AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
The last time we spoke to Jake Gyllenhaal, it was about a year ago on the set of a movie called "Nightcrawler." At the time, the tabloids were talking about how much weight he'd lost for the role - and he was gaunt, wearing an oversized gray bomber jacket with a white button-down hanging off his body. His blue eyes were sunken in and, you know, he didn't blink. So when he sat down once again to talk to us, this time at our bureau in New York, I couldn't help but ask him about it.
JAKE GYLLENHAAL: When you met me, I was not wholly aware of how I was behaving probably because I had put myself through certain things and I - in a weird way - thought I was normal, but I guess according to you not so much, but that was the first time we ever met in person so I don't know.
CORNISH: Once you see "Nightcrawler," that makes a lot of sense. In it, Gyllenhaal plays Lou Bloom, hungry and prowling the lamp lit streets of LA. He stumbles on work as a freelance cameraman for a TV station with an if it bleeds it leads ethos.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "NIGHTCRAWLER")
GYLLENHAAL: (As Lou Bloom) Excuse me - I have something you'll be very excited about.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (As character) You have a good eye. I want you to contact me when you have something.
GYLLENHAAL: (As Lou Bloom) Something like this.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (As character) Think of our newscast as a screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut.
GYLLENHAAL: (As Lou Bloom) You will be seeing me again.
CORNISH: Jake Gyllenhaal says what sticks with him is the way that his character deploys the cheery language of self-help guides, even as he tries to break into a business built on misery.
GYLLENHAAL: The first speech of the movie - which I'll never forget because I memorized the script like a play and it's ingrained in my memory forever - is, you know, excuse me sir, I'm looking for a job. In fact, I've made up my mind to find a career that I can learn and grow into. Who am I? I'm a hard worker. I set high goals and I've been told that I'm persistent. Now, I'm not fooling myself sir, having been raised with the self-esteem movement so popular in schools, I used to expect my needs to be considered but I know that today's work culture no longer caters to the job loyalty that could be promised earlier generations. And so on and so on.
CORNISH: Yeah and on paper that doesn't look so bad, right?
GYLLENHAAL: (Laughter). Yeah, but out in the world, taking a few morals out of the equation, it can be pretty dangerous.
CORNISH: What's interesting is as the movie goes on and he ingratiates himself into this news station where he's been feeding his video, he sounds less and less crazy and he starts to fit in. Maybe that's actually saying something about the news business, now that I'm saying it out loud (laughter).
GYLLENHAAL: No, no (laughter).
CORNISH: But you know what I mean? Like, that language actually, it didn't sound out of place once he kind of found a place in the working world, for better or worse.
GYLLENHAAL: Yeah, I mean he speaks like a real entrepreneur. He speaks like a very successful entrepreneur. I mean, there's nothing he says in this movie that I don't agree with. I agree with everything with this character says in one way or another. It's what he does that I don't necessarily agree with.
CORNISH: When you were doing research into this world of freelancers - which is where this movie gets its name, right? It calls them nightcrawlers - is this something that people still do, is this still a robust business?
GYLLENHAAL: Yeah, definitely. I think maybe more robust than ever. I went on the streets of LA with two brothers - they're called stringers, really - who do this job. I spent a number of nights with them.
CORNISH: Did you come to understand them anymore, the stringers?
GYLLENHAAL: Well, what I saw was - and this is why I think the idea of blame or whatever on, you know, who does the job or what it is doesn't make sense to me - because what I saw was a great innocence, a kind of childlike play and that was a key for me in finding the character.
CORNISH: Meaning the high of arriving at these accidents first or capturing the video?
GYLLENHAAL: Yeah and I also think, you know, there's this - and it does get dangerous here and that being a young kid, going out in the backyard, climbing trees, setting fires, you know, is not a very different feeling to what you feel when you're with these guys. There's a thrill, particularly on the way, to the unknown. As you venture with them into the night and then you get a call, you don't know what you're going to be seeing and there's a terror there, but you can feel from them an excitement, too.
CORNISH: You know, it's also about the appeal of voyeurism, right? What did you find in terms of the allure of that? What do you think kind of you and director Dan Gilroy were trying to show about our role in all of this?
GYLLENHAAL: Well, I really feel like there's something very primal about the slowing down at, you know, an accident scene and it's in those feelings that some people find, you know, great success in their work. And Lou happens to be one of those people but I think, you know, he's enabled by Rene Russo's character, Nina, who is editing and buying his footage and she is then in turn enabled by the station heads and they are enabled by us because, you know, you can blame anybody, but I think really there's no blame, it's - we're all complicit. And a lot of people leave the movie saying, wow, like that was - what a ride, you know? And there are a whole slew, a whole spectrum of responses to it, all of which kind of leading back to oneself and how complicit the individual is in creating someone like Lou.
CORNISH: Well, Jake Gyllenhaal, thanks so much for speaking with us.
GYLLENHAAL: Thank you so much.
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