One of the most talked about films of the Toronto International Film Festival this year is Nightcrawler, a film starring Jake Gyllenhaal as a shifty crime reporter. It marks a transformation for Gyllenhaal, both career-wise and physically. In a lengthy interview with Variety, Gyllenhaal spoke about his intense commitment to the role, including why he lost weight to portray the character and how his mindset ultimately led to him suffering an on-set injury.
What drew Gyllenhaal most to Nightcrawler was the script by writer/director Dan Gilroy. He explains, “I would always be sad when we wrapped a scene, because I’d think, ‘That’s the last time I’m ever going to say the line, and it’s so good. It deserves to be said again.'” Later, he adds that it was important for him to fully understand his character’s mindset to deliver the dialogue, saying, “But for me, I learn a skill for what you don’t see onscreen. A line is a line is a line. But a line is something else when underneath it, there’s the experience of the line.”
One of the most notable things about the films is that Gyllenhall dropped thirty pounds to play his gaunt character. Gyllenhall describes how he transformed his body, pointing out that it also helped him get into character. He says, “I would try to eat as few calories as possible. I knew if I was hungry that I was in the right spot. Physically, it showed itself, but chemically and mentally, I think it was even a more fascinating journey. It became a struggle for me.” That hunger would end up helping him personify the character in an animalistic way. He describes his character by saying, “There was a general sense that he was a coyote. I just wanted to live that way.”
Gyllenhaal actually might have taken the character too far when he had to be taken to the hospital after punching a mirror in the film to get stitches in his hand (the action was unscripted). He looks at the scar that remains on his hand as a sign of his devotion to the character. He explains, “As an actor, you’re constantly true to your feelings and the feelings of a character. The most interesting moments are always the most unexpected. I’m not saying it’s a positive thing to get hurt and have to get stitches in your hand. But to me, the scar is about a certain type of commitment.”
One wonders why an actor who only a few years ago was doing blockbusters like The Day After Tomorrow and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is now devoting himself to indie projects in such a physical way. The thirty-three year old Gyllenhaal says that after he turned thirty he decided to turn his attention to more serious roles. He points out, “You wake up and you say, ‘I know who I am. Why am I not able to communicate through my art?’ I just realized I was sitting in the wrong place.”