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Days before production kicked off in November on the real-time thriller The Guilty, director Antoine Fuqua was forced to quarantine after a close contact tested positive for COVID.
He wound up helming the entire film, which centers on a demoted cop (Jake Gyllenhaal) assigned to a call dispatch desk who fields a 911 call from a kidnapped woman, from a van, hardwired to the Los Angeles set from a block away. Armed with three monitors, a walkie talkie and his phone, Fuqua completed the film, a remake of a 2018 Danish thriller of the same name, in 11 days.
Much like Nic Pizzolatto’s plotline, that left no time for second guessing. “My most memorable day was when I was having [an echo] of my own voice in my ear because we had six actors on Zoom for a 20-minute-long take,” says Gyllenhaal, who also produced. “We couldn’t figure out this reverb of my voice, and we’re running out of time. And I did one whole section with my own voice repeating back to me as I spoke to every single actor. I can’t almost watch that section of the movie because after 10 hours of that I truly got the closest to insanity as I’ve ever been.”
While Fuqua initially panicked, he quickly realized that Gyllenhaal was pulling it off despite the technical difficulties. “He had to perform with all these different echoes and voices in his head. So, he focused, and he delivered. I remember just watching him going, ‘It’s what I love about Jake.’ The focus is incredible.” The film, which makes its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on Sept. 11, marks the second time Fuqua and Gyllenhaal have collaborated following 2015’s Southpaw. The pair spoke to THR about staying sane during The Guilty’s surreal shoot and why Netflix was the ideal home.
Jake, you acquired the rights to the Danish film back in 2018. What was the mindset behind that move?
GYLLENHAAL Initially, I felt like it just translated so well into the American context — socially, politically. It said something about our systems. I thought it was a really interesting, important conversation. I sort of felt it in my bones. I also have become really enamored by the monologue or spaces in which storytelling uses half or three quarters of your imagination as opposed to telling and showing everything.
What made you decide to work together on this project?
GYLLENHAAL We’ve been looking for something to do together since Southpaw. And there have been many times where Antoine shared something with me, or I’ve shared something with him, and it just hadn’t felt like the right fit. He is a wonderful filmmaker. He loves performance and how to handle very intense subject matter. He’s really knows how to grind out a thriller. And he’s not afraid of the darker sides of humanity. In fact, I think he thrives in those spaces. So, to me, it just felt like a perfect fit. On top of that, the role required an intimacy with the filmmaker. We already had one.
FUQUA The material spoke to me — the script — when he sent it to me, and we talked about it. Since Southpaw, we developed a really good friendship. So, we’re always trying to find a project that makes sense that we both are passionate about. And this one, in particular, because it’s so focused on Joe, the character, I got excited about it. It was a challenge. And also I felt like it was something that really highlights Jake’s abilities — to hold the screen, to hold the audience, being so focused on him only in every single frame. He’s so talented. It was a great opportunity to do that together.
What do you remember about the first conversation you had about the project?
FUQUA He called me and said, “I got this project that is that I’ve been trying to put together for awhile. And I thought about it and it made sense that I should talk to you about it.” And I remember saying, “How come you didn’t call me first?” (laughs.) But I was busy doing other things. And he said, “It’s something we could do quickly.” And he kind of gave me a quick rundown of it. I almost said yes without reading it because I could tell how passionate he was about it. And I trust his taste.
GYLLENHAAL The first thing I said to him was, “Imagine this movie being shot in a week,” which is the only opportunity I had to get a director of his stature. We both like a challenge. And I know that he’s got limited time and availability. I was really focused on shaping a thriller and making an audience entertained. And then he started to talk about what was underneath all of it, kind of forcing me back into what had drawn me into it in the first place, which was, it was the issue of mental health and our systemic issues. He really wanted to make a movie that not only entertained but also entertain those ideas.
What prompted you to go with Netflix as the distributor?
GYLLENHAAL We were talking to buyers, and they provided a perspective on the movie that I felt was the right perspective. This is a movie that I feel lives beautifully theatrically, but it has your attention when you watch it on the small screen. I always thought of it as somebody coming across it and saying, “OK, I’ll check that out.” It’s the type of movie that as soon as you click on it, I don’t think there’s any way you can stop watching it. And frankly, the disappointing part of streaming has been that people have the opportunity to turn it off. So, I found it a challenge to make something that would make people need to get to the end to know what happened. Also, I think they’re wonderful [at Netflix]. I’ve worked with them so many times, and there’s so much creative freedom.
FUQUA Netflix is just a great place to make films now. Scott Stuber gives you freedom to make your movie. They read the script. They talked to me and Jake and pretty much said, “Go make it.” We had creative conversations about a couple of things, but it wasn’t anything that disrupted the flow in any way. I think it’s great because you’re not worried about the weekend box office on this type of thing. You just you know everyone around the world gets to see it immediately. I’ve been wanting to work with Netflix. This is my first project with them. I hope to do more.
Jake, what’s unique about Antoine’s process?
GYLLENHAAL He’s a visualist. He comes from that Propaganda [Films] school of filmmakers who came out of that world with deep deep visuals and a love of the classics and his references are always [Sidney] Lumet. We discussed Lumet throughout this entire process and performance. When I’m when he rolls, he lets me lead. He says, “I’m working with you because I trust you.” When he’s worked with Denzel [Washington], for instance, I think he, he just loves the actor. He’s just such a wonderful actor’s director. And if you want that, he’s your guy. I will go anywhere for him.
Jake, describe Antoine in three words.
GYLLENHAAL Best. Voice. Ever. He really does. He is so deeply charismatic and loving and fearless. And handsome is an asterisk to the charismatic.
Antoine, describe Jake in three words.
FUQUA Tenacious, focused, passionate. And he’s got the nice long hair.
Jake, what’s your favorite Antoine movie?
GYLLENHAAL Training Day.
Antoine, what’s your favorite Jake performance?
FUQUA Brokeback Mountain. He’s just brave. He’s outside of himself and played a beautiful role, and was so sincere and truthful about it.
What are you doing next? Any plans to work together again?
FUQUA I’m doing Emancipation with Will [Smith] and focused on that right now. We got [hit] with Hurricane Ida [in New Orleans]. We’ll get back into it in the next week or two, hopefully. But I would like to do something with Jake immediately.
GYLLENHAAL I made Ambulance with Michael Bay. And right now, I’m really focused on my company and the projects that we’re developing. But Antoine and I are always looking. That’s what’s nice about having these relationships. I feel like I know now when he’ll be into something.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter’s Sept. 11 daily issue at the Toronto International Film Festival.
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