Jake Gyllenhaal And His Pandemic Adventures On ‘The Guilty,’ The Tonys, Directing & Lessons Learned On Leonard Bernstein: The Deadline Q&A

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EXCLUSIVE: Late last week in Los Angeles, Jake Gyllenhaal spoke to Deadline about The Guilty, a gritty pandemic-shot contained thriller which reunited him with Southpaw director Antoine Fuqua and which bows this Friday on Netflix, after premiering on select theaters last Friday. This after premiering at the Toronto Film Festival. He plays a cop who is up on police brutality charges, on a timeout answering 9-1-1 emergency calls as a dispatcher who catches hold of a serious crisis: a woman has been abducted by her felon husband, with their two kids left behind and in danger. Gyllenhaal and Fuqua spent a dozen days shooting the film during the Covid pandemic.

Gyllenhaal is very affable and funny in person, but this chat became so much more about the care and feeding of an actor/producer whose ability to turn in performances with high levels of intensity and testosterone (without chewing the scenery) has become his superpower. He has thrived even as the Covid pandemic shut movie houses and live theater, after he himself caught Covid early last year and recovered. Aside from his own work on stage and screen, Gyllenhaal was a helpful sounding board for sister Maggie as she made her directing debut on The Lost Daughter, which won the Best Screenplay prize in Venice. They grew up around show business: dad is Steven Gyllenhaal, vet director of Paris Trout and plenty of films and TV, and mom is Naomi Foner, the producer/writer of Running on Empty and others. It is inevitable that Jake will also find his way behind the camera before long. We spoke before Sunday night’s Tony Awards, for which Gyllenhaal was nominated for Sea Wall/A Life, as lead actor and as producer (4 noms), and as producer of Slave Play (12 nominations). He left without a trophy, for stage work done two years ago.

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DEADLINE: The Guilty is the most recent performance that displays extreme emotion and masculinity. You’re a restless tiger in a cage who has peak emotional moments that are something to behold; Nightcrawler was a study in extremes; Nocturnal Animals was an emasculation of masculinity on a deserted Texas road that was unnerving for any husband/father to watch; Southpaw was all raw, visceral extremes; and Stronger, the display of an iron will of a man determined not to be defeated by losing his legs to terrorists behind the Boston Marathon attack. You seen very gentle and affable in person. Why are you so drawn to these opportunities?

<img class="size-medium wp-image-1234830016" src="https://deadline.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/Guilty_20201120_2367_R20210804-4471-141yclm.jpg?w=200" alt=" - Credit: Netflix" width="200" height="300" />Netflix

JAKE GYLLENHAAL: I love the physical part of performing as well as the mental and emotional part. When something offers me that opportunity, I’m always interested. For a number of years, I think I was searching for what my idea of who I was and my own masculinity through the physical world, through more the tropes of the ideas of what masculinity is, and how the way in which I was brought up was very much different from that. It was always sort of veering more into my vulnerability. My mother was always very protective of that. I’m a pretty sensitive person.

DEADLINE: I thought so, and then I watch The Guilty, and, whoa…

GYLLENHAAL: Yeah. I think it’s because my dad always pushed me. He was always similar like that, and so, I just like…there’s some part of me that does like the extreme theatricality of things. In The Guilty, I felt like we were in a period of time where there were a lot of repressed feelings. When we shot the movie in October of 2020, everybody was in lockdown. There was all this questioning of how long we were going to be in it, and it had been one wave, then another wave, frustration, exhaustion with it. And I think all of that stuff came out in the performance. And I also like that it’s a space to let out feelings that you wouldn’t normally be allowed to safely in real life.

DEADLINE: Your dad’s a director, your mom a writer-producer. Both you and your sister Maggie gravitated into successful Hollywood careers. What happened at home that made you both want to do this?

