The next morning after the world premiere of SOURCE CODE, I was able to sit down with director Duncan Jones and star Jake Gyllenhall to talk about the film's reception at SXSW, adapting the script and working in the complex sci-fi world of the film. But as I was prepared to go in, Pee-wee Herman stopped by and spent a little time with Jake trying to explain the film. It was a quick unscripted moment that left Jake and Duncan (and me) starstruck. But with Pee-wee out of the way, we got down to SOURCE CODE business...
Duncan Jones and Jake Gyllenhaal
How did you guys feel at the premiere last night?
Duncan: Really, really great night.
Do you get nervous going up before big festival crowds like this?
DJ: For me, it's still all brand new. I've only done two things. [To Jake] How do you do it all the time?
Jake: But he's so good at it! He's such a good...
DJ: Do you get nervous?
JG: I was nervous before the movie. It's always nice to take questions from people.
DJ: The reaction was so good though. It immediately made us feel welcome and that things were going to be all right.
This is *your* crowd here in Austin. They love you.
DJ: I love them too!
Did you see the guy dressed up in the MOON costume?
DJ: He wasn't a plant, I promise!
Was this your first public screening?
DJ: This was the world premiere. The first time we had shown it to people who weren't involved in the making of the movie. It was terrifying for me. I was very excited and anxious as to what the crowd's reaction was going to be. But we worked hard on it and surrounded ourselves with really, really good people. Obviously Jake and Michelle [Monaghan] plus Vera Farmiga and Jeffrey Wright. The people behind the camera as well. These are all amazing people.
I loved the music in the film...
JG: Oh this is crazy, we have to tell you this.
DJ: This is absolutely true. The guy who composed the music's name is Chris Bacon...and his middle initial is P. Chris P. Bacon. He is crispy bacon! That is his name. We just found that out and got a good laugh out of that. But it's true, he was fantastic.
Jake, you brought the script, which was pretty highly regarded in Hollywood, to Duncan?
JG: It was a script that was brought to me by Mark Gordon who produced the movie and I read it and thought it was great but as amazing as it was, it needed a delicate hand to direct it.
What about the script made you feel that way?
JG: Well I think there are tendencies with the movie where a director can go one way with it. It can be just a thriller or it could be something more psychological or just stay character driven but mostly I think it was finding something who'd be able to understand the human things going on in the story as well as the visuals. I just knew it needed a particular hand and when I saw MOON, I was so blown away by it - Duncan, after these interviews you're going to hear how much I kiss your ass - that I thought it needed someone exactly like Duncan. We had met about some general things, like he has a movie that he's making and he wanted me to star in--
DJ: --which you had to reject (laughs)
JG: So I ended up telling him there was this script we could check out and I thought he would never do it and he ended up saying he wanted to do it right away.
DJ: I think we both clicked immediately on the fact that I love my sci-fi, I understand my sci-fi, but my focus has to be on performances and the actors and that made it really easy for us to know that we were on the same wavelength on how it needed to be approached.
What do you guys think really worked in Ben Ripley's script that made it connect with readers?
DJ: Have you had a chance to read it?
I have, yeah.
DJ: Yeah it just rolls along. It's pace-y and it doesn't let up. It's so easy to read that from my perspective I had to keep pulling myself back and saying, this reads great but does it make a good film. I felt really comfortable that it did. I felt there were things I could do on a visual level and to know that Jake was interested in it made it really appealing to me as well.
JG: There are details that as you're blowing through, as you do with the first watch of a movie, there are the immediate moments you know as far as human behavior but then if you go back and see it again or read it again, there are all these little clues along the way.
The movie was funnier than I expected from having read the script. When you have Jake as a star do you just want to take advantage of his sense of humor?
DJ: When I talked to Jake about reading the script for the first time, my reaction was this was great but I really think we'll get the most out of this if we lighten the tone. If we inject it with some humor. The best action movies, for me movies like INDIANA JONES, you want a leading man who's like an everyman but who's a little frustrated with the world around him and who he has to deal with. Jake found a nuance to that, which makes it work.
JG: That was really fun. There are certain situations that you can look at each one of these situations as a little funny or someone is seriously going to die in this situation. So we would go back and forth all the time. We could very easily say [SPOILER ALERT] where I find out that I'm dead, people get uncomfortable because they don't know if they should laugh. And they did laugh last night because we found humor in the situation and then went right back to the story and it has to stay believable. You play both sides of how a mind would work and respond to the absurdity of sci-fi and the seriousness of it.
DJ: If you take it all too seriously, then it just comes across as pretentious and if you really believe this is going on right now. It gets a little conspiracy theory-ish. You have to lighten it up and say, "This is a story, it works, go with us because you're going to enjoy the ride."
The science behind the Source Code can be a little complex.
DJ: Yeah definitely. We just say, "trust us." You need to take a little bit of a leap of faith with us on it. For some science fiction, if you can get the audience to go with that and they empathize and care for the characters, they'll just enjoy it. It's rare for an action movie to be stuck almost in two central locations: the pod and the train. Was that frustrating as an actor?
JG: It was really theatrical actually. It was the greatest part about performing it. We would do takes in the pod that were seven minutes long. We'd always go through an entire take and if we still had film in the mag - well we shot on HD so if we still had "data" on the hard drive, we'd just reset and go right back into it. I'd play it almost like we were on a stage, in a way. The same thing goes with the train. With the exception of certain variations, I work in a way where I like to play everything through and he always allowed that to happen.
DJ: It's hard enough for an actor to know their lines, remember their marks and all the technical side of acting and then break up what they're doing into tiny, little pieces? I think that's absurd. You need to let an actor get into it and feel it. If you start breaking it up into sections, you're never going to get as natural or as invested as performance.
Did you allow Jake to explore the character to his own dialogue and deviate from the script a bit?
DJ: Oh absolutely! In particular the stuff on the train. We rehearsed that for the first week and understood the mechanics of how the scenes had to work in order for the story to progress. But once we knew that we could be free with it and improv with it and Jake is fantastic at that and really gives all of these varied performances that allow us to decide that for this version of events, we should steer it more funny or weird or scary.
JG: Sometimes there would be little bits. I'd see now that Duncan would put in one piece that worked out of five takes of improv and put it into the other takes that he liked. So maybe out of 100 choices, maybe four of them worked, but they're in there. And he allowed that to happen so he could spice it up. Even in the interaction with Michelle the thing that works best is the subtleties, because it takes a little time to establish their relationship and how they fall for each other.