Denis Villeneuve Pushed Jake Gyllenhaal’s Acting To The ‘Verge Of Chaos’ While Filming Enemy

In an interview with Vodzilla, Denis Villeneuve explained the creative process while shooting most of “Enemy,” which involved tons of improvisation and “a controlled environment” where the actors, particularly Jake Gyllenhaal, could safely arrive at breakthrough character moments. While there was freedom to improvise, a lot of the script was painstakingly structured, adding precision to the characters and their motivations. Essentially, there is a method to the madness on a Denis Villeneuve set, which allowed him and cinematographer Nicolas Bolduc to work closely with the actors. He said:

“Most of the movie is shot in a studio, a very controlled environment … the scenes were very precise, but I wanted to improvise with the actors a lot and I did tons of takes. I was doing 25, 35, 40 takes with Jake Gyllenhaal trying to explore a deeper approach, to go in the verge of chaos and find a new way of acting. For that, I decided there would be no marks on the floor, the actors would be free in the environment and we worked with a little crane that was able to follow their movements.”

Instead of fostering an environment in which actors need to follow precise directorial instructions and unwillingly participate in several takes, Villeneuve made sure that there was ample room for collaboration and creative breakthrough. As the camera mostly followed Gyllenhaal, the scenes were lit in a way that allowed him to “find [his] own light,” granting him agency in terms of character portrayal. Moreover, while the storytelling was minutely controlled by Villeneuve, he was open to “exploring new ways of directing” when it came to collaborating with Gyllenhaal and the rest of the actors. This balanced process, which encouraged both structure and lawlessness, allowed “Enemy” to morph into the intellectually-stimulating fever dream of a movie it is. 

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