GYLLENHAAL: This is a question that plagues me, but that I’m interested in to this day. It’s hard to answer. The most obvious answer, I suppose, it that we were around storytelling. My mom always emphasized, and my dad, too, the power of storytelling. I think as a kid when you watch two people striving to tell stories, showing you those stories and bringing you to watch movies and seeing how emotionally moved they are, and then being moved yourself. Those things have a deep effect. I come from a long line of pretty ambitious people in different parts of the world. My grandparents were both doctors on my mom’s side. My dad’s parents did other things. No one was in the business of entertainment, but I come from a background of ambition. For me, something felt natural.

DEADLINE: What was the moment you first really connected to performing?

GYLLENHAAL: I said I was the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz in elementary school when I was maybe 8 or 9, and I just remember the feeling of joy I had when I was onstage and this odd comfort and energetic exchange with an audience. Everyone else was sort of pissing their pants, and I was going, why does this feel magical to me? And that’s when I knew. That feeling solidified and now, after 30 years of doing it, it’s still a special space for me when I get to do it. I love it so much. It brings me joy.

DEADLINE: This weekend the Tony Awards took place, honoring work from what seems like forever ago. Your Best Actor nom, was that for your Scarecrow work?

GYLLENHAAL: It should’ve been. It was pretty magnificent. I spent five months stuck to a pole, in the middle of a cornfield, just preparing for that role.

DEADLINE: Even then, a method actor. “Mom, when you call me for dinner, I want to hear, ‘Hey Scarecrow, the meatloaf is ready’ “…

GYLLENHAAL: Yes, and why aren’t I sleeping on hay?

Sea Wall/A Life [Photo via Mega Agency] - Credit: Mega
Sea Wall/A Life [Photo via Mega Agency] - Credit: Mega

Mega

DEADLINE: You actually had 12 nominations, including that performance in Sea Wall/A Life, and for producing Slave Play. If you win, will be an asterisk for a victory since theaters closed for a year and a half during the pandemic and only just reopened?

GYLLENHAAL: [Laughs]. By the way, it’s so weird, I’ve said to everyone I have to be back in New York for the Tonys. They’re like, “The Tonys?” I say, “It’s from two years ago.” But it will still be a victory if it is a victory, and it’s still pretty amazing that they’re happening. I have never held a nomination for as long as I’ve had this one. You get nominated for an Oscar, and you hold that feeling for like three weeks, and it’s gone. But this has been a year and a half. And it felt nice.

DEADLINE: In the interim, there was a whole presidential campaign, and a change in White House occupants.

GYLLENHAAL: Yes, the House and the Senate have changed seats, and I’ve still held onto the nomination. So, it’s great. It’s going to be hard to pull these nominations out of my hands at this point.

DEADLINE: You grew up around storytelling, you have become a prolific producer with your Nine Stories partner Riva Marker, and you watch as your sister Maggie makes her directing debut and wins the screenplay prize at Venice. So, for the love of the Coppolas, what’s taken you so long to direct a picture?

GYLLENHAAL: I love the phrasing of that question, I love the question, I love all of it. The question of what’s taking me so long is, I think I’ve had to move past some of my own things, and mature myself enough to understand. I know that directing a film requires a type of maturity that I haven’t always had, regardless of my age, and my mind understanding how to deal with a vision and then, the technical aspects. Producing movies now, over a number of years, and being involved in those questions, and the mind-numbing part of it, I now feel prepared. Even though I know I won’t really ever be prepared. My dad said to me, as a filmmaker, the most important thing to admit to yourself, from day one, is that you just don’t know. And if you can be okay with that, then you can do something good. I think I’m reaching that place. So, [Maggie], like always, has paved the way, and she’s shown me how hard it is. I’ve been with her through almost every step. Before she started doing it, I went, I think I can do this. And then watching her do it, I’ve thought, oh, this is really hard. Can I? And I think that’s the right place to be. So, [it will be] soon. For the love of the Coppolas, that’s a great line.

