Absolutely smashing

Jake Gyllenhaal and Chris Cooper on Demolition and having the tools for the job.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Chris Cooper remembers James Dean and Jo Van Fleet in Elia Kazan's East of Eden, and Marlon Brando and Montgomery Clift
Chris Cooper remembers James Dean and Jo Van Fleet in Elia Kazan's East of Eden, and Marlon Brando and Montgomery Clift Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Jean-Marc Vallée's wrecking ball of a movie, Demolition, written by Bryan Sipe, stars Jake Gyllenhaal with Naomi Watts, Chris Cooper, Judah Lewis and Heather Lind in a world of loss and destructive confrontations. At Essex House, Jake Gyllenhaal said he loves Chris Cooper's brutal honesty since Joe Johnston's October Sky, David Fincher's work ethic on Zodiac and A Single Man director Tom Ford's script for Nocturnal Animals with Amy Adams, Michael Shannon and Isla Fisher and questions having a Gene Kelly moment. Chris Cooper compares Benedict Cumberbatch's maternal instinct to his own in John Wells' drama August: Osage County with Meryl Streep and Sam Shepard as head of household. Working with director Ben Affleck on Dennis Lehane's Live By Night, losing a child in Demolition and his scene with Jake and Naomi were discussed.

Davis (Jake Gyllenhaal): "If that was my Gene Kelly moment!"
Davis (Jake Gyllenhaal): "If that was my Gene Kelly moment!"

Demolition has Gyllenhaal as an uncoiling Davis, son-in-law to Cooper's Phil, whose daughter Julia (Heather Lind) died in an automobile accident. Davis is not coping well with his loss and writes a series of complaints to a vending machine company after a malfunction. Karen Moreno (Naomi Watts), the customer service representative, receives his letters and becomes intrigued. She and her son Chris (Judah Lewis) end up bonding with this damaged man.

Anne-Katrin Titze: Did you feel you had a Gene Kelly moment - in the street, dancing?

Jake Gyllenhaal: You mean, just because I have one in every movie I've ever done? No, I mean, Jesus. I'm sorry, Gene Kelly, if that was my Gene Kelly moment!

He just finished working on the new Tom Ford movie Nocturnal Animals, the director's second.

Phil with his daughter Julia (Heather Lind)
Phil with his daughter Julia (Heather Lind)

JG: It's one of the best scripts I've ever read, that script. As for the movie - it's a director's medium so it's up to him, but the process was a beautiful, brutal, really emotional one. I think he is a wonderful director. It translates, I think, what he has made his empire on [fashion] and then filmmaking as a director really does translate very well.

Jake first worked with Chris Cooper on October Sky.

JG: When somebody is honest, I think, it just makes you look at yourself. Working with someone like Chris Cooper … There's a brutality to his honesty and how he works, you know. So you always try and come to a scene trying to bring the most of what you know about yourself. That's my personal approach.

Jake discusses acquiring the tools for his profession.

Phil (Chris Cooper): "I've done very much the same thing Davis did when I came to Manhattan."
Phil (Chris Cooper): "I've done very much the same thing Davis did when I came to Manhattan."

JG: There is a moment in which you go, as you become an adult, hard work is actually the thing that begins to separate you. Your understanding beyond the love and beyond the passion for what you do, you have to work hard on it. I don't know when that really happened. I think there were a number of things along the way. This movie Zodiac … with that movie I started to see I didn't have the work ethic that I have now and I watched somebody like David Fincher and his work ethic. I had at the time a lot of criticism for that in my mind but ultimately I have adopted that same work ethic.

There are those moments along the way … As with Chris Cooper, I finally got to do a scene with him again after working with him when I was 16. That was October Sky and I had no idea why he was so aloof and weird and didn't talk to me because that's what his character would do. Now, I have all the same tools. You just accumulate them and then one day you wake up and, I guess, you're grown up.

Anne-Katrin Titze: The last time we spoke was at the lunch for August: Osage County at Le Cirque when I was talking with Sam Shepard.

Customer representative Karen Moreno (Naomi Watts)
Customer representative Karen Moreno (Naomi Watts)

Chris Cooper: Was that in New York?

AKT: Yes. And I made the comment that you were the only one showing maternal instinct in that whole film.

CC: Yes. And now that I've had all this time to think about it, maybe Benedict's [Cumberbatch] character.

AKT: Here again in Demolition, you are the heart of the movie. You have this line - something I never thought about - that there is no name for it when you lose a child [unlike being called widow - widower or orphan]. That it is a nameless state of being and should remain that way. Do you feel that way, too? That there shouldn't be a name?

