SXSW: Jake Gyllenhaal Talks Playing "Unhinged" Characters and Why All Films Are Political


"I believe I can understand why people do what they do, even if it's unfathomable, even if it’s bad," said the 'Demolition' and 'Nightcrawler' star.

Jake Gyllenhaal and director David Gordon Green are currently spending a lot of time together prepping for their next movie, Boston Marathon bombing film Stronger, but they decided to take a break for a panel at South by Southwest to discuss the actor's career.

In Fox Searchlight’s Demolition, Gyllenhaal stars as a man who’s lost his wife and become emotionally numb. He decides to go up against the vending machine company that took his money the day his wife died. Naomi Watts also stars. Jean Marc Vallee, who directed Demolition, was seated in the first row during the presentation.

“Apathy was something to explore,” said Gyllenhaal of his role in Demolition, which hits theaters on April 8. “We walk around, I speak for myself, not really sure how I feel until I take a moment to figure it out — and most of the time I’m running from it anyway.”

Green asked Gyllenhaal, whose other recent films include Nightcrawler, Southpaw and Prisoners, about what draws him to a role. “First and foremost it’s the story, more than the role,” he said. “What is this whole thing saying? Does it have something to say beyond the fun factor?”

During the Q&A portion of the panel, a psychologist mentioned that she felt Gyllenhaal played emotionally unhinged men particularly well, and asked if any of that came from him.

“I believe I can understand why people do what they do, even if its unfathomable, even if it’s bad,” he said. “I think that’s the beauty of the job that I get to do.”

“And I believe that we’re all actors and we’re acting from the beginning of our lives,” he said. “People put us in a corner and saw we’re this, and then we try to do this, and we hide this — we’re doing it all over the place.”

Gyllenhaal said he enjoys digging into characters that are struggling. In particular, he mentioned Nightcrawler: “Everyone was like, ‘he’s so unhinged.’ And I thought, ‘That’s the closest to me that you’ll get.’”

Another audience member asked Gyllenhaal how filmmakers can tell stories that do change the world. "I don't think it's all about making movies that people deem important, or political. I do inherently believe all movies are political, whether they're overtly political, or whether they're taking us into another world to ignore the world we live in,” he said. “But I think it’s about being able to ask yourself what you really love.”

One attendee joked that he was glad Gyllenhaal wasn’t doing a superhero movie, but Gyllenhaal came to the genre's defense: “Superhero movies have inspired me. I remember when I saw Thor I was really inspired. There’s a reason for myth. They are so moving and so important.”

He added: “Sometimes I'm in a scene playing what people might interpret as a sociopath and I’m thinking of Thor.”

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