DEADLINE: The Guilty is based on a Danish film you saw at Sundance and acquired remake rights for a film set in America. There are lots of touchstones here that reflect what this country, and Los Angeles are going through. We’ve all been bottled up by this pandemic. We’ve gone through the Black Lives Matter protests after the murder of George Floyd. There are these fires in L.A. that now seem constant. All of this ratchets up the tension in a contained drama that is all on your shoulders. You and Antoine Fuqua did Southpaw together. How does he help you get to that intense place you inhabit throughout this film?

GYLLENHAAL: I’ve always wanted to find things that are true in the moment that I’m in them. So, it’s, how do I conjure that up? My imagination is a huge part of what I do, but when you get down to a real scene, and you’re in it with somebody, and you know there’s the essence of a movie inside of a scene, I want to get at what is actually going on. Not only in the scene, but with the person in front of me. I think about these big very sort of moments of frustration or anger. I remember being with Denis Villeneuve when we were doing Enemy. He was so lovely and open to my process. I said, my feelings come out best if you just give me some stillness and silence. He was shooting on this crane and he moved everybody back. I was on a couch, and I remember him shooting it and rolling for as long as I wanted, allowing the feelings to emerge. The discovery there was that for me, that quiet gentle quality is what lets me bring those feelings out.

<img class="size-medium wp-image-1234830017" src="https://deadline.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/The_Guilty_00_10_26_12_R20210804-4652-y5mu3l.jpg?w=200" alt=" - Credit: Netflix" width="200" height="300" />Netflix

DEADLINE: And Antoine?

GYLLENHAAL: When we were doing Southpaw, I remember Antoine just always allowed for anything to occur. He’s not afraid of that. He’d continue to roll the camera. In The Guilty, for instance, to Antoine it was really important that my character to not be likeable, from the jump. He said, this is about a very toxic person from the start, and he talked a lot about Denzel in Training Day and how when you first meet him and throughout the whole movie, he’s not a character that anybody would like. But I think there’s something about watching a character that you don’t like, initially, go through these situations that becomes mesmerizing. Antoine is just not afraid of going there, and that’s what I love. Oftentimes, you get the notes, like, maybe we should have more jokes at the beginning, and he was like, no, no, no.

DEADLINE: Antoine is a boxer, and he guided you to get into ridiculous ring shape for Southpaw. Clearly it isn’t all gentle as he helps you dial up the intensity I saw here, and maybe there is an instance of something when he needed you to really go there…

GYLLENHAAL: Yeah. There was a moment I remember him saying to me, the scene when I was in the bathroom stall, where he told me, ‘everything here is breakable.’ I was like, okay, and I actually thought about that, we talked about it a lot. I said to him I just wasn’t feeling the need to tear things down physically. In Southpaw, he had worked with me where he had prepared sets because the character I played was so physical character and was allowed to tear things apart. That was part of the journey of that character, from anger to acceptance. And in that journey, he destroyed lots of things. There was a whole room Antoine created where he was like you can break that, you can break this, you can break that, you can break this, you can break that, you can break this, but this is really expensive and don’t touch it, but you can break that, you can break this, you know? It was like, he knows what kind of animal I am. He knows, in certain spaces, what I’m capable of within that, and he creates the space. I just didn’t want to do it in that case. In The Guilty scene, I felt very differently, and he said, it’s there if you need it. With my relationship with Antoine in particular, I remember I’m an actor who understands that the space is safe and sacred and that the person I’m working with is open to a vulnerability I hope they can express. Because we’re in service of the story.

