Davis (Jake Gyllenhaal), a successful investment banker, struggles after losing his wife in a tragic car crash in “Demolition.”
Despite pressure from his father in law Phil (Chris Cooper) to pull it together, Davis continues to unravel. What starts as a complaint letter to a vending machine company turns into a series of letters revealing startling personal admissions. Davis’ letters catch the attention of customer service rep Karen (Naomi Watts) and, amidst emotional and financial burdens of her own, the two form an unlikely connection. With the help of Karen and her son Chris (Judah Lewis), Davis starts to rebuild, beginning with the demolition of the life he once knew.
The film is now playing. Read what the cast had to say below during roundtable interviews.
How did you prepare for this role?
That’s a good question you know. You know for me it was really about uh, feeling and you know trying to step into Chris, my character’s shoes, and kind of see the world as he does… and view the world and kind of take things in as he would be taking them in.
So can you identify with him?
Yeah, I think he’s very relatable because I think he’s put up all these kind of walls and blocks, which is the hard exterior we see but I think he’s a really sweet kid. I think he’s just wondering and kind of wanting to know and searching for who he is – and not necessarily what society wants him to be, but who he really is and I think that’s something that a lot of people go through, you know and it’s a question of identity so I think he’s incredibly relatable.
Bullying is such a big problem in the school systems, have you ever incurred anything like that?
Not really. I go to a fairly small private school and my class is very small and very nice, so that hasn’t been something that I’ve come in contact with too much.
Can you speak with working with Jean-Marc and just building the character and his creative process?
Yeah, Jean-Marc is brilliant. You know, I can’t say enough good things about him. We actually skyped a lot leading up to the project to kind of talk about the character and the project and you know, our process centered a lot around feeling, you know. He didn’t necessarily give me line readings or ways to say things. It was more about emotion and it was the kind of thing that’s like okay, so what is Chris (my character) feeling at that moment that’s making him say that thing? So, it was more about what’s happening inside rather than what’s happening outside. Further, it’s interesting. It’s a very loose set and it’s a very open environment and I think what’s incredible about working with him is he really gives room for things to develop, you know. There isn’t like a certain way things have to go. We did a lot of improv for example. You know, there was a lot of ad-libbing and I think some of the most special moments can be found when you know, you’re just in your character and having a dialogue with another character that isn’t written down, but that’s just really coming from inside you.
Jake said that you were wonderfully irreverent and very confident. Weren’t you at all intimidated to work with such seasoned experienced actors like Jake and Naomi Watts?
You know, I think they made it very easy because they were both so welcoming and so generous and so I think I was never awkward or I was never nervous because they just welcomed me. And so I think that there wasn’t really room for that because the whole set environment was just so open and so fun.
Did you spend some time with each other before you started filming or did you get to know each other?
Not really. Not really actually my first day filming was the scene where we’re demolishing the house. I mean I walked onto set and was handed a sledge hammer. Like, “Go smash some stuff.” Oh okay. So, you know, I think that was the greatest ice breaker. My first two days with Jake were literally just annihilating this house. So I think that after that we were just buddies.
But were you hanging out like after filming? Just to get to know each other better?
Not really. I think it was more of an on set thing and I think that definitely we were buddies and I think our characters need each other. And I think that our characters are very broken people and I think that when they come together they’re kind of able to help each other and they’re both trying to find themselves. And so they’re able to do it together.
Did you understand the character’s feeling for enjoying that demolition and enjoying kind of destroying things, and wrecking things and breaking things apart? That anger that comes with it that kind of catharsis?
Yeah you know I think my character has all this anger and all this kind of turmoil and it’s built up. And I think especially in that demolition scene it’s a way to release it. And I think it’s incredibly liberating and incredibly freeing for both our characters. And I think it’s an opportunity for us and both of our characters to just completely let go and get all of that out.
How about when you were shooting, and the gun scenes. Can you talk about that? Because the idea of seeing someone so young with a gun in his hand was really disconcerting for me and yet, wow, you were really, you went for it. Can you talk about that? Is it the first time you’ve held a gun?
Yes, yeah you know of course it was all fake. You know, it was blanks and it was all incredibly safe. But, you know, I think from a character’s standpoint I think it’s about wanting to feel something. I think it’s about the need to feel and the want to be able to process and be able to feel some kind of emotion. And I think that scene is a climax where it’s absolutely bazar, absolutely over the top and it’s something that you would never think someone would actually do yet so right. And for those characters it’s what their process is. And that’s what’s so special about this film is that it’s so unconventional you know and it’s not necessarily how I think the world would perceive somebody would deal with grief and somebody would deal with finding their identity but that’s what’s incredible about it is it’s their process. And it’s their way of finding themselves.
You’re career has been really on a roll. You did “Point Break” in, excuse me that’s in 2015 and this. I understand you’ve been acting since the age of 4?
