Duncan Jones' suspense-filled sci-fi-ish time-twister, "Source Code," starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga and Jeffrey Wright, isn't particular hard to follow, but if you haven't seen the film, you might not quite understand the conceit yet. Essentially it's like "Groundhog's Day" only set within the framework a sci-fi thriller. In the film (and all of this is taken from the official Apple trailer synopsis, so do not cry spoilers, please) decorated soldier Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) wakes up in the body of an unknown man and he discovers he's part of a mission to find the bomber of a Chicago commuter train.
He eventually learns he's part of a government experiment called the Source Code, a program that enables him to cross over into another man's identity in the last 8 minutes of his life. With a second, much larger target threatening to kill millions in downtown Chicago, Gyllenhaal's Colter character re-lives the incident over and over again, gathering clues each time, until he can solve the mystery of who is behind the bombs and prevent the next attack. Monaghan plays a commuter on the train that Gyllenhaal starts to develop feelings for, Farmiga plays the military attache guiding him through his mission and Wright plays the scientist who created the Source Code program.
Got that? This is all pretty much, first act, first ten-minutes, trailer and synopsis overview stuff. But as you can imagine, this is very technical film from not only an directing and editing perspective, but an acting perspective. Monaghan and Farmiga in particular had some atypical challenges in front of them from roles that superficially seem kind of simple. While Gyllenhaal faced his own challenges, he was, without giving away too much, kind of acting in two different movies, so he relished the experience and the opportunity to experiment which Jones was all too happy to give him.
"Source Code" opens today April 1, in wide release and we sat down with the cast recently and discovered all the obstacles, challenges and problem-solving demands the film gave them. It was an interesting peek into the method and process of the picture and a good reminder that some roles are much more difficult than they seem on the outside. Gyllenhaal even told us how some of the 11th hour improvising and iterating on set actually caused for an alternate ending we may one day see on DVD. This and many more interesting revelations follow. Minor spoilers are below, but they really won't make sense regardless until you've seen the picture and fully digested it.
Jake Gyllenhaal wholeheartedly loved the experience and although much of his acting experiments didn’t make it on screen he was grateful to Duncan Jones who encouraged the actor to try different things and not be afraid to be crazy or foolish.
“[The film] offered me the opportunity in performance to do pretty much anything, and that was a thrill,” he said enthusiastically. “And there’s so much also I did that’s not in the movie obviously as an experiment and the process was fun because most movies don’t let you do, and most directors don’t let you do, and Duncan was open to that all the time…and the crazier the better for him which I find a real kindred spirit in that.”
When Michelle Monaghan read the script she was intrigued, but semi-confused as well.
“I think the first time I read it, I had to read it again,” she said of her initial confusion about the taut, mind-bending script by Ben Ripley. “The great thing about the movie is that it’s totally engaging. It grabs you, literally, from the first ten, twenty, thirty pages, but you’re in an alternate reality part of the time, so it definitely is sort of confusing.”
Her agent wasn't even sure if she should take the role at first, not really seeing the big picture of her character's subtle growth arc
"I couldn’t wrap my head around it," she said continuing to explain her confusion. "There was so much that I felt like I needed to do in that, just trying to figure out how he’s going to make the same eight minutes interesting. That was challenging on paper, and I remember reading it and seeing my agent going, like, 'Hmm, I don’t know, it’s the same eight minutes.' I was like, 'It can’t be the same – there’s got to be a joke here!' Oh, the joke’s on me, I can’t have it be the same eight minutes. I really did, at one point, take the script and mapped out and separated the source code [scenes] from the pod [scenes that didn't involve her], and only just dealt with that story. The other bit didn’t concern me. I’m sure that’s what Vera did as well."
Shooting the "Groundhog's Day"-like-picture was particularly hard for Monaghan who had to play the same scene over and over again, with only varying and calculated degrees of growing subtlety
“It was really tricky. We were trying to do the same scene over and over again, essentially, for eight minutes," she explained. "That was the most intriguing and challenging thing, as an actor, was to play those eight minutes over and over again and still make them engaging and be able to nuance it and add all the subtleties and so we would do a pow-wow, seriously, we would have a huddle for probably a good half hour or an hour prior to each source code, which took place every three days.”
The semi-ambiguous ending provoked a lot of "what could come next?" for the actors and director. So much so that it produced some alternate endings that could surface later on.