I remember a moment where he communicated to his crew that we are all going to do this for this big emotional scene for Southpaw, the moment that I heard my wife had died. I was being questioned by these police officers, and he had found a set, maybe 10 floors up, in some room. We were shooting in Pittsburgh, and he said, you stay in your trailer, let me walk the set, and I’ll call you when we’re ready for you. He knew this was a vulnerable space to be in. He checked in with me in the morning, and when he felt like everyone was ready, he called me up. When that elevator door opened, you could hear a pin drop. The crew wasn’t moving. Everyone was sitting down. There was such a profound respect for what the character was going through in that moment. I was jolted into, this is what happens when people know that someone has been through something extraordinarily traumatic and don’t know what to say to them. I felt that. He came to the elevator, and he said it’s yours, we’ll roll when you want. I sat down in the chair, and they started to roll the whole scene, with no boundaries. He knew that I had the technical understanding and prowess…I have craft to keep those boundaries. His setting up of that scene could be considered by some to be indulgent. But his absolute profound respect for the emotional space of the actor in those moments, it’s what I love. It wasn’t that way always; there were so many technical things we had to do [in the boxing ring], but he feels, now you got to flow with us, and I was, yes, I’m in. You need this? You need that? Oh, it feels super unnatural, but it looks good. Great. You know it’s a dance with Antoine. He loves actors, and he loves the technical, and he knows how to sort of trade one for the other, and it’s why I love working with him and for him.

<img class="size-medium wp-image-1234845574" src="https://deadline.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/MCDSOUT_EC010.jpg?w=300" alt=" - Credit: Everett" width="300" height="200" />Everett

DEADLINE: As I recall in that scene where your character’s wife died, the only breakage was internal…

GYLLENHAAL: I basically just sat there in shock, you know, and the scene was me asking questions. It was actually improvised. Pretty much all that scene is an improv. The police officer is asking me questions, me just sitting there in shock. I didn’t do anything physically. I just sat there, and I think that the emotion is pretty true to the moment in that movie, and it’s big. Antoine, the theatricality of some of the pieces that he does is important to him. He loves that. There’s sort of something very Greek about it, very important to him to get down to those things. It’s a place where we really love to be together. It can be profound subtlety, but sometimes with Antoine, we love going big, you know?

DEADLINE: You would think you’re there to serve his vision of the story; it seems generous you have the freedom to dictate how your very physical characters handle traumatic moments…

GYLLENHAAL: In The Guilty, Riley Keough would have some scenes…she’s spoken publicly about what she’s been through in the past two years with family and the tragedy that she’s experienced. And the subject matter that her character goes through is tied to that kind of idea. Antoine was aware, and I was aware, and we both just appreciated the bravery it took for her to express those feelings. Same thing with Peter Sarsgaard in the scenes that he has, which are extraordinarily emotional. Antoine is one of the most grateful filmmakers I’ve ever worked with for when actors give him those feelings, and he’s so generous with those people. I mean I can’t get into details of the things he said to me after those performers gave that work, but it was like basically, is there a way we could thank them, they’ve given me their heart.

I think that has to do with his relationship with Denzel. I think Denzel is a consummate protector of the performer, the performance, and the actor, and that relationship, in terms of creating space. I always feel like is I’m standing in a space that Denzel helped create with Antoine, and I’m grateful for that. I just admire him so deeply. Antoine just goes, well, you’re my lead, now, you can have the same space that I give to Denzel, and I’m like, oh my god.

DEADLINE: The Guilty seemed like the perfect pandemic film. A handful of actors, and others participating by phone. And then your director comes down with Covid or tested positive?

GYLLENHAAL: He didn’t but someone near him did.

DEADLINE: You probably felt, “We can shoot this movie so fast, we’ll be out of here before Covid realizes what we’re doing.” What did you do when your worst case scenario happened?

