Demolition men

Tearing the house down with Jean-Marc Vallée and Judah Lewis.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Judah Lewis on Mick Jagger and David Bowie: "My wardrobe was based a lot on rockers."
Judah Lewis on Mick Jagger and David Bowie: "My wardrobe was based a lot on rockers." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

The Dallas Buyers Club and Wild director, Jean-Marc Vallée, phoning in from LA where he is shooting HBO's miniseries Big Little Lies with Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Laura Dern, Shailene Woodley and Zoë Kravitz, said the inspiration he gave costume designer Leah Katznelson for the Chris Moreno character was Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones, and that Heart's Crazy On You took hold of him.

Demolition, written by Bryan Sipe, starring Jake Gyllenhaal with Naomi Watts, Chris Cooper and Heather Lind (seen in Noah Baumbach's Mistress America), introduces Judah Lewis as Chris, whose mother Karen Moreno (Watts) works as a customer service representative for a vending machine company. She becomes intrigued by the continuous flow of letters from an uncoiling Davis (Gyllenhaal), an investment banker whose wife Julia (Lind) died in a car crash that left him physically unharmed in the passenger seat.

Judah Lewis on Chris Moreno: "I think there are different sides of him."
Judah Lewis on Chris Moreno: "I think there are different sides of him."

Vallée, suffering with a West Coast cold, considers his latest film "a fable, above reality" and he believes that Davis is not hard to understand. "I too was lost myself. I forgot to take care of my life. I forgot to love. I took too many decisions because they were too easy …. We are stupid sometimes," he said, "so of course we can relate to Davis Mitchell."

Anne-Katrin Titze: Have you ever written a long letter of complaint?

Jean-Marc Vallée: I can write one to you, if you want! No, I've never done that. Nor did Bryan [Sipe] do that. I think this concept is so funny, so brilliant, and again, so special. Who reacts like this to the death of someone close? Someone you're supposed to love and cherish and you're writing a letter almost as if you are making fun of them.

And he is not! And that's why we can follow this train and see how clever Bryan's writing is. This guy is determined to talk about his feelings, his way of losing himself. And he talks about it in this special storytelling style that I embrace and honour.

At Essex House on Central Park South, I spoke with rising star Judah Lewis on his take on Demolition.

Davis and Chris: "Our characters' bond really developed …"
Davis and Chris: "Our characters' bond really developed …"

The teenager (Chris) wears a leopard print coat and bonds with Davis over various types of demolition. They come up with a unique therapy, only few can afford, that is at the same time childish and dangerous.

Anne-Katrin Titze: Let's start talking clothes. How did you like what you were wearing?

Judah Lewis: I loved it. My wardrobe was based a lot on rockers. It was very Mick Jagger and very David Bowie. I think it really influenced the character. There's something about putting on a costume as an actor that can transform you and help you in the process of becoming your character. And this wardrobe was just spectacular. The leather jacket.

AKT: The leopard coat?

JL: Yeah, the leopard print jacket, that actually was my favorite one. And the checkered pants. It was very rock n' roll.

AKT: Did you have any influence or was it all in place when you arrived?

Jean-Marc Vallée on Davis Mitchell (Jake Gyllenhaal}: "We are stupid sometimes, so of course we can relate."
Jean-Marc Vallée on Davis Mitchell (Jake Gyllenhaal}: "We are stupid sometimes, so of course we can relate."

JL: Most of that was from Jean-Marc and also the costume department. They were able to create kind of the essence of Chris.

AKT: How do you dress?

JL: How do I dress? I dress pretty casually. Jeans and a T-shirt is usual.

AKT: The scene where you shoot at Jake's character in the bullet-proof vest - can you talk a bit about that? It is one of the most powerful ones. Were you worried before doing it? Of course, you weren't really shooting?

JL: Right. There were so many safety precautions taken. It was all blanks, the gun was completely clear. It was all squibs and blanks. There were no real guns actually being fired. That scene is about feeling something. There is that need to feel emotion and to be able to feel grief. That scene is the essence of that.

That scene represents the absolute bizarre and crazy ways that these characters are healing. I hope that this scene doesn't enforce any gun violence. I don't think it's romanticized. I think that scene is incredibly real and I don't think it's looked at from a perspective of this is a good way to heal. But somehow for these characters it's the right way to heal.

Julia Mitchell (Heather Lind)
Julia Mitchell (Heather Lind)

AKT: It's a shocking moment. You mentioned earlier that certain things came out of playing, for example your drumming. What were other moments where you had creative impulses that made it onto the screen?

JL: There are many little moments. One is directly following the scene in the hardware store. There is a moment where I jump into the shopping cart and Jake's character is pushing me down the aisles. It kind of represents this childish sense of humor and fun, that kind of brings levity to this incredibly intense scene that has just taken place. We were in the middle of filming the scene and I was standing next to Jean-Marc and Jake. And I was like, "Wouldn't it be funny if at the end of the scene I just jumped in the shopping cart and Jake just pushed me down the aisles?"

And Jean-Marc was like, "Yeah, that would be funny," and I thought he was humoring me. And a few minutes later, he was like "Hey guys, this is what we should do. Let's have Chris jump in the shopping cart and Davis is going to push him down the aisles." Kind of this really special moment came out of it. It brings that sense of humour to the scene when you see these two guys going absolutely crazy. It came from this spur of the moment idea.

Karen Moreno (Naomi Watts)
Karen Moreno (Naomi Watts)

AKT: Did you ever do that in real life?

JL: I have never done that in real life.

AKT: So it's a fantasy? It could be your trademark. You could do that in every film from now on. The film is about demolition. What was the most interesting thing you took apart?

JL: I think I got it all out of my system.

AKT: By demolishing the house in the film?

JL: Yeah. I don't think I've ever really taken anything apart. I think that scene did it for me.

AKT: I have asked the other actors. Nobody seems to like taking things apart here, you are all just acting it. You are described as 15, "looks 12, acts 21," by Naomi Watts' character. How old do you feel?

Demolition at Essex House in New York
Demolition at Essex House in New York Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

JL: In the film? I think there are different sides of him. Chris' exterior feels definitely 21 and is incredibly mature in behavior, yet kind of immature in mindset. I think inside he is a 15-year-old kid. Outside, he has this early twenties mentality.

AKT: How did your relationship to Jake Gyllenhaal change during filming? Did the bond you develop in the film also work for the two of you?

JL: After those first two days of demolishing the house, after that, we were buddies. Our characters' bond really developed and from beginning to end, there really was a sense of collaboration. We definitely had a lot of fun.

Read Demolition screenwriter Bryan Sipe on working with Jean-Marc Vallée.

Coming up - Jake Gyllenhaal and Chris Cooper on Demolition.

Demolition screened at the Glasgow Film Festival last month. The film opens in the US on April 8 and in the UK on April 29.

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