CC: Yeah, I think when you take a deeper look at it, that shouldn't be. We don't want our children to pass before us.

AKT: Do you know if in other languages there is a name or if this is universal?

CC: I don't know.

Jake Gyllenhaal was glad to be "sideswiped" by Bryan Sipe's script
Jake Gyllenhaal was glad to be "sideswiped" by Bryan Sipe's script Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AKT: You mentioned that America doesn't deal well with grief - compared to other countries.

CC: I don't think so, yeah. I think we have this tradition in America, this cowboy pull-yourself-up-by-your-boot-straps and let's not talk about that. I think it may have to do with being a very young country. And I think we still have a lot to learn. In Europe you have an older country. You've been through wars, been through centuries of your history. And here we are, America, big tough baby America, ready to take on anybody.

I think with Europe's maturity - and I am married to a first generation Italian woman ... When we go over there, I mean, her father died when she was 15. Marianne's mother put on black and she intended to wear black for the rest of her life. She is allowed in Italy, people are allowed to grieve. And we don't seem to handle that well here.

AKT: "Allowed" is an interesting word in this context.

Phil confronts Davis
Phil confronts Davis

CC: My wife, Marianne, discovered an article five years ago and I wish I had the name of the organisation. It was a psychiatric edition to mental health. And they wanted to suggest that after two weeks, if you've lost a child or a loved one or a parent, and you are still grieving - we have a pill for that!

AKT: Two weeks?

CC: Yes. They wanted to inform that big pharma had something for you.

AKT: On a different note, in Demolition you have one of the funniest scenes as well. When you are protecting your great-grandmother's clock from the 1890s [from Jake Gyllenhaal's Davis who looks at it like the wolf spotting grandma]. You have this fantastic office with the greatest view and there is this clock you want to protect. Was that in the script from the beginning?

Demolition US poster
Demolition US poster

CC: Oh yeah. I was surprised when it [the clock] did get removed from the office. I shouldn't have been. When we shot the real confrontation where I'm going after Davis for having brought Karen [Naomi Watts] to my home, within that shot, there was the clock.

AKT: What was the most interesting thing you ever dismantled? Or are you not a dismantler?

CC: I've done very much the same thing Davis did when I came to Manhattan. Fortunately, I had a carpenter's background. I'd worked on construction sites and had a toolbox on wheels. I lived in Midtown, around 48th and 8th [Avenue]. I would work with different people, usually wealthy people on the Upper East Side who needed work on their apartments. That would often involve knocking down walls and putting up, you know, walls. It involved small demolition.

AKT: Do you miss it sometimes?

CC: No, I still do it! I still tinker where I live. I am constructing a grape arbour around the pool. It's a really nice design, it's going to be great.

AKT: There seem to be many personal links to you in this story. It must have appealed to you and frightened you?

CC: It's good to live a full life as a human being because this is what you bring to your work. You bring your own life experience. It can be very helpful.

AKT: What is coming up for you next?

CC: I finished working with Ben Affleck on his latest film. It's by a Boston writer, Dennis Lehane, it's the second book of a trilogy called Live By Night and it's about late 1929, Thirties depression and distilling and rum-running down in Florida. There's a group of Boston thugs who go down to Florida where they want to set up their operation. My character is the chief of police in Tampa who runs the very white part of Tampa. Where the distilling takes place is in the Latino, African American, Spanish, Cuban area of town.

Karen with Davis
Karen with Davis

AKT: What movies did you like when you were growing up?

CC: Movies primarily from when acting took a big leap, when acting changed in the Fifties.

AKT: Any specific movies?

CC: Sure. East of Eden. A handful of Brando's plays. Montgomery Clift, you know, those films.

AKT: Do you remember the first film you saw?

CC: Yes. The first film that I ever saw that made a huge impression on me - because my father was a doctor and we would rarely see him - so rather than see cartoons, I accompanied my mother to the films that she wanted to see. So I saw some very adult films as a little boy. I must say, when I saw East of Eden, that made a huge impression. I didn't know who James Dean was, I didn't know Elia Kazan. It's really important to be able to give as an example how much a film can impress a young kid. I remember scenes, shots.

Years later, because I remembered them, I asked Mom about them. I said "There was this young man sitting at the curb on the street and this woman passes behind him and she is veiled." And she knew exactly, oh, that's East of Eden, James Dean and Jo Van Fleet. I didn't know those actors' names. Powerful stuff!

Screenwriter Bryan Sipe on Demolition.

Director Jean-Marc Vallée and his young star Judah Lewis on Demolition.

Demolition opens in the US on April 8 and in the UK on April 29.

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