"Life," the brand-new science-fiction thriller about a crew of unlucky astronauts (led by Ryan Reynolds, Rebecca Ferguson, and Jake Gyllenhaal) who pick up a soil sample from Mars that isn't just soil, will scare the hell out of you. It's an unrelenting, terror-filled journey into the deepest, most uncomfortable parts of space exploration and an absolutely thrilling time at the movies.
I was lucky enough to chat with Gyllenhaal the morning after the movie's uproarious SXSW world premiere, where we talked about getting drawn to the project, what it was like shooting the movie, and whether or not he'd return for a sequel. I also had to ask him about "Zodiac," one of his very best performances (and one of the very best movies, well, ever) and an upcoming movie I'm very excited about, "Okja," due out on Netflix this summer.
Moviefone: This is the first time you've done a movie like this. Had you always wanted to do something in the space/horror genre?
Jake Gyllenhaal: No, if you ever talk to me I don't have any specific desire to do any particular type of film. It mostly has to do with the community of people you work with and the opportunity to play around and explore. And [director] Daniel Espinosa is very particular in that way and really allows for that type of exploration. That was a promise he made. That was part of it, along with a terrifying script. And Seamus McGarvey was already shooting it and we had some incredible department heads so I thought, Hey, these people are going to do some very interesting things with this idea.
Daniel has said that part of the appeal was the Janet Leigh aspect of getting rid of a major character early. Was that fun to play around with as well?
Absolutely. I think those qualities that the movie has are great and subverting things is always fun. There are so many things that are really trying to pander and in a lot of ways this is pure entertainment but in that space it's always fun to f*ck around.
What was it like shooting the movie?
Oh, it was fun. Being on wires every day, we came in and didn't have to wear shoes and wore jumpsuits. It was the easiest costume to put on and take off. You fly around on wires every day ... There are definitely physical strains on your body at a certain age that aren't always fun. It was claustrophobic and there are some tense moments when you're trying to create those things but ultimately it was really fun. Daniel is lovely and his attitude is great and he has a great sense of humor. It was a wonderful, great cast that was very humble and happy to be there. I haven't been on many movies with such a lovely process.
Did they show you what the monster was going to look like, or was it pure speculation on your end?
They more showed us where it would be. Daniel wanted us to use own own imaginations. And we had these ear pieces in, where our characters could communicate with each other in the movie but Daniel could get on there and he would tell us to look at things or turn our heads in different directions and explain to us what was happening. It was a strange discovery as we went. We had kind of an idea of what Calvin would look like and what he'd change into but it was mostly our imagination.
What did you think when you finally saw it? Did it line up at all?
It changes, so I think in that way, as it grows and behaves that way ... It was a little bit of both. But definitely f*cking scary.
The writers of "Life" have talked about being open to a sequel. Is that something you'd be open to if called upon?
Always! I've never done that before but always!It's the 10th anniversary of "Zodiac" this year. Looking back on the process -- and with some distance -- what was that experience like?
Oh man ... It was life-changing and career-changing, and to work with David Fincher and to have that experience was extraordinary. I was very young at the time and thought very highly of myself, which has absolutely changed. When you're that age and you're not even so clear about the kind of geniuses I was working with -- performers, filmmakers, all the crew around me. It was definitely such a dark movie to create and make and so ambitious in a lot of ways. Not necessarily in the ways we consider films ambitious but in this very subversive film that I think is ahead of its time and is a classic in a lot of ways. It's an honor.
It's great, too, that people still talk about it. Has the fact that it has remained, even after getting a lackluster initial release, surprised you at all?
No. David hadn't made a movie in a while when he made that, and I remember the script was a certain way. It was 100 pages when it was written, and when he got on it became 180. He knew about it before, obviously, but as he tried to shape the movie he was trying to figure out who this person was, even to the day we were shooting it, up until the end of shooting, to see if we could find out who the Zodiac Killer was.
Yeah! The thing that is incredible about David is that he's really not afraid of these corners of the world, and he wanted to figure it out as much as all the characters in the movie want to figure it out. I think that need, that want, that desire, that ache is in the movie because it's his ache. He grew up with the Zodiac Killer in his hometown, so all of those things run very deep inside him and they run in the movie and that's what I think makes it so special.
You have another movie that is coming out that I am so excited for: "Okja." What can you tell us about that movie and what was it like working with Bong Joon-ho?
Well, again, another brilliant mind. He's a true visionary, from his early movies in Korea to the movies he's ventured out with a more international cast. He's so incredible to work with and he's such a visual artist so, in a way, you're just fitting into this painting. But he also loves the idea of absurdity and creation, so in terms of creating a character with him it's truly inspiring and so fun. The creature he's created is beautiful, and I think he's created a story in the vein of the classics we love; I'd say things like "Pan's Labyrinth" and "E.T.," where you watch the journey of a child growing up and moving to adulthood in a way that's really beautiful and heartbreaking and moving.
I can't say enough wonderful things about it. There's no one I know working today that has the agility with tone that he has -- visually, with humor. There are moments in the movie where I'm crying and then immediately start laughing, and I found myself crying and laughing at the same time. There's something about him. Maybe it's his understanding of all of our cultures, his understanding of the connection between all of us in the world and where similarities exist. But, man, is that man a craftsperson and I love him as a person and it was a joy to work with him. I can't wait for you to see the movie.
"Life" is in theaters Friday.