Denis Villeneuve, 'Prisoners' Director, On The Movie He Made After Getting Drunk With Jake Gyllenhaal

A Drunken Night With Jake Gyllenhaal Led To This Movie

The idea for Denis Villeneuve's Toronto International Film Festival favorite, "Enemy," originated after a night out drinking with Jake Gyllenhaal. This is at the same time remarkable -- considering how good "Enemy" turned out -- and, well, not surprising, since "Enemy" (about Jake Gyllenhaal spotting his exact double while watching a movie) is really, really weird. Regardless, as Villeneuve explains below, it sounds like this weekend's "Prisoners" might not have been quite as good without that drunken idea.

In "Prisoners," Hugh Jackman plays the father of a kidnapped girl, and he's willing to take matters into his own hands to find her -- even if that means beating the living hell out of a suspect (Paul Dano) who has been released from police custody. (Gyllenhaal plays a detective on the case.) "Prisoners" could have been something along the lines of a movie of the week-type police procedural, if not for the fingerprints of Villeneuve and legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins. As Villeneuve explains here, his style has everything to do with Steven Spielberg and "Close Encounters of the Third Kind."

This is your first studio movie. Now all of a sudden you're working with Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal?
I was "impressed" by Hugh Jackman for five seconds the first time I met him, but as soon as he opened his mouth and shook my hand, I felt comfortable. He made me feel like I was one of his friends.

He's good at that.
And it was the same with Jake, the first time I met him in New York.

Jake Gyllenhaal seems intense.
Yeah, but we were at a small restaurant and, first of all, I was sure that he'd be super late. And he was there before me waiting. Then we had a drink of red wine together and we became drunk very quickly.

So the origins of "Prisoners" is a drunken night out with Jake Gyllenhaal?
[Laughs] No, the origins of "Enemy" is me and Jake Gyllenhaal being drunk in New York. Then we did "Prisoners."

I saw "Enemy" while I was in Toronto for the festival, it makes much more sense now that I know that.
[Laughs] Yes, this is the truth. I never said that to any journalist. I remember going into the street and Jake said, "I want to do 'Enemy' but I have to dream about it. I have to dream about it." I said, "All right, all right, we're both drunk." I said, "Dream about it before you give me an answer, but I need you to do it. "Enemy' is something I need to do before 'Prisoners.' Because 'Prisoners' is going to be a studio movie and I have no idea where I would put my feet. I need to be free. I need to make something free."

I think you succeeded.
It's just that I really needed to free a part of myself to be at peace, then I was able to shoot "Prisoners" with Roger Deakins in a more rigorous and disciplined way. But I just needed to be a teenager and express myself [laughs].

I feel in the wrong hands, "Prisoners" could have easily been a bad movie. Then again, I guess you can say that about every movie.
Yes, you can say that about every movie [laughs].

But I think this one more easily so. It could have have easily been a procedural, movie of the week-type thing.
We knew the script was strong, but we were working on the edge. There was an edge.

I'm getting the feeling that you were hesitant to do a studio movie.
I was afraid. There was a part of me that really wanted to do it because it was a dream to make a film in Hollywood. I was raised with studio movies. I was raised with Spielberg.

What specific Spielberg movie?
"Close Encounters of the Third Kind." Big, big, big smash for me. My birth of the love of cinema was born with "Close Encounters" and "2001." Those sci-fi movies I saw when I was a little kid. So, for me, Spielberg, I'm not in love with all of his movies, but he's the one who introduced me to the job of a director ... he was the first big hero of my life. So, I was attracted to it, but at the same time I was afraid because I had heard all those stories from friends or other people who were crushed by the system.

And you had a lot of goodwill after "Incendies."
It was a risk. OK, I took a risk ... I worked with a production company that was there to protect me instead of trying to control me. So, from the start, I was in good hands. This movie could have been a nightmare, honestly, but at the end of the day it was a very smooth experience for me.

"Prisoners" does end on a bit of a cliffhanger ...
No. All of the elements are there. That's the beauty of it.

Are all of the elements there for "Enemy"?
Yes. The thing is that "Enemy" is a movie that is more challenging for the audience. I was amazed by movies that were creating vertigo -- that are able to print images in your subconscious, but that the meaning was that you had to dig to find the meaning of it. If you look at "Enemy" again, you can see that everything has an answer and a meaning. It's a movie that is set to a game. It's not something that gives answers. It creates a lot of questions in your mind, but it's set like a puzzle. It was produced, written, directed -- everything was done this way. And I'm aware, to be honest with you, that some people -- or, maybe, a lot of people -- will be frustrated and say, "What the fuck?"

I enjoyed the movie a lot, but I said those exact words out loud after that shocking final scene.
Yeah, yeah. But it's that there were movies when I was young that had that kind of sensation of the end of "Vertigo" or a mystery. But, as long as it has a strong meaning, I think it's OK. And don't compare, because I'm not making a comparison -- and I'm saying this with a lot of humility -- but, as a film lover, when I see David Lynch movies, I love it so much ... there's moments in each great movie that, at one point, I feel there's a trap under my feet and that the director is putting me over the edge of a cliff. I don't know, I love that feeling so much and it was an experiment to play in that direction. With humility, it's a very playful act, "Enemy."

Did it surprise you that it sold so quickly?
To be honest with you, "Enemy," Jake and I, when we were doing the movie together, we had so much fun. Creative fun. But, we were saying to each other, "OK, we make that movie because it's about a love of cinema and acting and directing." But, would someone want to see it? The fact that it was well received, I knew from the start some people would love and some people would hate -- and the fact that A24 came on board, it was a fantastic compliment.

Mike Ryan is senior writer for Huffington Post Entertainment. You can contact him directly on Twitter.

Julia Roberts

2013 Toronto International Film Festival

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