TIFF: 'Demolition' Star Jake Gyllenhaal Talks Grief, Dancing and Demolishing a House

Demolition Still - H 2015
Courtesy of TIFF

Demolition Still - H 2015

The movie, which kicked off the Toronto festival, also stars Naomi Watts, Judah Lewis and Chris Cooper.

Jake Gyllenhaal on Friday recalled that his character study in overcoming grief in Jean-Marc Vallee's Demolition mostly started with fear.

"He [Vallee] came to me and said, 'We're going to do a scene in a car and you're going to basically break down.' I said, 'What? We're on 86th Street and Madison Avenue,' " Gyllenhaal said during the Demolition press conference at the Toronto Film Festival.

"That's his spirit. Feelings don't come when we expect them too, so shoot the movie in the same way," Gyllenhaal added after the Fox Searchlight title — which also stars Naomi Watts, Chris Cooper and Judah Lewis — opened the festival on Thursday night at Roy Thomson Hall. Based on a Black List script by Bryan Sipe, Demolition centers on an investment banker (Gyllenhaal) who finds himself in emotional turmoil after the death of his wife.

He begins to rip apart his life to investigate where he went wrong, but then meets a single mom (Watts) who rescues him from his darkness. "It's a story about a guy who begins the movie in a conventional way and ends the movie through an unconventional journey, feeling however [he feels], and not how society tells him to feel," Gyllenhaal explained.

"That's uncomfortable as an actor. It's not what you've been told grief is supposed to be, but discovering as you go along. And doing it with him [Vallee]," he added, with the director at his side. The Dallas Buyers Club and Wild director told the TIFF presser that grief for his characters in Demolition came during everyday moments, and in ironical ways.

"This breakdown moment, where this guy is saying he doesn't feel anything to this guy on the train, and he becomes emotional when he says it, I liked the contradiction," Vallee said of one key scene. Gyllenhaal added the director was often emotional on set before Gyllenhaal was urged to follow suit with his character.

"Jean-Marc would come up to me before a scene with tears in his eyes, before my character had tears in his eyes. And he'd be there right with me, deep in wherever I was, or where he wanted me to go. He'd say, now come join me," the actor recalled. Getting to grief and moving on for Gyllenhaal's character included helping demolish a house built on set.

"We always did something physical. He [Vallee] built half of a house and he gave us the tools to basically destroy the house ourselves," the actor recounted. Gyllenhaal said Vallee kicked off the demolition work to relieve his own stress on set: "He really looked forward to breaking some windows."

Grief and moving on for Gyllenhaal's character also came through dancing. "I was always looking on the schedule for when the dancing was going to be. I was mostly just terrified," he admitted to the presser.

Vallee usually signaled the start of dance scenes without warning. "The first time I danced, we were on the train, and he [Vallee] said, 'Okay, the train's pulling in,' and he handed me an iPod and gave me an earphone and said, 'Are you ready to dance? Let's go," the actor recounted.

"At the end, I didn't want to stop dancing, I made like a whirling dervish," Gyllenhaal said. Fox Searchlight plans a U.S. release for Demolition on April 6, 2016, outside of the upcoming awards season.