Fans of delicate, dreamy-eyed thespian Jake Gyllenhaal may reflexively wince in sympathy as we ask them to recall his harrowing description of the abusive conditions in which Zodiac sadist David Fincher forced his cast to toil, an experience that's left the actor with a paralyzing fear of his MacBook's "delete" key that may require years of intensive psychotherapy (involving the calming, self-negating act of continuously erasing the name "Jake" from an open Word document while discussing a performer's obligation to serve a director's vision) to cure. Curious about how accurate Gyllenhaal's account of his Zodiac ordeal may have been, The Reeler blog asked fellow Fincher plaything Mark Ruffalo about how their cinematic taskmaster ran his set:
"Yeah, you hear stories about him being so hard and intense," Ruffalo said. "And then I met him, and I immediately just loved the guy and was thinking , 'Well, when is he going to change? When is this guy that you keep hearing about going to pop up?' And my relationship and friendship with him got deeper as we went along. I think Fincher, what he has no patience for is incompetence or just a casual attitude toward the work. If you come in and you don't know your lines and you're not prepared, Fincher's going to eat you for breakfast. You know? And so the actors who complain about Fincher are usually the ones who don't show up knowing their shit, kind of."
Ah. So that whole thing last week with Jake Gyllenhaal's thinly-veiled Fincher critiques ("So there came a point where I would say, well, what do I do? Where's the risk?") last week in The New York Times — was that blown out of proportion?
"Like I said," Ruffalo replied, "Fincher only has a problem with people if they're not prepared — if they're not ready to work when they show up. Whatever form that takes — whether it's a prop person, an actor or whatever. I thought there were a lot of weird sour grapes in that New York Times article. We're actors, man; we get paid way too much. It's like 'Wah, wah, wah' to me to hear an actor bitching and moaning when they get paid as much as they do and we have a pretty great life. I don't have much sympathy for it."
Let's give Ruffalo credit for having the sensitivity not to mention by name any of the unprepared cast members whose tears Fincher used to wash down his morning repast of unprofessional talent; spending so much time with his co-star on the set must have made him realize that being publicly called out as a whiner might cause a still-fragile Gyllenhaal to curtail the artistically ambitious part of his career in favor of the less emotionally demanding world of Nancy Meyers films.