emotional. I’m always looking for something that I can hold onto in my work on a daily basis that has something with a little more depth than just the tension of a story.”
“Life” is now playing in theaters nationwide.
Rob Gabe is a sixth-year student majoring in communication studies. He can be reached at RG770214@wcupa.edu.