'Nightcrawler' vs. Nightcrawler: Which One's Harder to Play?

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Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler (left); Alan Cumming as Nightcrawler, one of the X-Men (right)

Jake Gyllenhaal pushed himself to the limit to play a midnight oil-burning crime reporter in the thriller Nightcrawler that’s in theaters now: The actor lost thirty pounds subsisting mostly on gum and kale, became a recluse, and was hospitalized for punching a mirror with his bare hand. But he’s not the first nightcrawler to go to great lengths for his art. Alan Cumming played the blue-skinned, teleporting mutant known as Nightcrawler in X2: X-Men United (2003), and from what he’s told reporters, that role was its own special kind of torture. Which actor showed greater commitment to his character? Using quotes from their interviews, we challenged Gyllenhaal and Cumming to the ultimate Nightcrawler showdown. May the best crawler win!

Round 1: Physical transformation

Jake Gyllenhaal: “In terms of my face and the choices that were made, in terms of losing weight and stuff, that was just months of getting to it. Just running…15 miles a day. I’m just picturing myself as a coyote with all the coyotes and stuff. And my face just changed, I think,” he told People.

Alan Cumming: “The first time I did it, it took 8 or 10 hours to get my face done. And also we went through various tests and shades of blue…. The first time I saw it I thought, ‘Oh yuck,’ because I thought it was too dark and I didn’t feel I’d be able to communicate anything with the audience,” he said back in 2003.

Round 2: Dangerous situations

Jake Gyllenhaal: “Director Dan Gilroy and I were rolling around with stringers, the real life ‘nightcrawlers’ in Los Angeles…. 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,” he told NME.

Alan Cumming: “There’s chafing involved. There’re so many perils to wearing the harness. [Acting is] kind of the least of your worries, I have to say, when you’ve got big, huge, mountaineering style straps near your groin. And it’s scary going up so high,” he said in 2003.

Round 3: Preparation time

Jake Gyllenhaal: “I spent a number of months preparing for the character…. We wanted him to be hungry and be sort of starving in a way. I lost weight, but I was mostly trying to find a space in which I was perpetually hungry,” he told The Hollywood Reporter.

Alan Cumming: “With Nightcrawler, I did [the make-up] about 40 times. That was about four hours and that wasn’t even prosthetics on my face, it was just blue stuff and some tattoos. So that was horrendous…. In X-Men 2, I still have the call sheet. It said, ‘Alan Pick-up 2:42 a.m.’ That was my earliest pick-up,” he told IGN.

Round 4: Most traumatic day on set

Jake Gyllenhaal: "To emphasize 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,” he told NME.

Alan Cumming: “You get up at two o’clock in the morning. And I was a bit farty, because you know, you eat at funny times, and you don’t want to fart because there’s three [make-up] people doing stuff to your body… So I got onto the set and we’re doing that scene, and I’m lying like this and Halle [Berry]’s putting her hand all over my body, and when she touched my tummy I felt the rumblings, and I had this vision of Halle Berry flying across the room with the force of a fart,” he said on a talk show.

Round 5: Taking the job home

Jake Gyllenhaal: “The running thing, you’re pretty hungry because you’re not eating a lot of food. You’re lonely because you’re not meeting your friends for dinner. People go, ‘Hey you want to meet for dinner after work?’ I go, ‘Well, I’m shooting all night.’ ‘All right, you want to meet for lunch?’ I’m like, ‘I can’t!’ So I’m gonna go run,” he told EW.

Alan Cumming: It’s like the French Resistance. Once you’re in, you’re in. People bring you things. It’s like the strangest people are all X-Menny,” he said in 2003.

OUR VERDICT:

It’s clear that both nightcrawlers suffered for their art — but while Cumming was gritting his false teeth the whole time, Gyllenhaal threw himself head first into madness, starvation, and bodily harm. In the contest to declare the most committed nightcrawler, Jake Gyllenhaal creeps away a winner.