Skip to main content

Jake Gyllenhaal on the challenges of acting over Zoom in Netflix’s thriller The Guilty

Jake Gyllenhaal on the challenges of acting over Zoom in Netflix’s thriller The Guilty


The movie comes to Netflix on October 1st

Share this story

the guilty
Photo: Glen Wilson / Netflix

The Guilty was always going to be a challenging project. The movie, which is a remake of a Danish film from 2018, follows a 911 dispatcher in Los Angeles, who receives a troubling call that appears to be from a woman who has been abducted. The result is a tense thriller, but one you see almost none of — the entire movie is centered on LAPD officer Joe Baylor, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, as he fields phone calls in an office over the course of a single evening. Because of this, the movie hinges on Gyllenhaal’s performance, as he slowly unravels while the story twists and turns in disturbing ways.

But it became even more challenging thanks to pandemic-related restrictions on filming. While the actors were on set, director Antoine Fuqua, who previously worked with Gyllenhaal on the boxing drama Southpaw, was in a van a block away, directing remotely. Meanwhile, everyone on the other end of the phone — which includes the likes of Peter Sarsgaard and Ethan Hawke — was working from home. Production on The Guilty ended up relying on a mishmash of various forms of communication, from FaceTime to Zoom to plain old walkie-talkies. “We had to discover, and were constantly trying to learn as we went,” Gyllenhaal tells The Verge. “I think we got a system down on day 11 — and then we were done.”

The filming setup was complicated. Because someone close to Fuqua tested positive, he was forced to sit in a van that was hardwired to the set and outfitted with all of the gadgets he’d need to direct. “I had monitors and computers and walkie-talkies and spycams,” he says. From here he had a bird’s-eye view of the set and was able to talk to his first assistant director and other staff via a walkie. Meanwhile, all of the actors who were calling in remotely would be on Zoom in the background so they could hear everything going on and communicate in real time. In moments where more personal or intimate notes were required, Fuqua and Gyllenhaal would hop on FaceTime to chat.

The closest the actor and director ever got to face-to-face communication was, well, a little unorthodox. “When we were in a setup change — a lighting change that would take more than 20 minutes or something — I’d go outside and I’d climb this ladder that was on the wall, and Antoine would open the door to his van, and like Romeo and Juliet we would talk from afar; me on the top of this wall on a ladder and him on the street,” says Gyllenhaal.

“It leaves less room for something feeling alive.”

Beyond the logistical challenges, all of these different ways of communicating — in particular Zoom — had an impact on the actual performances. “We were a slave to a particular technology, which was Zoom,” Gyllenhaal explains. “And that creates a rhythm. Even in our introductions, we would come on, and you don’t want to interrupt someone. That’s the essence of acting: rhythm. When your rhythm is dictated to you by a technological thing, it leaves less room for something feeling alive. And we had to navigate that for the first four or five days. It was like someone took a quarter of a second out of my instinct. And if you’re a professional at whatever you do, acting in particular, rhythm is everything. Ask a quarterback, you take a quarter of a second away from their throw, that means the difference between missing or not.”

Midway through The Guilty, there’s a seemingly minor location change, when Gyllenhaal’s character moves from a busy office full of other dispatchers to an empty room across the hall so he could be alone. From the viewer’s perspective, the change doesn’t seem like a big deal. It’s just a man walking from one desk to another. But given all of the restrictions on set, the shift in location made a huge difference for the actors and production team.

Antoine Fuqua on the set of The Guilty.
Antoine Fuqua on the set of The Guilty.
Photo: Glen Wilson / Netflix

“We were all racing towards that small room,” says Gyllenhaal. “We were all desperate to get the character in that small room where he was alone because it meant we could move away from having everyone together in a big room with extras moving about. It was almost like, can we get through the first two days safe, and then we don’t have everyone interacting as much. We have people in the background through glass walls. I remember that very specifically. Let’s get through those first two days and we can feel a little safer.”

“Let’s get through those first two days and we can feel a little safer.”

(One of the few silver linings was that it was relatively easy to get other actors on board. “Everyone was at home and everyone wanted to work,” says Gyllenhaal. “So we made all of these phone calls and got incredible actors.”)

For the most part, these COVID-related challenges aren’t noticeable in the final product, aside from the fact that no one ever seems to get close to each other, even in such close quarters. The Guilty is incredibly tense despite the fact that you’re mostly just watching a man talk on the phone. Part of that has to do with the story, which goes in all sorts of wild, often uncomfortable, directions. But it also comes down to Gyllenhaal’s performance. For him, one of the biggest obstacles in this role was something that a lot of us have had to deal with during the pandemic. “I did have a hard time sitting still,” he says. “It’s hard to create intensity, to generate energy, after 10 hours of sitting in a chair listening.”

The Guilty is coming to select theaters on September 24th and will stream on Netflix on October 1st.

Today’s Storystream

Feed refreshed 57 minutes ago Better on the inside

External Link
Thomas Ricker57 minutes ago
Sony starts selling the Xperia 1 IV with continuous zoom lens.

What does it cost to buy a smartphone that does something no smartphone from Apple, Google, Samsung can? $1,599.99 is Sony’s answer: for a camera lens that can shift its focal length anywhere between 85mm and 125mm.

Here’s Allison’s take on Sony’s continuous-zoom lens when she tested a prototype Xperia 1 IV back in May: 

Sony put a good point-and-shoot zoom in a smartphone. That’s an impressive feat. In practical use, it’s a bit less impressive. It’s essentially two lenses that serve the same function: portrait photography. The fact that there’s optical zoom connecting them doesn’t make them much more versatile.

Still, it is a Sony, and

External Link
Corin FaifeAn hour ago
If God sees everything, so do these apps.

