Six years after the boxing drama SOUTHPAW (2015), actor Jake Gyllenhaal and director Antoine Fuqua reunite for the new Netflix thriller THE GUILTY (2021) Based on the 2018 Danish film of the same name, Gyllenhaal stars as a troubled police detective who is demoted to 911 operator duty and scrambles to save a distressed caller during a harrowing day of revelations — and reckonings. Because of the unique premise — with many dramatic scenes taking place with Gyllenhaal on the phone — the entire shoot only required 11 days and three on-screen cast members, including Gyllenhaal, who also produced the film with Fuqua. Ahead of THE GUILTY’S Oct. 1 Netflix release, the duo discussed what brought them to the project, their behind-the-scenes research and the film’s many unique challenges.
How did each of you get involved with the film?
ANTOINE FUQUA: I got a phone call from my friend Jake, and he said he had a script that he thought I was perfect for. I read it that night and called him, I think, the next day and said, “I’m in.” Obviously, to work with Jake again was a big plus. I love the guy, and the subject matter was as perfect as he said it would be for me.
JAKE GYLLENHAAL: Antoine and I share something really special, sort of indescribable. We have an instinct together when there’s a piece of material. There was something I felt I understood about THE GUILTY, something underneath that I always related to very deeply, it thrilled me and inspired me. And so, it was a no-brainer and also no surprise that Antoine committed as quickly as I did. He was the only other person besides me, who, as soon as he read the story, was like, “I’m in.” That’s how I felt too. And that bond that we have, that’s hard to put into words, comes through in the film. It’s so wonderful being able to work with someone more than once and know that you trust them already, to know that they’ll go as far as you’ll go and vice versa.
What kind of research did you do for the film?
FUQUA: Myself and Jake both have friends in this world that we’ve known for a long time, and what I needed to do was go to a 911 call center, so I went to one in West Valley and the captain there Dave Storaker he helped us a lot. He walked us through the call center and introduced us to some of the people, and gave us some insights on what they go through daily on a personal level, and a lot of technical things, obviously, we needed to learn about the headsets and how it works.
What was most striking was just the human connection when you go to a place like that and you see people that look like your mom, or your brother, or your cousin — and you’re not just a voice on the phone— who had to live with someone else’s trauma every day, listen to people calling obviously, on the worst day of their lives. And the people that they call at the 911 center take on that stress as well.
What were some of the unique challenges that you had to work through in the film from working in one location, working with the actors that Jake speaks to on the phone?
FUQUA: It is a film about sound, about listening, about what you hear, and what the reality is. Capturing that is a whole other story, practically, because at that time we were filming, it was during the height of COVID, so we couldn’t have actors going to a regular stage and record, so we had to come up with a system with our sound guy on how to get these special boxes to actors who were all over the world, and then get their recording, but then do it live with Jake while he’s in a room performing, without any glitches.
Well, that didn’t happen at all. I think he had about five or six different voices in his ear at the same time because of the technical issues. We had to work off of the Zoom system as well. We figured it out eventually. I think Jake had probably performed each scene like it was a play, constantly, over and over and over, because the calls were coming back-to-back. There’s not a lot of cuts in between each call, so we had to almost do the entire script, in certain sections, as a play, with voices in his ear. It was challenging but it was amazing because of what happens naturally: it makes you lean in more because it was so difficult to hear. We use a lot of the dialogue from the first Zoom calls, ’cause the performances are just so raw, and, and a lot of Jake’s performance was so intense.
GYLLENHAAL: When I first sent the script to Antoine, what I said was, “Let’s shoot this movie in five days.” That really got us going excited, the idea that we could shoot the movie in a very short period of time, the pressure would be on, just like it’s on Joe Baylor’s character. And if there’s anything I know about Antoine, he loves that pressure, and we both thrive in that space.
So, we set this goal for ourselves, and slowly, that 5 days turned into 11 days. So we shot the movie and scheduled it for 11 days, and we designed this idea that we break it up into five sections and each one would be around 15 to 20 pages, and we’d shoot one of those sections every day. So, I would prepare Section 1, 2, 3, 4, and I would call Antoine as a secret and I’d say, “I have 1 to 4 memorized.” He said, “Don’t tell anybody. We still have 11 days. Maybe we can shoot it in 9.”