On March 20, byteclay.com participated in roundtable interviews with “Demolition” star Chris Cooper and actor Judah Lewis at JW Marriott Essex House in New York City. The Fox Searchlight film, which was directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, hit theaters nationwide this weekend on April 8. It is 100 minutes. It follows a successful banker named Davis (Gyllenhaal) who struggles after losing his wife in a car accident. Jean-Marc Vallée said Jake read the script in March 2014 and he wanted to portray the character badly. Jean-Marc also loved the story and was ready to put up a fight to direct the film. Jake and Jean-Marc met soon after to discuss the characters. He said Jake was perfect because he has an intelligence, depth and sadness that serves Davis. He loved working with Naomi Watts. He said she’s experienced, beautiful, and amazing. She’s a trooper. She’s humble and serving the character and project was most important to her. She has a beautiful understanding of the whole process. When asked what attracts him to broken characters Jean-Marc shared that they are great characters. They have to put up a fight. It is nice to follow characters that are not perfect and see their humanity. In the film, Judah’s character has to tackle coming out. The director shared that this came from Bryan Sipe and was in the script. Vallée also dealt with the subject in “C.R.A.Z.Y.” He said that in “Demolition” the characters talk about it in a way that is non judgmental. Chris is rebellious and he relates to the kid. Vallée said his shooting approach is to try to capture something that looks real. They are not trying to show off, create a color palette, or put style in the look. They just want to be humble and transparent. They use the same lens from beginning to end. He also liked to shoot the rehearsal. He creates a space of freedom. The actors react to what he does, then he reacts. He said it took the cast about an hour to demolish the house and he didn’t cut. He just left the camera running. Read the rest of our roundtable interviews below:
How did you prepare for this role?
Judah Lewis: 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?
JL: 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.
Can you speak with working with Jean-Marc and just building the character and his creative process?
JL: 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?
JL: 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 understand the character’s feeling for enjoying that demolition and wrecking things and breaking things apart? That anger that comes with it that kind of catharsis?
JL: 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.
Can you identify with your character, Phil? If so, how?
Chris Cooper: Well, I think sooner or later young, old, anybody is going to have this experience of losing someone near and dear to you. When I read the script, I had been approached over the years to deal with something like this, but I thought this was the time and this was the script. And I so sympathized with Phil, and I thought his behavior was that that I wanted to portray or put out there because I thought it was right.
You’ve worked with many, many directors, like John Sayles in Matewan back in 1987. How was working with Jean [Marc Vallée] different from working with other directors? He has a different process, from what we understand.
CC: He does, but it’s a little adjustment. I understand some actors may really find it intrusive and upsetting to work that way, but it’s really not. What they don’t know is how much in the day that they will get accomplished, because this idea of working ‘French hours’—you just keep on the move and you grab a bite and you don’t break for lunch. The way he works with his DP, they are like attached at the hip and they can read each others’ minds. They’ve worked together so long. When they cover one angle of a scene, there’s no 15-minute break to relight. This is something technical I don’t understand, but they know light and they know how to work with it. Unbeknownst to the actors, they make a little adjustment and we’re right back to work. A 12-14 hour day is not unusual on a film shoot, but the great thing here is you get so much accomplished. He doesn’t storyboard. He feels out an area, a situation, a room. You get so much accomplished, and you go home early.
Have you ever demolished anything, and what?
CC: My survival job. I lived in Manhattan for 17 years when I was going after the business, just starting out. Before I came here, I worked at the Kansas City Chiefs and Kansas City Royals football and baseball stadiums in 1970 and 1971. That paid for two years of college. Can you imagine, back then? But that gave me a craft as a carpenter. So I had a toolbox on wheels. I lived in Midtown, 48th and 8th, and I’d take the subway to the Upper East Side to some very wealthy people. And I’d knock down old maid’s quarters to enlarge their apartments. I’d put in a kitchen or tear out a kitchen. I could do everything. So I sledgehammered a number of walls.
What I loved about this story is I feel like it wasn’t quite that predictable about where it was going with the characters. What did you love about the writing?
CC: You said it. Even watching the film, I saw it once at the Toronto Film Festival, I thought “it makes sense to go this way, and it doesn’t”. It keeps you on your toes. You can’t anticipate the way it’s going. In the end, what I’m knocked out about is I think the audience got it. That this man, I think, was falling apart. When I saw the film, I didn’t see it in the script, I thought I saw there were periods where Davis was ashamed of himself because he realized he didn’t appreciate what he had. There were surprising moments even as close as I was to the film.
You’re known to be very passionate about the research process. Is that more the exhausting piece of the work or the fun piece of the work?
CC: I say it time and time again, it’s half the fun. It’s almost like going back to school. So many times, there’s stuff I need to know about a character’s livelihood or what he does or his background or the time he spent here or there. It is essential, it’s my comfort blanket. My security, that I do this research, this homework. It can sound really silly, for an actor it’s the building blocks. It’s what hopefully you buy as a character, you believe, and I’m trying to make you believe.