The following contains mild spoilers for “Life.”
This just in: Jake Gyllenhaal could not stay on the International Space Station for a year.
Gyllenhaal: “No. No. No way. Physically, there would be no use for me up there other than potential entertainment. I would be hopeless in any other way.”
David Jordan, his character in Daniel Espinosa’s new sci-fi thriller “Life,” has spent more than a year up there and is among the six person crew (including Ryan Reynolds) who make first contact with life retrieved from Mars. When said encounter goes from thrilling and kind of cute to ARGHHH NOOOOO, it is up to Jordan and his crew to fight a creature that seems rather hearty for a newborn.
We’re sitting outside the Hotel Saint Cecilia. It’s about 10 a.m. the Sunday after South by Southwest. The night before, Gyllenhaal walked the red carpet for “Life,” which closed the film festival. He isn’t staying here all that long — dude’s in the middle of a well-regarded, 10-week Broadway engagement as the lead in Stephen Sondheim’s “Sunday in the Park with George.”
Truth be told, it’s probably a good thing he is an actor (and an extremely hard-working one at that). Gyllenhaal says astronaut was never in the cards.
“It’s just never been a legitimate interest of mine. I really never wanted to go up and out there,” he says. “Someone told me about the sorts of people they are looking for to go on the Mars mission and it turns out they’re looking for people who are essentially stamp collectors. And I am maybe the furthest from that. I was the kid always being sent outside. So I don’t know how that would work on the way to Mars.”
But fictional astronauts? Totally fine. “I read the script, and it was terrifying,” Gyllenhaal said, “and I thought this will be really elevated because of all the incredible people involved, but it was also just, why not have some fun on a movie?”
In keeping with the stamp collector idea, Gyllenhaal’s Jordan is a quiet fellow. “Someone who has been up there that long is going to be more of an observer than a do-er or a go-getter. That is more Ryan’s character.”
As for the creature itself, with which Gyllenhaal and his pals end up doing a not insignificant amount of battle, one had to use one’s imagination. “The creature was a bit of an abstraction. It was Daniel’s intention that we interact with it in a way that wasn’t false, but we also had to use our imagination. He shoots in a really elegant way. He knows he needs pieces, and he knows he needs something from the actors; he’ll shoot for a while knowing what he needs and knowing where to find it. We had earpieces in, and he would be speaking to us while he was watching monitors, saying things like, “Now it’s over there, it’s coming at your left side.’ But we had no real idea of what it looked like.”
And, no, the cast did not do any time in a Vomit Comet for the weightless sequences.
“Man, I would have loved that,” Gyllenhaal said. “No, it was all wires, and that is a very strange thing, as you are being handled by four people on a soundstage as you attempt to say your lines and remember scientific jargon.”
But Gyllenhaal said he welcomed any kind of tension in such a controlled environment. “It did start to feel very isolated,” he said “It was dark all day long on these stages, and since you are on wires, you are incapable of moving and in a very small space. That is something that was useful in building the characters.”
Just don’t expect him to actually head to Mars any time soon.
“Life” opens in theaters March 24.