GYLLENHAAL: From a producing standpoint, it was a nightmare. You are on the Friday before the Monday you’re supposed to start shooting, and a person your director works pretty closely with tests positive. Which means, under CDC and California State law, they have to quarantine for 12 days. And what you thought was advantageous, to shoot a movie in 11 days, ends up being your worst nightmare because you know that if you push past 12 days, all these actors that you’ve hired — Ethan Hawke, Peter Sarsgaard, Paul Dano, Riley, we’ll start losing them because they’re doing it as a favor and saying, well, we fit you into our schedules. Our incredible department heads, our camera crew, they have other things to do. Because we pushed three days, we lost two of our camera operators, and we had to get new camera operators in the last two days. Everyone else stayed on, but you could feel everybody edging out because we had to push. So, this whole movie’s going to fall apart, what do we do? We had a great team of producers, and we came up with this idea to set up monitors at Antoine’s house, and he can direct the movie from his house. He’d tested negative two days in a row, maybe that’ll work. Someone said there’s a van where they have monitors, and an ability to have communication with a set. So, we put the van up on the Saturday or Sunday at Antoine’s house. He hopped in the van, and there was a quarter-second delay between sound and image and for seven hours, we were trying to eradicate this delay.

DEADLINE: He was going to direct the entire film in his driveway?

GYLLENHAAL: He just sat in his driveway, directing, trying to direct a movie and going, just say that line again, Jake? And he’s like, no, I can hear it again. So he’s in his driveway, but there’s this delay, and we’re going I don’t know what to do. We all powwow. Is it possible for us to park the van within a distance that is safe separation from the set? Can we park it on the lot, but away? No. Insurance-wise, no. So, we thought, okay, can we park down the street, and we’ll hardwire the van to the stage and see if it works? And we discovered that was okay. So, the next day, we drove him out in the van, a block away from us, plugged, hardwired him, and it worked. So, we went, okay, we can make the movie this way. So, for the 11 days of shooting…he finished his quarantine 9 days into shooting, but he didn’t want to come to set because the rhythm was working right, and he just didn’t feel like it would be advantageous. He was like, I’m staying in this thing. It also was weird because it mirrored my scenario. He was alone in a van, no one around, weirdly, with three monitors around him, not being able to see anybody but really just being able to talk to them. He liked that, psychologically. So, he never came to set, physically, and he directed the whole movie from that van, and we would FaceTime in-between takes.

We split the movie into 5 acts, 20 pages each act, and we shot 20-minute long takes. We choreographed with all the actors on Zoom; Paul Dano in Australia, Peter Sarsgaard in New York City, Riley in Los Angeles, all the actors from all over the country and the world. They would call in all hours of the day, at their time, and we would do the scene live, and then we would move on. Each day, we would do the 20 pages, 20 pages a day, probably do eight takes each setup, three cameras shooting simultaneously. Due to the time constraints, he kept it moving. Every time I ask him, you want to get a wide shot, an establishing shot, whatever it was, he’d be like, no, we’re getting your whole performance first, and then we’ll come back and pick stuff up, just in case anything happens. So, we basically shot the entire close-up of the performance all the way through the end of the movie, and then the last two days, we shot inserts and establishing shots and specialty shots and stuff.

DEADLINE: How close did you adhere to your original shooting schedule?

GYLLENHAAL: When I pitched it to Antoine, I sent him the script and I said, I always felt like we shoot this in 48 hours.

DEADLINE: Was that the producer in you, trying to set the hook with an A-list filmmaker?

GYLLENHAAL: Well, number one, I felt, there has to be a process of this movie that’s exciting for a filmmaker who will sit and watch this one thing for 50 days. You needed someone who had really great visual/technical skill and also wanted to capture a performance. I knew that in order to like lure any filmmaker in, you’d need to set a time that was short, and whoever was down for that kind of challenge would be the right person to do it. Then I said, hey, look, you know, we can shoot it in 48 hours, we can shoot it in 5 days, but the idea is to shoot this short. Antoine said, okay, I’ll read it, I’ll get back to you. The next day, he called me up. He said I’m in. This was within 12 hours.

I did not expect him to say yes. We’ve passed material back and forth to each other for years now, and there’s always something. He was finishing Infinite. He was prepping to do this show with Chris Pratt. I knew he had Emancipation that he was headed into. I was like, how the hell’s he going to fit this movie in? It ended up being we scheduled 11 days, and he and I would call each other, every night, and I’d say could we do it in 10, could we do it in 9, we’re almost done, maybe we could do it in 8, and he’d say don’t tell anybody, let’s try. I think we’d scheduled an extra day and a half just in case.

