The following questions and answers are excerpted from a conversation that followed the NBR screening of Nightcrawler.
How did you come up with this idea, and learn about this world?
Gilroy: The original idea came when I was exposed to the world of Weegee, the New York crime photographer. He was the first person to put a police scanner in a car, way back in the 1930’s. I just loved his photographs. And I thought it was a very interesting idea. And as it turns out, Joe Pesci did a movie on a similar subject called The Public Eye. When I moved to Los Angeles, I heard about the modern equivalent of Weegee, which are these “Nightcrawlers” who drive around at a hundred miles an hour with a dozen police scanners in their cars. As a screenwriter, this struck me as a very vibrant, kinetic world that I’d never seen before. And as interested as I was in this world, it didn’t really come together until the character of Lou plugged into the picture. So that’s when it actually became more of a character study – as opposed to the study of a world – in spite of how interesting I thought that world was.
Lou’s hunger, his drive, his ruthlessness, mimic that of a wild animal.
Can you discuss how you approached the character of Louis?
Gyllenhaal: Very early on, Dan and I were talking over the character and how we saw him. And Dan said to me, “I see this as a success story,” and I loved that— it was just brilliant to me. And he went on to describe how even though Los Angeles is a huge metropolis, it’s also surrounded by areas that are completely inhospitable to people: Deserts. Mountains. Ocean. And at night the edges of the city just fall off into blackness and nothingness. Wild animals come down from the mountain ranges and they infiltrate the city, scrounging for food. And I remarked that Lou was like a coyote, and he just said, “Yes, perfect!” And we went from there. I felt like Lou’s hunger, his drive, his ruthlessness, mimic that of a wild animal. I wanted him to be literally and figuratively hungry—I wanted him to walk into a scene, and to just to eat up whoever was playing opposite me, to drive through them until he got what he wanted. To not really hear what they’re saying, to just have my own agenda. And when you’re hungry, you only have one agenda; it’s primal. So that’s how it all started.
Ms. Russo, could you talk about becoming involved in the film?
Russo: Well, it helps to be married to the director! And he told me he was going to write a part for me, and I said, “Ok,” but thought nothing of it really—I mean, it’s hard to get a movie made, particularly one like this. So he gave me the script, and I thought it was brilliant, but I remember saying that the female lead needs some work! But you know… it didn’t. It took me a long time to discover Nina, because I’m not by nature a cutthroat person. So I didn’t know at first how to get a handle on her. But if I do ever cross moral boundaries, it’s usually because I’m afraid. Or I’m desperate. So once I found that, I was good to go with her. But it took me a while to find that.
Mr. Ahmed, can you talk about becoming involved, and getting to understand the character of Rick?
Ahmed: Well, I was in LA randomly for something else, and my agent called me and told me I had to meet Dan Gilroy. So we met for a juice or something (did I mention I was in LA?), and just went over the part. And he said to me, “Look, I’ve got this part, it’s a good part, but I don’t think you’re right for it at all.” And that really took the pressure off, I can tell you! When you know you already don’t have the part before you’ve started talking about it, that takes the pressure off. But he told me a bit about the character, and I remember one insight in particular that stood out, since it was so smart. He said that the character thinks like a three-legged dog. He’s so used to getting kicked he thinks it’s mealtime, when someone hurts him. So with that, and with the knowledge that I was expected to completely fail this audition, I just went for it without any anxiety at all!
Gyllenhaal: And of course when he came in, he was completely convincing. He just blew away everyone else we had been looking at. It’s amazing, the transformation he went through.
Mr. Paxton, can you talk about Joe?
Paxton: I just loved the script. The story is original; the characters are very well drawn. When I met Dan, we had a great conversation, and I knew I had to get involved in this. You don’t see movies like this getting made, frankly. This was an original film, and I think it’s a success purely for that reason. When I was reading the script for the first time and I got to the climax of the film, I didn’t see it coming at all, which is a rarity and a real credit to Dan.
Mr. Gilroy, can you talk about the score? It really sets the tone for the film perfectly.
As Jake mentioned earlier, we approached this as a success story. Not to celebrate what’s going on, but to highlight the fact that Lou sees this entire experience as way to achieve success. If you start on someone who is looking for work and end on that same person running a thriving business, maybe a question pops into your head: Maybe the problem isn’t Lou (although Lou is certainly a problem for other people in the film). Maybe it’s the society that creates and rewards Lou. When I discussed the score with James Newton Howard, we wanted to do a counterpoint, subversive score. We’re going counterpoint to everything you’re watching. Every time Lou does something wrong, we’re celebrating it. The scene where he steals the bike, there’s a little score that might fit into a kid’s movie! For this movie in particular, the score carries a lot of weight. It’s pushing against all of our natural inclinations to judge Lou. Which runs counter to a lot of scores that serve to pre-digest and underline the intended emotions of a scene… “In case you weren’t picking up that something bad is going on, we’re going to put insane string music to mirror the inner mind of the character.” And I think it’s a really brave score for that reason.