CANNES, France (AP) — Jake Gyllenhaal says he was motivated by one goal above all others while shooting the fantasy “Okja”: making his Korean director giggle.
“It’s legitimately fun to get him to laugh off-camera,” Gyllenhaal said in an interview alongside “Okja” director Bong Joon-ho who was, naturally, chuckling as Gyllenhaal spoke. “You know when you get the giggle we’re going to print it and move on.”
The collaboration between Bong and Gyllenhaal was long in the making. They had met occasionally since 2007, shortly after Bong’s debut, “The Host,” introduced him as a filmmaker capable of singular genre creations.
“So many strange things happen whenever we’ve met,” Gyllenhaal said shortly after “Okja” premiered in competition at the Cannes Film Festival. (The film will hit Netflix and some theaters on June 28.)
Take their meeting in New York in 2011. From the window of the apartment where they were talking, they could see a couple making out on a rooftop below.
“It was such a wide open space,” said Bong, laughing. “We put our mobile phones together.”
The two were inevitably drawn together by their affinity for the strange and its intersection with comedy.
“Okja” is a disturbing kind of fable in which a young girl (An Seo Hyun) has raised a massive, genetically modified pig named Okja.
Ten years on, the New York conglomerate that manufactured the animal comes to the remote South Korean mountains to retrieve its invention, one intended to provide a new profitable source of genetically modified food.
Gyllenhaal, in a performance that will rank alongside any of the actor’s previous extremes, plays a television zoologist working on behalf of the company (which is run by a pair of sisters, both played by Tilda Swinton.) He’s a high-strung cocktail of neuroses in cargo shorts. His voice, Bong suggested, should mimic the highest, unplayable registers of a guitar.
“There are a plethora of these kinds of television hosts and the oddity of how they behave, which is speaking to children and getting a certain amount of attention from that, and being this broken child himself,” Gyllenhaal said. “So I think he misunderstands how he talks to people because he’s so used to getting attention from being like (in kids-show host voice) ‘Hey!’ It’s sort of a performance on top of a performance all the time.”
Recalling his direction to Gyllenhaal for a scene in which he wheezes heavily in a breathless high-pitch after climbing a mountain, Bong cringes a little. “Sorry, Jake,” he says. But the director had his own ambition: to be part of the canon of wild, unrestrained Gyllenhaal performances.
“He’s done so many wonderful works with many great directors. It’s a huge spectrum. ‘Nightcrawler’ and ‘Southpaw’ and ‘Enemies,'” Bong said. “And among these various and impressive roles that he performed in so many films, I wanted to create a Jake Gyllenhaal performance that was very impressive, but unique.”
Though Gyllenhaal (“Zodiac,” ”Donnie Darko”) has carved out a career playing characters with compulsions and manias, he’s a little sheepish about the theatricality of his zoologist, Johnny Wilcox. But such bold mixtures of darkness, he says, come with the territory in a Bong film.
“Particularly Tilda’s and my character allow for this ability of reality and fantasy to coexist,” Gyllenhaal said. “That freedom you feel, you’re safe in his hands. It’s fun. It’s not wracked with searching. It’s just this crazy jumping off a massive cliff.”
Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP
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