DEADLINE: Based on that original schedule you first discussed, you went more than twice as long as expected. I recall Titanic doing the same thing, and Fox head Bill Mechanic confiding he would not get a physical because his blood pressure would have put him in the hospital. Did anyone think to check Scott Stuber’s vitals?

GYLLENHAAL: [Laughs].Well, were ended up 12 and a half days. We rallied and were short a day and a half. So, we finished in 11, and when we reached the finish line, I’m like, are you sure we have a movie? And he said, yeah, we got a movie, let’s wrap. It was crazy and pretty amazing. Scott was actually super chill, but it was nice we’d sold the movie already, and they gave us real space. So, it was a bold financial move.

DEADLINE: Of course, we’re kidding. Of the 70 movies on this year’s Netflix slate, The Guilty has to be Netflix’s shortest shoot.

GYLLENHAAL: Well, that’s what we were aiming to be. If I could’ve done it in an hour and a half, I would’ve figured out how to do it in an hour and a half. It had been five years since we did Southpaw, and I’d forgotten how much Antoine loves a challenge. He’s so agile in his skill as a director that I think he loves variation and challenge in the same way that I do. This was a challenge and he was down for it.

DEADLINE: Though it was based on the Danish film, we see the police dealing with these fires in L.A., we can feel the ongoing tensions involving police brutality and police officers who could be heroes or villains, depending on the moment. There is a focus on mental illness, and we have this clearly toxic cop who summons all kinds of emotions in a confined space. I imagine you put this together before the George Floyd murder and ensuing Black Lives Matter protests. How did all this filter into what we seen in the movie?

GYLLENHAAL: We hired Nic Pizzolato out of the gate, after Sundance, when we acquired the rights. Nic wrote the draft, and two years went by. We were just in a different time, business-wise, and I had always thought, let’s make this in a very short period of time. But we just didn’t have the opportunity, even though the [Danish] movie had been successful and people in the community knew of it. And then the pandemic happened, and everyone was searching for things that we could be done in the pandemic. A number of people came to us, knowing we had this project. It was like sort of Hollywood descended for a moment on this one piece, because it was contained, one actor. And others by phone. So, everyone kind of went let’s make this movie. Then George Floyd happened.

DEADLINE: What impact did that have?

GYLLENHAAL: I think the questions became different. The movie became a different sort of conversation, and frankly, it was a conversation that I felt to be extraordinarily important. I thought, we can still make this movie, given the environment, the sociopolitical issues that were going on? It became even more important for me to want to try and make it. That was when I sent it to Antoine, and I said, how do you feel about this? And he said I’m in. The film went from being a sort of reality-based to a fantasy. Because of the ideas and the things. I don’t want to give things away that happen at the end of the movie, but they are fantasy, what we hope and what we wish for. And what is not happening is because of a broken system. When Antoine and I first spoke about the movie, it was about mental health and about systemic issues that he felt were important. We both love a hugely entertaining movie on the surface, but we need anchors, and we need things to connect to. This movie offered it to both of us. It was like this huge thriller, where there’s all this tension, and underneath these undercurrents of this broken system that we live in, which is what actually creates the thriller. So, it had an interesting journey, and the bravery of Antoine to take it on was one of the things that I think made me love him even more.

Nightcrawler - Credit: Open Road
Nightcrawler - Credit: Open Road

Open Road

DEADLINE: Last one. You set up a film in which you would play the great composer Leonard Bernstein. I recall sitting down a few Cannes festivals ago with your producing partner Riva Marker, when I told her, “I’d heard that Bradley Cooper has a rival version of the film, with Spielberg, who was doing West Side Story, and Scorsese behind them.” I imagine that was a bitter pill for young producers to swallow when the Bernstein estate assigned rights to the other project. Stars are usually collegial, but you guys are also competitive. What can you say about it, and what was the lesson for a couple of young producers?

