Jake Gyllenhaal plays a loner drawn to the dark side of television journalism in new movie ‘Nightcrawler’. Armed with a police scanner and video camera Lou Bloom joins the race to be the first on the scene to capture the carnage of violent crimes and accidents on the tough streets of Los Angeles. The star of Donnie Darko and Brokeback Mountain talked to NME about his total commitment to a career-defining role.
How did you prepare to become Lou Bloom?
“Director Dan Gilroy and I were rolling around with stringers, the real life ‘nightcrawlers’ in Los Angeles. I’d also spent five months on the street with police officers when I was researching for End of Watch (David Ayer’s 2012 cop drama) so I knew them from my time attending crime scenes. The great irony is years later I’m on the other side of the police cordon.”
What was the roughest thing you saw?
“One of the very first accidents we came upon was a car that had come off the 110 freeway, smashed through the barrier of an overpass and landed down on the street. There were four girls inside. They had all survived but the first thing we thought was that no one could live through such a horrific accident. We arrived 30 seconds before the cops got there. Sure enough, the guy we were with filmed the whole thing, uploaded it and sold the footage that night.”
Did you get any advice from the real ambulance chasers?
“I was really watching for acute behavior. I had some technical questions about the cameras and so on. I replicated how our guy wrapped the camera wire around his light and even got the same model. I watched for how he handled it and his agility with it. Really, I was watching how they approached a scene with this innocence. They went and searched for this stuff but there wasn’t like a dark intention. It’s almost like that moment before adolescence where a kid doesn’t understand consequences. That’s what I started to observe… Like as a kid when you go in the back yard and climb trees and burn things. That was a huge clue into finding Lou and making him somebody you would hopefully root for.”
You lost 30 pounds for the role. How tough was the transformation?
“There’s movie hard and then there’s life hard. They’re tough in two different ways. Whenever you’re inspired by your work it gives you a drive, it’s kind of enervating so it’s not really as tough. I wasn’t eating much… And I was running a lot – 15 miles a day. I was so focused and then I realised this is what coyotes do! They scrounge, they’re hungry and they come down from the mountains at night while everybody’s asleep. They’re urban predators like Lou Bloom. It was a bit abstract but I thought it would be great if he looked hungry too. Figuratively he’s incredibly ambitious so I wanted to personify his hunger to succeed.”
Did you stay in character on set and was this one a difficult persona to let go once filming had finished?
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“Yeah. I wouldn’t let him go at the end of the day. Not until the end of the movie. It’s hard to let it go when you’re staying in it… It’s not like you take off the wardrobe go for a meal and come back on Monday. It was a constant… I isolated myself purposefully throughout the whole 26 days of shooting.”
Was there much improvisation around the script?
“All the improv was in the physical intention not the words. I memorised the script as I would a play… So we were always doing different takes. ‘I feel like grabbing you by the ears right now and screaming in your face, I’m not fucking interested!’ With lines like that I’d experiment with literally trying to tear your head off to show that rage boiling underneath him.”
Have you ever taken method acting too far?
“To emphasise a line I punched a mirror. It was my impulse to hit it. It shattered and a shard of glass cut my hand open. I ended up going to hospital to get that stitched up and then back to filming. For me, the scar is about a certain type of commitment.”
You’ve said Bloom isn’t a sociopath but an animal of his time, the product of a generation where it’s success at any cost… Do you believe in the idea that we get the media we deserve?
“Yeah. We ask for it. In a way we’re all complicit in creating a character like Lou and in a way we’re complicit in how we watch and whether or not we’re disturbed by it. Somehow we have to claim a responsibility in that because we are the audience.”
What would you like audiences to take away from Nightcrawler?
“I just hope they love watching this film. It’s so fucked up. I think Lou Bloom is a classic character. There are characters like this we really love in the movies and I hope they’re quoting the things he says in Nightcrawler. ‘I’m not gonna list the many benefits of this piece, I think you should see it for yourself.’ To quote Lou Bloom!”
Nightcrawler is in cinemas October 31