Talking with Jake Gyllenhaal, star of the science-fiction thriller “Source Code” on a sunny March Friday at South by Southwest in Austin, I asked him if he was able to enjoy SXSW at all or if he was busy with the promotional dog and pony show for “Source Code.” The actor — hair cut short, smiling — waved off such concerns: “Listen, the wonderful thing about SXSW is you’re able to just be yourself and go around. There’s no dog and pony show here at all. That’s what’s wonderful about it. I love Austin.” This, of course, was just a few hours before the now-infamous “Urinalgate” incident where a “fan” tried to take Gyllenhaal’s picture after the premiere of “Source Code” while the actor was, uh, freshening up.
But before all of that, Gyllenhaal was immensely eager about “Source Code” and his director, Duncan Jones. “Duncan and I met just because he had a project he was interested in me for that he wrote, and I just wanted to meet him generally — because you never know. We met, and it was a very fleeting meeting, very short. I thought, ‘That guy’s cool. Who knows if he’s even interested?’ Then, ‘Source Code’ came up, and they went, ‘Who are the people you would love to work with?’ And I went, ‘I think Duncan Jones would be amazing for this.’ They said, ‘OK, we’ll roll the dice and see if he responds.’ Four months later we were doing the movie.”
And Gyllenhaal was playing Capt. Colter Stevens, a U.S. soldier plunged into a new experimental program. The program aims to stop a large terrorist attack by putting him in the last eight minutes of the experiences of a man who died in a previous terrorist attack. It’s a mix of adrenaline and IQ, with Gyllenhaal as an everyman against fate. “That idea was fascinating to me, and the idea of the ‘source code’ itself, which was this scientist invented a computer program that allows you to go into somebody else’s body for what would be the last eight minutes of their life — that computer program encapsulated a spiritual idea that fascinated me.”
It’s not the first time Gyllenhaal has played fast and loose with space-time, in the wake of “Donnie Darko.” I asked him if he read the script for a project like “Source Code” in a different way. “The most difficult day was the first day, because (Jones) decided to shoot the movie in sequence — I think for clarity for himself, because there are so many variations going on all the time, and particularly the first establishing variation is the most important. On the first day, we had schematics of the patterns of each one of the passengers, because depending on the angle of what was being shot and how my character would affect them, we’d have Source Code 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and I had it in my script — the visual idea of each character and how I could even improv, affect them and not mess up Duncan.”
Gyllenhaal laughed recalling Jones’ drive to clean up the plot of “Source Code”: “He was staying in this hotel; we’d meet up or he’d come to my house, and he would have pulled out things, and I would go, ‘But that was such a great scene.’” Gyllenhaal laughed, imitating his director’s rationale for his cuts: “‘I understand, that was a great idea. Believe me, it won’t make sense.’”