Some Churches are asking congregants to install so-called “accountability apps” to prevent sinful behavior. A Wired investigation found that they monitor almost everything a user does on their phone, including taking regular screenshots and flagging LGBT search terms.

External Link
James Vincent8:41 AM UTC
Shutterstock punts on AI-generated content.

Earlier this week, Getty Images banned the sale of AI-generated content, citing legal concerns about copyright. Now, its biggest rival, Shutterstock, has responded by doing ... absolutely nothing. In a blog post, Shutterstock’s CEO Paul Hennessy says there are “open questions on the copyright, licensing, rights, and ownership of synthetic content and AI-generated art,” but doesn’t announce any policy changes. So, you can keep on selling AI art on Shutterstock, I guess.

Thomas Ricker6:58 AM UTC
This custom Super73 makes me want to tongue-kiss an eagle.

Super73’s tribute to mountain-biking pioneer Tom Ritchey has my inner American engorged with flag-waving desire. The “ZX Team” edition features a red, white, and blue colorway with custom components fitted throughout. Modern MTBers might scoff at the idea of doing any serious trail riding on a heavy Super73 e-bike, which is fine: this one-off is not for sale. 

You can, however, buy the Super73 ZX it’s based on (read my review here), which proved to be a very capable all-terrain vehicle on asphalt, dirt, gravel, and amber fields of grain.

Richard Lawler12:25 AM UTC
The sincerest form of flattery.

I had little interest in Apple’s Dynamic Island, but once a developer built their spin on the idea for Android, I had to give it a try.

Surprisingly, I’ve found I actually like it, and while dynamicSpot isn’t as well-integrated as Apple’s version, it makes up for it with customization. Nilay’s iPhone 14 Pro review asked Apple to reverse the long-press to expand vs. tap to enter an app setup. In dynamicSpot, you can do that with a toggle (if you pay $5).

DynamicSpot app on Android shown expanding music player, in the style of Apple’s Dynamic Island in iOS 16.
DynamicSpot in action on a Google Pixel 6
Image: Richard Lawler

Welcome to the new Verge

Revolutionizing the media with blog posts

Nilay PatelSep 13
Richard LawlerSep 22
TikTok politics.

Ahead of the midterm elections, TikTok made big changes to its rules for politicians and political fundraising on the platform, as Makena Kelly explains... on TikTok.

External Link
Richard LawlerSep 22
The Twitter employee who testified about Trump and the January 6th attack has come forward.

This summer, a former Twitter employee who worked on platform and content moderation policies testified anonymously before the congressional committee investigating the violence at the US Capitol on January 6th.

While she remains under NDA and much of her testimony is still sealed,  Anika Collier Navaroli has identified herself, explaining a little about why she’s telling Congress her story of what happened inside Twitter — both before the attack, and after, when it banned Donald Trump.

Richard LawlerSep 22
But how does it sound?

Our review of Apple’s new AirPods Pro can tell you everything about the second-generation buds. To find out how you’ll sound talking to other people through them, just listen to Verge senior video producer Becca Farsace.

The Verge
Andrew WebsterSep 22
Our list of the best entertainment of 2022 keeps getting bigger.

We just added some notable entries to our running list highlighting the best games, movies, and TV shows of the year, including Return to Monkey Island, The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, and Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery. Sorry in advance for your free time.

The best entertainment of 2022

Everything to play and watch this year

Andrew WebsterSep 22

The best instant cameras you can buy right now

We found the best cameras for your budget and needs

Sheena VasaniSep 22
The Verge
Richard LawlerSep 22
The Bootleg Ratio.

Policy Editor Russell Brandom digs into a phenomenon we’ve all seen on social media before:

I call it the Bootleg Ratio: the delicate balance between A) content created by users specifically for the platform and B) semi-anonymous clout-chasing accounts drafting off the audience. Any platform will have both, but as B starts to overtake A, users will have less and less reason to visit and creators will have less and less reason to post.

And now it’s coming for TikTok.

Dan SeifertSep 22
Here’s a look at a few Pixel Watch watchfaces.

Google is ramping up the marketing machine ahead of next month’s Pixel 7 and Pixel Watch event and has released a short video (via 9to5Google) highlighting the design and showcasing some of the watchfaces it will have. Most of them are quite simple, with just the time being displayed.

These videos always look great from a marketing perspective, but I think they poorly reflect how I actually use a smartwatch. I want the computer on my wrist to show me useful information like weather, calendar appointments, timers, etc, which means it’s never as sparse or simple looking as it is in these ads.

External Link
Please stop trying to order the Hummer EV.

GMC is closing the order books for the Hummer EV truck and SUV after receiving 90,000 reservations for the controversial electric vehicle, according to the Detroit Free Press. It just can’t seem to keep up with demand, so the GM-owned company has decided to stop taking orders until production picks up. Maybe if the Hummer’s battery wasn’t the same weight as a whole-ass Honda Civic, it would be easier to manufacture, but I digress.

GMC is the latest automaker to run into the problem of EV demand far outstripping supply. Ford also is having difficulty making enough F-150 Lightnings and Mustang Mach-Es to fill all its orders. Waitlists for most available EVs are longer than my arm. Things are going to be tight until the auto industry is able to bring more battery factories and assembly plants online, and unfortunately that could take a while.

External Link
Alex CranzSep 22
The Verge is hiring!

The Verge is almost always hiring, and right now we’re looking for a big Verge fan with big journalism ambition to join us as a fellow for the next year. We’re also hiring a Space Reporter to join our Science team, a Designer to work with our Art team, and a Senior Editor focused on Search. Come apply to work with us!

Fellow, The Verge