Jake Gyllenhaal likes to see himself as a man of action, so one of the biggest challenges for him in Nocturnal Animals was playing a passive character.
“This movie was a difficult one for me because it was one about ‘non-action’, which meant resisting all of my normal instincts,” the US actor admits. “I’m a very physical person – in my own self and in terms of creating characters. It’s a very important part of what I do, but in this film, I couldn’t use any of that. I had my hands tied behind my back, sitting there, incapable of doing what I would normally want to do.”
To complicate matters further, in Tom Ford’s multi-layered drama, Gyllenhaal actually plays two characters: the aspiring author Edward, who has just sent a copy of his novel to his ex-wife Susan (Amy Adams), and Tony, the lead protagonist in the book, whose story also unfolds on screen in the mind of Susan.
It’s a dark and twisted tale, and Gyllenhaal was hooked as soon as he read the script. “I remember reading it starting at night, actually, and it was probably one of the best scripts I had ever read,” he recalls. “To me, this was a story about love – love lost, the unrequited sense of it, and the violence that heartbreak causes internally.
“We all spend most of our lives doing our best to present something to the outside world. We don’t want to put all of our feelings on other people, we don’t want to have to make other people go through the pain that we might be experiencing.
“Amy’s character presents that outside world, that projection she wants to put out there. The book and the story of the book is the internal world, the internal heartbreak of the relationship, and what she sees she’s done to someone else. That’s what was so moving about the screenplay.”
Nevertheless, coming off the back of physical roles in Everest and Southpaw, Gyllenhaal knew he would have dial things down for Nocturnal Animals.
“It was an interesting journey for me, and a difficult one, because he’s a character that doesn’t act initially. He does ‘act’ in that he’s pretty much a deer in the headlights, but he doesn’t know his physical self, he does not believe in using a gun or violence at all, so he doesn’t really know how to protect his family.
“I had just come off of a number of films where I was really expressing myself physically. So, I really tried to whittle myself down physically, if that makes sense. I really tried to find the weaknesses in myself and try to be curious about them, those moments in which I wouldn’t speak my mind, or I would hesitate.”
Ever the perfectionist, Gyllenhaal relished the preparation involved in preparing for such a complicated role. “The thing I love most of all is the preparation, the time before you even begin shooting,” he says. “It’s my favourite time. I guess people would call it the ‘rehearsal period’ if you’re doing a play, but in movies you usually just have your alone time – whether you’re exploring the world in the character you’re going to create, or meeting people that do the same job, or experiencing some experience that they may have in the movie. I take that with me and it never goes away, along with the friendships that I make along the way.“