In addition to David Fincher’s Gone Girl and the indie Birdman, Nightcrawler is one of the breakout dramas of the fall. The modest budget thriller is the directorial debut of noted screenwriter Dan Gilroy and Nightcrawler is currently one of the best reviewed movies of the year. We sat down with Gilroy and talked to him about a genre-bending film being taken seriously, as well as what it was like working with star and producer, Academy Award nominee Jake Gyllenhaal, both in front of and behind the camera.
Much has been made of how to classify Nightcrawler. Is it a drama? Thriller? Dark comedy? I asked Gilroy about his directorial debut and how he would describe the movie. Is it a genre film? And if so, could it breakthrough during awards season this year? Said Gilroy, “I see Nightcrawler as having genre elements in the sense that it’s a thriller. It also has some strong dramatic elements and I think I understand the question as there’s some really strong elements of drama and some people do some really excellent work. I mean, Jake’s performance, lets just talk about that specifically, I think it’s an awards worthy performance and I say that as objectively as possible. I think it would be a shame, and I think it has happened in the past, where people have give extraordinary strong performances or other elements of it have been incredibly strong, but because it has genre elements associated with it, it sort of gets put into a bin and gets pushed off to the side. And I think the only way you ever really escape that is if you again reach a mass market because, again, some films do break through.”
Gilroy continued, “Black Swan broke through. On the surface, Black Swan is a very dark film and very genre, but it reached a very wide audience and I think because it reached such a wide audience it managed to break through that stigma, if you want to call it. And another film is No Country for Old Men but, again, possibly the reason it broke through is because of the people involved in it. You’ve got the Coen Brothers and you’ve got some very high level talent and in that sense if there’s enough high end elements involved it helps break through but you do have to break through the perception that this is a genre movie because it does have a negative connotation when it comes to awards. It does.”
As a fan of Jake Gyllenhaal myself, I could honestly say that this was the first time where I felt like “Jake Gyllenhaal” disappeared. He is also credited as a producer on the film. I asked Gilroy about Gyllenhaal, whom Gilroy calls “a very active producer,” and what it was like working for him both in front of the camera and behind it?
Gilroy explained, “I flew to Atlanta to try to convince him to get onboard when he was doing Prisoners and we sat down to dinner and the first thing he asked me was, ‘How do you see the movie?’ and I answered, ‘I see it as a success story,’ and he burst out laughing and he goes, ‘That’s exactly how I see it too!’ And the reason we got along so well is because I think when you look at it as a success story, you’re basically saying, I’m not going to apply any moral label to this character. And by not applying a moral label to the character, it allows the audience to see a human side of the character, to get beyond the label because I believe that labels are so reductive, that they don’t encompass the true multifaceted nature of human existence. And it allowed Jake, in the course of preparing for the character, to create this inner landscape based on loneliness and desire to connect and communicate and to have a relationship, as perverted as these concepts are maybe in watching the movie, these are things that he has desires for.”
Gilroy continued, “So in working with Jake, it was understood that we were going to try to always come at the character from a place of love and one of respect and to keep the connection as long as possible between the audience and the character, regardless of what he was doing. Again, with the intent at the end to go, Wait a minute. As misguided and maladjusted as this character is, perhaps there’s a larger issue here and it’s that we’re breaking families up and we’re discarding young people and allowing them to educate/raise themselves and in a world where perhaps they might have been chastised or some punitive response that would have corrected them, we’re rewarding them for their bad behavior… I see Lou a little like that. He’s a child with too much power and so that was great.”
And behind the camera? “In terms of producing, Jake was a very active producer. Jake was there involved deeply in hiring all department heads, the guy’s been working since he was 11, so he just brings not only a lot of experience but talent and creativity to the choices that we made so he was a very active voice. He was there for the casting sessions so it was great having Jake very much my creative partner. I love him.”
Nightcrawler, written and directed by Dan Gilroy and starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo and Bill Paxton, is in theaters now.