GYLLENHAAL: This is the thing. No one likes to admit this, but, we got beat at our own game. That’s basically what happened. There’s really nothing more to say about it than that. There’s always another project. Sticking your neck out, hoping to get to tell the stories you love and that have been in your heart for a very long time is something to be proud of. And that story, that idea of playing one of the most preeminent Jewish artists in America and his struggle with his identity was in my heart for 20 some odd years, but sometimes those things don’t work out. In this business, if you’re lucky enough to stick it out for a while, we can easily forget that getting to tell the story isn’t the most important thing. I mean, this is our life. Gotta enjoy it. Bottom line, and this may be my Achilles heel or it may be my superpower, but I wish them the best.

DEADLINE: That’s generous.

GYLLENHAAL: You know, as artists, there are many stories to give our hearts to and if part of our self is caught up worrying about something you have no control over, then you can’t give your whole self to the thing that’s right in front of you.

DEADLINE: I’ve always felt one of the fun things about covering this business, is everyone out here has a puncher’s chance at success. But you can get knocked out as well and maybe you learn more from the latter.

GYLLENHAAL: Yeah, that’s the game. I’ve been through a number of situations like that in my career. Now, Riva hadn’t, right, and as someone who’s been through situations like that a few times, I was able to help her as she often does for me, with the producing side that get me very emotional because I’m an actor who’s used to coming in at the end. And she’s like, wait, this is how it goes, we have five more rounds to go. I’ve learned that producing is just failure after failure. That’s the truth, until you fall into some sort of success. That’s how it feels.

DEADLINE: Is there another setback that helped inform all this?

GYLLENHAAL: You start out auditioning for things and not ever being told the reasons why you didn’t get something. Or you get very close, and then, it doesn’t happen, and then everybody just stops calling. You have to get used to that flow, that rejection. Maybe actors will lie about it, but it’s absolutely true. What I learned finally was to switch the tables, and I was helped by being on the other side of auditions at a certain point in my career. It was hugely beneficial to me to realize, all those people that I thought might be judging me, all they wanted from me was to be the one. They all wanted me to be the one. They were like, please let this guy have the right look, the right performance, the right skill, please, please, please. And early on, I would walk out and go, man, what’s wrong with these people? And eventually I realized I just wasn’t the right one for that thing, when I was on the other side of it. That gave me so much relief after years, decades of not being in that space, not knowing they want you to be the one that kills it, you know?

DEADLINE: How did it inform how you react or don’t react when someone auditions?

GYLLENHAAL: It absolutely did. I was so grateful, for instance, when we did the table reading of The Guilty. I thanked every…I wrote everybody a note, all the actors who participated in the reading. Not all of them got roles, but I was so grateful that they took time out of their day to just be a part of it. When it’s your project, you just can’t believe people are congregating to do it. My sister, she would go through audition tapes for the movie that she just directed, and she just, she would cry that these actors were giving their heart for these words that she wrote, and she’d just feel so grateful. Even sometimes if she didn’t cast them, she just knew that experience.

I think what’s wonderful about producing, too, is there are things that you’re timid about as an actor but you are learning. You’re sitting in marketing meetings at a studio, and they pitch you what they’re going to do. You don’t really have a say in certain things, but you start accumulating information. You start understanding the rhythm and flow of things and what you can do and what you can’t do, what a great idea is. And then you’re in a meeting where you actually get the phone call about the opening weekend, or you get the tracking, weeks before, and you get to take all that knowledge that you learned as an actor in those rooms. And say, I remember that one meeting where they said this and that. Hey, what if we try this? Or, when we went out on a limb and took a risk here, it actually worked, even though everybody was sort of scared. That stuff has been so fun, particularly in the theater, for me. It’s been very fun to try and reinvent some of the marketing concepts and some of the ideas and get creative with it.

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