In the dramatic film “Demolition” (directed by Jean-Marc Vallée), Davis Mitchell (played by Jake Gyllenhaal), a successful investment banker, struggles after losing his wife in a tragic car crash. Despite pressure from his father-in-law, Phil (played by 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 Mareno (played by 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 (played by Judah Lewis), Davis starts to rebuild, beginning with the demolition of the life he once knew. Here is what Cooper said during a roundtable interview with me and other journalists at the “Demolition” press junket in New York City.
What attracted you to “Demolition”?
Just about everything. It was a nice combination. I was very flattered that Jean-Marc came to me and asked me to look at the script. The script was interesting, and then to find out who was on board. And beyond that, I was looking forward to working with these particular producers Russ Smith and Lianne Halfon. I was really happy to be a part of it.
Your character in “Demolition” says that in order to fix something, you have to take it apart and put it back together. Is that a philosophy you have in real life?
Yeah, I wouldn’t argue with that too much, but I highly trust instinct as well.
When you trust your instinct, does that apply to taking roles?
On taking a role, I do take my time. And I think I probably irritate those interested to know if I’m on board, because I’ll want to read the script a number of times.
When you trust your instinct, does that apply your acting?
No. I do a lot of homework.
What kind of homework did you do for “Demolition”?
Not as much. One of the things about this was that I so related to the character of Phil. And I’ve learned over the years that as much as research is important and an actor should do that, there are some scripts where you don’t have to beat yourself up and go crazy about research and “What is this character all about?” Sometimes a character can fit you like a glove.
“Demolition” is about death of a loved one and dealing with grief, but there’s some dark humor in the movie. Can you talk about the tone of the movie?
I think it’s in the writing. One big aspect of it is — I don’t know if I went to lengths to discuss it with Jean-Marc or the writer — I [as Phil] almost felt like when I created a scholarship for my daughter, the way it was shot was almost as if, compared to what Jake [as Davis] has come up with, it’s almost stuffy. Scholarships change people’s lives.
This one-sentence summary that keeps coming up is “a study in grief.” People grieve differently, and we have to give them room to do that. One of the frictions between [Phil and Margot, Phil’s wife] is we just couldn’t get the way [Davis] was going about it. He wasn’t behaving normally, to the point of really irritating the hell out of us — to the point of complete selfishness, what we thought was complete selfishness.
How would you describe Jean-Marc Vallée’s directing style?
He brings a high energy in many respects in his directing, in the way we spend the day working, the scenes that shoot that day. He works so closely with Yves [Bélanger], his DP [director of photography]. We worked on “French hours”: we don’t stop. So that camera is going all the time.
I don’t know the technical terminology, but please understand when I say that Jean-Marc does not break to set up lights. We don’t take 15-minute breaks. That’s the way we usually work. He moves so fast, that it keeps the actors on their toes. It almost has a feel of improvisation. And before you know it, he’s covered the scenes very well.
For more info: “Demolition” website