When Antoine Fuqua saw the lengths that Jake Gyllenhaal was going to in order to play a professional boxer in their 2015 film, Southpaw, he opted to put himself through the same type of training out of solidarity. And because of their shared experience, Fuqua knew that it was only a matter of time before they reunited again. The opportunity finally presented itself in the form of Netflix’s The Guilty, which is a new take on the Danish crime thriller of the same name. But just as the movie was gearing up for an abbreviated 11-day shoot last October, the movie nearly fell apart as Fuqua came into contact with someone who tested positive for Covid-19. So while they didn’t get to partake in the same training regimen this time around, Fuqua and Gyllenhaal were still able to bond through their isolated work environments on The Guilty set.
“I had to work out of a van, outside of the studio, because someone close to me got Covid. I was negative, but I couldn’t jeopardize the whole movie,” Fuqua tells The Hollywood Reporter. “So I found myself in a van, alone, with monitors, walkie-talkies and headsets in order to communicate with the crew and with Jake. Ironically, he was in the same situation. He was locked in a room with all my cameras, monitors and the other actors on the phone. We were both trapped, and that wasn’t something that was planned. It just turned out that way, but once again, we were just in it together.”
The Guilty revolves around LAPD officer Joe Baylor (Gyllenhaal), who’s been relegated to a 911 call center as he awaits the outcome of a shooting incident he was involved in months earlier. During the course of the film, Baylor receives a disturbing call from an abducted woman named Emily Lighton (Riley Keough), and the call ends up changing his life forever. While Fuqua was blown away by Keough’s performance, he was initially quite sensitive to the fact that she was dealing with such dark material after suffering a personal tragedy of her own a few months earlier.
“After a while, I came to realize that she needed the outlet. I can’t imagine the pain that she was going through at the time, and I think it was good for her to have the outlet,” Fuqua posits. “Early on, when we first talked on the phone, she said to me that this was something she needed to do. So I just found her to be amazing, and then I hired her again on The Terminal List with Chris Pratt. Yeah, I love her. I think she’s such an amazingly strong person. I don’t know that I would’ve been able to do what she did.”
In a recent conversation with THR, Fuqua also discusses his busy 2021 slate that includes Emancipation with Will Smith, The Terminal List with Pratt and Mayor of Kingstown with Jeremy Renner. Then he looks back at Training Day and the advice his younger self could give him now.
So Jake is one of several actors you’ve reunited with over the years. Was there a specific moment on Southpaw where you knew you had to keep working with him?
It was pretty early on. It was really his commitment. I knew he was a talented actor; he’s proven that for a long time. But it was when I took him to the boxing ring for the first time. Jake had never boxed before, so I watched him with my trainer. I watched how disciplined he was and how he started doing two-a-days, seven days a week, to get himself in shape and to really understand fighting and the science of boxing. So I fell in love with that guy because that’s a tough thing to put yourself through. He gives it his all. He really gives all he’s got and then some.
Whether it’s Jake, Denzel, Ethan Hawke, Mark Wahlberg, Chris Pratt or Haley Bennett, you’re obviously quite loyal to various actors. Where does this type of loyalty come from in your estimation?
Loyalty means everything. That was just a code I grew up with, which I don’t find a lot of anymore. When people are good to you, you should be loyal and good to them as well. If you enjoyed the person and had a great experience and hopefully became friends out of it, why wouldn’t you go back to the well, especially if you learned and grew from the experience?
You mentioned Jake’s intense training on Southpaw, and if I recall correctly, you thought it was only fair to ask Jake to do this if you were also doing it yourself. So when it comes to The Guilty, was talking on the phone for 11 days the closest shared experience this time?
(Laughs.) Well, I was boxing anyway. That’s part of my deal. But yeah, I felt like if he was going to do two-a-days, seven days a week, it would be a great time to do it with him so he could see my commitment as well. It was a very humbling way to learn each other because you’re physically challenging yourself to do something that’s complicated to do. It can also be painful, unless you’re in shape, because you’re in epsom salt all the time. But it’s also a great time to just really sit and talk in between setups, training sessions or during lunch. It just felt much more grounded because we weren’t in some fancy restaurant or anything like that. We were in a gym, and since neither one of us was the champ of the world, it was very humbling to be around people who do that for a living. So that was a great experience with Jake.