Where did you get all this professional training? Did you, have you been taking professional classes? Is it sort of natural? Are you a sort of prodigy of people who love the acting and pushed you into the business?
Yeah you know my parents actually have a theatre company. So I’ve been doing that since I was four and a lot of kind of the truth I think comes from that because you know they focus on a lot of finding the truth in character, not in that kind of stereotyped romanticized character where it’s all kind of upfront. And you know I think for me it’s all about truth. I think what we see so often in film today is this very stereotypical kid. And it’s very rare that an opportunity and a character comes along that has this depth and has this realism. And so for me that opportunity was something so incredible to be able to portray a kid who really just is, and a kid who could be out there, you know?
What was the hardest part about playing him?
That’s a tough one. I think the maturity level of the content. You know there’s a lot of incredibly mature subjects and incredibly mature topics that come up. And you know that was definitely difficult. But I think once you enter into that character it’s simply what that character is going through. And I think it’s a way for that character to share himself with the world. And it’s honesty. You know my favorite scene in the film actually takes place in a hardware store and it’s incredibly mature and it has a lot of adult content but it’s so truthful and that’s what I love about it. It’s the honest setting and the weirdest time to bring up such a mature subject matter, but it’s honest and it’s right and somehow the character is just putting everything on the line and I think it represents the bond my character and Jake’s character have created with each other and the trust. And that scene is blatant and it’s truthful and it’s a bit comedic because I feel like in that honesty there’s a bit of comedy found.
Finding your sexuality is part of the identity and I think, I’m just curious how do you yourself try to find your identity by balancing out your schoolwork and you know the film work and all that?
Yeah you know I think it’s about staying true to yourself. And I think that’s a theme that comes up in this film a lot is really just in a way sticking to your guns, and being yourself and not worrying about what the world thinks about that or what society thinks about that but really just who you are.
Yes but putting on the polish, polishing your nails, the lipstick. When I saw you in the film I was taken aback by your acting. It took a raw talent to do what you did looking that mirror, the mirror scene? And I was like ‘How old is this kid?’ You know I know it’s acting but you just went above. I was really impressed. And how old are you?
I’m 14 right now. I was 13 when I filmed. Yeah that’s a good question. I think I wasn’t too worried about it because it’s all character. And I think that for Chris (my character) it’s what’s truthful and it’s what he feels. And so it’s my job and my responsibility as an actor when I step into him to be able to bring that to life and I think it’s something that’s so living inside of him and I think it’s a really mature but really relevant message. And I think it was a lot easier because of who I was working with. And you know Jean-Marc (the director), I mean I had the absolute most incredible time working with him. And to be able to plot out this character and talk about him and what he was going through, because he’s going through so much, and to be able to portray somebody like that is a huge responsibility. And one that I was just honored to be able to do.
Did you do any research of what teenagers who are coming out or going through that type of change go through?
Not to great extent honestly cause I focused more on the script. And I mean just my absolute gratitude to Bryan Sipe the screenwriter, you know. He wrote a masterpiece and he wrote an opportunity for me to play a character that isn’t found every day. And I think it made my job a lot easier because everything I needed was in the script. You know there was so much given to this character and there were so many pieces representing all the different layers that he had. And so I think for me it was just about bringing those words to life and being able to kind of portray them in an actual scene.
This film contains themes of finding oneself. You’ve been acting for ten years now. If you weren’t an actor what would you be and who would you be?
Hm. I’d definitely be playing a lot of baseball. I absolutely love baseball. I still do play.
Shortstop. Yeah I absolutely love it. I’ve been playing since I was 7 and I’m super into it. Actually I don’t know we’ll see what happens here but I’d love to also take baseball far so we’ll see what happens.
You talked about staying true to yourself and now you’re getting all this attention, people compare you with Leonardo DiCaprio. Are you at all thinking about how it is to be famous or how that could completely change your life and make it actually harder to stay true to yourself?
No. You know I try not to. I mean I’m just so grateful for, you know, all the positive, you know, reactions. But I just try to, you know, pick projects that mean something and that can make a difference and characters I resonate with and I feel that audiences will resonate with. I’m just kind of you know…doing my thing and seeing what happens I guess.
What’s next for you?
I actually just finished a project called “The Babysitter” which is my first lead role which is very exciting. And it’s a bit of drama and a bit of a thriller and a bit of a comedy so a little bit of everything.
Are you the babysitter?
I am not the babysitter, no, I’m the baby-sat I guess. I’m the person being babysat.
Do your parents ever take a hand in deciding or helping you decide what kind of characters and what parts to take?
Yeah I think with every part it’s definitely a collective decision. And I think, you know, especially with this one, you know, all the incredibly mature content. And I think it’s about, you know, finding projects that you can feel for the characters and that’s really important. Also finding projects that can make a difference because film has the ability to change somebody’s view on something and to change a perspective and there’s something so absolutely magical about that.
How important is an education?
More important than acting. It is the most important.
What type of music do you like?