"There were alternate ending that I wanted so bad. I will ask Duncan if he'll put that ending on the DVD,” Gyllenhaall said. “That was what so cool about him. I would like come up to him and be like 'I woke up this morning and I had this idea that like there would be a secret agent that came to them where they were [at the end].' and he’d be like 'Ok, can we dress somebody up in a suit?' and we’d have that! And we had the alternative versions and we put a lot of thought into that and the idea that the source code is a fully functional computer program that actually makes sense and not some device that is used as a conceit in the movie. "
Monaghan and Gyllenhaal weren't always sure the audience was going to buy what they were doing and recreating the eight minute scenes over and over again was driving them batty. But it yielded good, unscripted results that remained in the film.
“The first time I saw the film I was totally freaked out because I thought it might not work,” Monaghan admitted. “But I think it ultimately did. It’s was this ongoing joke on-set, and we’re thinking, ‘God our audience is going to be like, this is so ridiculous already,’ because we were getting bored with it. So we did this improv where [Jake] was like, ‘Alright, I’ve gotta go save the world, I’ll be right back.’ And I say, ‘God, I knew he was a keeper,’ but that was done as a joke. But then the crew all laughed, it was funny, and we ended up keeping it. And then at the SXSW debut, everybody laughed at it! We were like, ‘Oh, shit! They got our joke! That’s awesome!’ So that was a great thing too."
There’s a video game coming that will keep spinning on the ‘Source Code’ story.
“The Source Code is something that can be used again and there’s endless possibilities, that’s what I think is cool about the internet game and the idea of this movie,” Gyllenhall said. “If you search deep enough into this movie and all the questions around it, when you go back into and look at it there’s so many inspirational things that tangent off this movie that can be made a hundred different way through the media. It’s the beginning of a new idea spawned by from the original movie idea not just some marketing tool.
Monaghan will next appear in Marc Forster’s “Machine Gun Preacher,” and then what she calls “a little independent film” called “Better Living Through Chemistry” with Jeremy Renner.
The film centers on a a straight-laced pharmacist (Renner) whose uneventful life spirals out of control when he starts an affair with a trophy wife customer (Jennifer Garner) who takes him on a joyride involving sex, drugs and possibly murder. “It’s a really great script. I play his wife, and she’s a really anal, uptight – it’s a character I’ve never really played before, but she’s in there, believe me,” she laughed. “I’m gonna find her! It’s a great movie, I’m really excited about that one.”
Vera Farmiga wasn’t initially drawn to the role, but the allure of working with Duncan Jones and then what soon became apparent as the acting challenges were the major draw.
“This isn’t something in general that I would do because it was so opposite of what I usually am drawn to," she admitted. "But Duncan Jones on the cover sheet was enough of a yes for me and to be a part of an intricate puzzle was enough of a yes for me, but I think the challenge therein is to figure out what the character is not saying and what is unsaid between the lines.”
Farmiga has perhaps the film’s biggest acting challenge. She plays opposite no one on-set and is essentially iChatting with no one.
A little context: Farmiga plays Colleen Goodwin the military officer in the picture who is manning the government experiment which allows Jake Gyllenhaal’s character to use the ‘Source Code’ – a program that enables him to cross over into another man's identity in the last 8 minutes of his life. But the reality was on-set Farmiga is actually acting alongside no one and looking right at the camera. “It just forced me to think about [my character and Jake’s character’s] psycho-spiritual connection and kind of maneuvering from an ocular standpoint and to focus on the camera,” she said of what helped her acting process while essentially just staring into a camera lens. “I think that allowed for more life and I think the challenge is to convey all of that. Because in all candor that kind of dialog, expository dialog, is just boring to execute. So the challenge for me was just to find life beyond the information. I am an information giver. My character is a whip cracker in terms of making sure this guy stays on mission, but within that convey what her moral dilemma is and how that plays out. But to be confined in that way and just limited to a face and the eyes was the biggest tool I had in conveying the dynamic between these two people.”
Gyllenhaal is now a admittedly huge fan of the director. Does this mean he might one day appear in “Mute”? He’s certainly game for it. He found the process entirely libertating.
“I mean if Duncan Jones is doing [a film] I’m there,” he said. “There were some things I was doing to taunt [Jeffrey Wright’s character] that were crazy that aren’t in the movie and you know as an actor that’s what I like because you can’t do that in other genres as much as in sci fi. You know, you can really go out there. This guy has this strange world coming at him that he doesn’t understand that he’s trying to figure out. Duncan’s was often like ‘go weirder…weirder!’ Weirder!’ It’s just a great feeling… you can do anything you want to anybody. And there were these moments where like the last line when I say “there won’t be another chance,” he wanted me to say it like a superhero and made me do it all different ways, and it was ridiculous, and he would be like, ‘That would be amazing if we could use that!’ "
"Source Code" hits theaters today.