And then on The Guilty, because it was Covid, I had to work out of a van, outside of the studio, because someone close to me got Covid. I was negative, but I couldn’t jeopardize the whole movie. So I found myself in a van, alone, with monitors, walkie-talkies and headsets in order to communicate with the crew and with Jake. Ironically, he was in the same situation. He was locked in a room with all my cameras, monitors and the other actors on the phone. We were both trapped, and that wasn’t something that was planned. It just turned out that way, but once again, we were just in it together. It was an unusual environment where we couldn’t go anywhere or do anything except to communicate with each other and the crew. So it worked out well, I think. Jake and I are very similar in the way that we work. So I can get a sense of what he’s feeling and he can get a sense of what I’m feeling. I know when he gets a little irritated and a little aggressive. And that’s good! He knows I try to bring that out of him at times because he tries to go against it, but that’s part of who he is. Jake is intense. I enjoy that part of him.
I also read that you had two Navy SEALs guarding your van. Was that because of all the expensive equipment inside?
Well, first of all, they’re my friends. Whenever I’m doing a film, I try to embrace our servicemen and women in order to give them other things to do. I just did The Terminal List with Chris Pratt. I’m doing Emancipation with Will Smith right now, and I’ve got several Navy SEALs here. I’ve got a couple Army Rangers around me who are writers. But the two Navy SEALs were hanging out outside of my van to make sure nobody could come near me because of Covid. With people walking up and down the street, it was a pretty expensive van, but we didn’t have any issues with that. At that time, it was the height of Covid, so I was taking extra measures to make sure that I remained safe and that everyone else remained safe. So that’s really why they were there. I was on the side of the studio, on a side street, with a hardline, and I was alone. So they just wanted to make sure I was good, too, in that situation.
Jake mentioned this the other day, but do you take great pleasure in cutting his “man buns” off?
(Laughs.) I actually do! Jake’s hair grows faster than anyone I’ve ever seen in my life. I’ve shaved his hair off twice, and by the time I see him or talk to him again, a few months later, he’s got this long flowing hair. I pretty much hate that part of the guy because I’m bald! I’m like, “Dude, what’s the deal? What are you eating?”
Is it a coincidence that you ended up with another Nic Pizzolatto script, post-The Magnificent Seven?
Just a coincidence, yeah. I had no idea. Jake just called me and told me that he had something he would love to do together and that he thought it would speak to me. When I got the script, I saw Nic’s name on it, and I was like, “OK!” So I read it and I loved it. I loved what Nic did with it; I love his writing.
Riley Keough is one of my favorite actors, and a few months ago, she told me that this role was very difficult for her. And now having seen the movie, I fully understand what she meant. Was it tough to ask her for another take since she had to relive such dark material?
At first it was tough because Jake and I were sensitive to it. I knew it was going to require a lot of emotion, and she was also alone. She wasn’t in the room with us, and we didn’t know who was with her just for her support. So I was a little reluctant at first, but she was such a champ. She would do it, I would cut and then I’d talk to her and Jake. And then we’d go into it again, and there were times where she had thoughts and wanted to try something different. After a while, I came to realize that she needed the outlet. I can’t imagine the pain that she was going through at the time, and I think it was good for her to have the outlet. [Writer’s Note: Keough’s brother, Benjamin, passed away a few months before production.] It’s a form of expression that’s out of reality, but there was still a lot of emotion. Early on, when we first talked on the phone, she said to me that this was something she needed to do. So I just found her to be amazing, and then I hired her again on The Terminal List with Chris Pratt. Yeah, I love her. I think she’s such an amazingly strong person. I don’t know that I would’ve been able to do what she did.
If I produced the Oscars, the bathroom scene at the end would be Jake’s Oscar clip. What stands out from that day?
When actors give themselves like that and crawl on a bathroom floor and vomit and cry because their character is a broken human being, that’s a gift when it’s done well like that. It’s the truth. So when I see that kind of performance, I’m always in awe of actors who do that. You feel it because it comes from a real place, and only Jake knows where it comes from. Some people will say, “Oh, it’s just acting,” but it’s not just acting. Real good acting comes from a real place, so I’m always grateful and humbled when they do those types of scenes. When Denzel gets slaughtered in Training Day or Ethan gets thrown in a bathtub with a gun shoved in his face, those are tough scenes for anybody. So I think it’s a gift to get actors who give you that kind of performance.
There’s a highly publicized homicide case right now involving a Florida couple who were traveling around the country in a white van, and sadly, it’s reminded me a lot of The Guilty. Before the young woman [Gabby Petito] was found dead in Wyoming, Utah police pulled the couple over, and the body cam footage seems to suggest that they misread the overall situation. Has this been on your radar at all?
