Fincher Reflects on ‘Zodiac’ Set Tension with Gyllenhaal: ‘He Was Distracted’ by ‘Jarhead’

Jake Gyllenhaal summarized his experience making David Fincher’s 2007 serial killer drama “Zodiac” when he told The New York Times ahead of the film’s release that Fincher “paints with people” and it can be “tough to be a color.” The actor was alluding to tensions that arose from Fincher’s demanding directing style, which saw Gyllenhaal perform up to 70 takes of certain scenes. In a new interview with the Times to mark the release of “Mank,” Fincher got honest about the tension that existed with Gyllenhaal and described what went down as “an extremely simple” situation.

“Jake was in the unenviable position of being very young and having a lot of people vie for his attention, while working for someone who does not allow you to take a day off,” Fincher said. “I believe you have to have everything out of your peripheral vision. I think Jake’s philosophy was informed by — look, he’d made a bunch of movies, even as a child, but I don’t think he’d ever been asked to concentrate on minutiae, and I think he was very distracted.”

Fincher explained that “Zodiac” started filming as Gyllenhaal’s war movie “Jarhead” was opening and thrusting the actor into the awards season blitz. The director said, “He had a lot of people whispering that ‘Jarhead’ was going to be this massive movie and put him in this other league, and every weekend he was being pulled to go to the Santa Barbara film festival and the Palm Springs film festival and the Catalina film festival. And when he’d show up for work, he was very scattered.”

“His managers and his silly agents who were all coming to his trailer at lunch to talk to him about the cover of GQ and this and that,” Fincher continued. “He was being nibbled to death by ducks, and not particularly smart ducks. They got in his vision, and it was hard for him to hit the fastball.”

Fincher noted that tensions with Gyllenhaal mostly died down by the end of production and that Gyllenhaal even apologized. The director admitted “there are definitely times when I can be confrontational if I see someone slacking,” but also added, “People go through rough patches all the time. I do. So I try to be compassionate about it. But. It’s: Four. Hundred. Thousand. Dollars. A day. And we might not get a chance to come back and do it again.”

“I tell actors all the time: I’m not going to cut around your hangover, I’m not going to cut around your dog dying, I’m not going to cut around the fact that you just fired your agent or your agent just fired you,” Fincher concluded. “Once you get here, the only thing I care about is, did we tell the story?”

In the 13 years since “Zodiac” opened in theaters, the film has become a crown jewel in both Fincher and Gyllenhaal’s filmographies. Head over to The New York Times’ website to read more from Fincher’s latest interview.

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