What is Source Code? It's a thought-provoking thriller involving a bizarre science that allows someone to enter the last eight minutes of a dead person's life. Jake Gyllenhaal stars as a soldier who is inserted into a stranger's body in order to observe what happens immediately before a train is blown up and to figure out who the bomber is. If he accomplishes his task, he could save millions of lives.
Directed by Duncan Jones (Moon), Source Code is a tricky film to talk about for fear of giving too much away. However, at the South By Southwest Film Festival, Gyllenhaal did his best to answer questions from reporters about the Summit Entertainment release without disclosing any potential spoilers.
One sentence that sums up Source Code:
Jake Gyllenhaal: "It’s a movie about rebirth. It’s a movie about, this is another sentence, is that okay? It’s a movie about how I believe and I can see that in every day that we have little births and little deaths. If we pay attention to our interactions with people, we can see that there’s a cycle to things. This movie seems like, at least philosophically, that idea to me. Every time I would come back into the source code, and as an actor, and I think every time the character goes, it’s another chance, another chance. And it’s about even as you believe things die, they are reborn."
On the importance of understanding the science of the source code:
Jake Gyllenhaal: "Yes, [it's important]. I mean, the concept of the source code more than the science. The science itself, I think he’s confused and he doesn’t understand what’s going on or why, and most of the time he doesn’t really get it. His ultimate choice is not based on science. It’s based on a belief and a faith that he can make a change that they believe that the science says that they can’t. So I need to know what the source code was, which I made very simple. It was simple in my mind. Obviously it was a computer program that Jeffrey [Wright’s] character invented that allowed you to enter someone’s body for the last eight minutes of their life, based on a synaptic map that connected with a victim of a catastrophe - and they somehow rolled the dice and found the right guy with this situations. Now, merging consciousness and whatever the synaptic map and the science of that, I don’t know much about, but it was very important for me to understand that these concepts made sense and that they could be founded in something real. So yeah, it was very important and it continues to be. I want the audience to know that it’s legitimate because it is legitimate. It could happen."
On Duncan Jones as a director:
Jake Gyllenhaal: "Well, with Moon when I saw it, I was just so impressed by the confidence and the sense of rhythm and visuals, and the sort of sense of humor that was very subtle and at the same time a nod to a lot of other films and filmmakers and styles that I could feel instinctually that was coming from him instinctually. Then also in the middle of it, a really nuanced incredible performance by an actor who was clearly allowed to feel free within the confines of all these things. Which means that the person who’s directing it has such a fine hand and such a great confidence that clearly he knew what he was doing. When you see that, it’s such a rare quality. It’s such a rare thing to have all those qualities that I was like, 'I would love to work with this guy.'"
"He had written [Moon]. He had made it happen for very little bit of money and [it was] just wonderful, fascinating. So I met him and I was sort of attached to Source Code as a thing, but I didn’t meet with him with the intention of having him direct the movie. I didn’t think I had that kind of say in the situation. I met him because it was a general meeting. He wanted me to play a small part in a movie that he was writing. So we just met and had a nice time. He was a cool guy and I left and thought, 'Wait, there’s something I’d want him to read. Maybe he’d want to direct this,' totally thinking he would say no but I would love to hear his ideas."
"We sent it to him as a roll of the dice. Five days later, he was like, 'I want to direct the movie.' Four months later we were shooting the movie. Literally, it was like so fast. That’s him though. It’s going to sound cliché but he’s in the world of like he tweets, he’s involved and he’s very savvy. He’s like, 'Let’s do it, let’s do it. I know it.' Ironically, in that world [where] he’s very fast-paced, he pulled all these things that made it much more complicated and confusing out of the screenplay. There was a real simplification of everything and, as a result, I think the movie is incredibly narratively incredibly successful because of the choices he made."
"His way of underplaying and overplaying...he’s great. Anyway, it’s a longwinded answer but the movie did not work until he came on it. It didn’t totally make sense as to what it was to me until he came on it. Then I realized it was going to be something fascinating when he did."
On spending a lot of time onscreen as the only actor in the shot:
Jake Gyllenhaal: "What I loved about it was a sense of isolation. Duncan was always there with me, so even when I was talking to green screen in that pod, I’d hear either Vera [Farmiga’s] voice or a variation of someone reading lines to me. Sometimes we would do it without anybody reading it. I would just memorize their lines too. You do these takes of like six minute-long takes. It’s so fun. I could make any choice that I wanted, because so often you’re working with people and you’re responding, and I was responding off of this green screen. A lot of people talk about green screen but I was literally talking to a screen that would eventually become Vera - and I loved it. I loved it. It didn’t present a challenge. It really presented opportunities to me. I could respond any way. And then I also loved how confined and structured the train was. That was what we shot first so we had that and then we broke out into this."
"I loved shooting this movie. It was so much fun and Duncan made it so fun and made me feel empowered. He just wanted it weirder and weirder and weirder. Every time I could make it stranger, he would love it. That’s just my kind of guy."
On his comfort level doing action scenes:
Jake Gyllenhaal: "There was definitely a little bit of confidence when we do that shot jumping off the train; there’s a shot that Duncan did which is kind of brilliant. I hope he does 'Anatomy of a Scene' for that shot because it was three different parts. I have to do the first jump off of a train, the timing and the camera and the whole thing, everyone’s like, 'Okay, so you have to do it!' I was like, 'I got it guys. I’m cool.' And then I injured myself, obviously. But in terms of the process of doing things like that, I got a lot of experience off of a number of the movies that I’ve done that have action or a little bit of fighting and stuff in them."
Looking into the future: Jake Gyllenhaal wants to step behind the camera:
Jake Gyllenhaal: "I’ve sort of grown up loving storytelling and to me always what’s more important is the movie being great, more than my performance, and that’s what I care about. I’ve worked with such incredible people. Working with David Fincher and working with Ang Lee. Somebody Duncan reminds me of is Ang in his demeanor. He’s very reserved and quiet, yet incredibly stable. He jokes with you guys and in the movies, but when you’re shooting the movie he’s very quiet and has a lot of confidence in his actors and gives you what would seem like free rein. Because I’ve been involved with those people, I can’t help but take things from them, and I love storytelling so I would hope one day that I get to do that, try my hand because I think it also gives you perspective as an actor."
"My mother’s a screenwriter, my father’s a director, I can see that to put something together and make it work, as you guys know and see lots of films, to have something work, just to work is a hard thing. I would love to have that perspective."
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Source Code hits theaters on April 1, 2011.