Yeah, I’ve been watching it, and I can certainly see the comparisons in that situation. But yeah, that’s part of the problem and part of the broken system. But cops are human, too, and people make mistakes. We all judge and misjudge each other, constantly, every day, all day. That was part of the idea of The Guilty. Just because someone sounds a certain way or you have your own prejudices — whatever you bring to the table in any situation — sometimes you have to check yourself. It may not always be as you thought it was going to be.
A long time ago, I remember a situation in Pittsburgh involving an older Jewish man. We were kids playing ball in the street, and I remember he hit his car horn really hard. So everybody had curse words to say, and he stopped his car and talked to us. But I remember something he had said about the Holocaust, and at the time, I didn’t really understand any of what the Jewish community had gone through. At the time, I thought it was just some white guy who didn’t like Black kids. We were dumb. We shouldn’t have been playing ball in the street, and he was upset about it. Eventually, I remember reading Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, and it just opened my eyes to judgment. This man had probably seen some horrific things in his life, and I didn’t see any of that. I was just a kid who thought a white man didn’t like me. That was on me. That was a misjudgment. So when I read about the horror of the holocaust, I remembered that day. I assumed someone was one thing because I didn’t like the way they yelled at me, but I was a dumbass kid playing ball in the street. He was really doing us a favor and saving our lives. So reading that book made me think, “I wonder what this man may have experienced.” In my little world of, “He doesn’t like me because I’m Black,” he probably lost his whole family in that situation. As you grow up and learn more about the world, you wish you could see that guy again and talk to him because I believe I misjudged that man. I also wound up going to a Jewish high school in Pittsburgh, Taylor Allderice. So Viktor Frankl’s book floored me. Of course, the atrocity of slavery was something I was familiar with, but I didn’t know about the horrors that other communities went through.
Sometimes, we just have to pause and not judge so quickly. That’s what I mean. I’m not taking the side of the cops or anybody. We’re in a world now where everyone is so quick to judge each other. Sometimes, on Instagram, you think, “Oh, that’s what it is!” but then you find out that there’s some backstory to what you just saw. But you’ve already made a judgement that’s out there, and the tsunami of judgement has happened until the next horrible or silly thing comes along. So The Guilty takes that idea of where we are in the world today. You bring your own prejudice and life to what you’re listening to and watching. That’s really where the mystery and suspense begins because you’re already bringing a lot of it to the table.
On a completely unrelated note, I spoke to Haley Bennett for a couple hours throughout the pandemic, and she spoke very highly of you and how you fought for her on The Equalizer and The Magnificent Seven. She also read me a letter that Terrence Malick wrote you in support of her. Were you already sold on Haley prior to the letter, or did the letter make an impact?
Yes, it certainly makes an impact when it’s from someone like Terrence Malick. That sort of letter obviously helps, but it confirmed what I knew. When I read Haley, she was amazing. She’s great. I fell in love with her right away. There was a callback for her, and she had received the letter in between that callback. So I was impressed by that, of course, but I was still waiting to see her performance in the callback. And then I fell in love with her even more during the callback. But the letter certainly helped. When someone of that stature writes you a letter about someone, you have to take that seriously because I respect Malick’s work quite a bit.
So you’ve had a busy 2021…
Yeah, I went from The Guilty‘s post process to The Terminal List, Mayor of Kingstown and Emancipation. Yeah, I’ve been busy. (Laughs.) But I did Mayor of Kingstown with Taylor Sheridan and Jeremy Renner, so it’s been helpful to have partners like that. Same thing with Terminal List and Chris Pratt. They can do some of the heavy lifting, too.
Are you and Will close to finishing Emancipation?
Oh, God no. We got hit by the hurricane, so we were shut down for a couple weeks. And now we’re back down here and ramping back up to start filming. Hopefully, knock on wood, that happens this week, but as I say that to you, thunder rolls across the sky. (Laughs.)
People often wonder what they would tell their younger selves, but if you could talk to your younger self around the time of Training Day, what advice do you think he could give you now?
I think my younger self would probably tell me to never let go of the fire. He would tell me to keep the fire like I did on Training Day, but he would also tell me to be calmer and more patient about it. On Training Day, I was pretty intense and aggressive while making that movie. I’m still aggressive on everything now, but you don’t always have to be so aggressive with everyone to get your vision. The world is not against you, but I felt like the world was against me while making that movie. So my younger self would say to keep it close to the fire but be more patient and a little calmer about it.
The Guilty is now streaming on Netflix.
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