Jake Gyllenhaal plays two roles in ‘Source Code’

Ed Symkus

In the new science-fiction time-travel thriller “Source Code,” which opens Friday, Jake Gyllenhaal gets to play two roles: a pilot in Afghanistan and a train passenger in Chicago named Sean. But the two characters end up being the same person ... well, the same mind in two different bodies. But one of them is dead, or maybe almost dead, and the other one is killed over and over again. Or something like that.

After all, science fiction doesn’t have to make complete sense, does it? Yet Gyllenhaal said the science in this piece of science fiction is conceptually logical.

The idea of someone’s mind existing in two different places, as part of a secret military operation to fight terrorism – it’s called Source Code – brought up what Gyllenhaal calls “interesting questions.” It also provided him with plenty of opportunity to come up with an interesting character.

“He is an army pilot, and he has tremendous training,” said Gyllenhaal last week while promoting the film. “He knows not always to trust his instinct; he knows to trust instruments in an emergency. But somewhere that instinct kicks in. His (human) instinct is saying don’t go this way ... don’t do that. But then he has to listen to his instruments, as he would as a pilot, and keep his cool.”

The gist of the story is that this pilot wakes up in another man’s body, and has no idea where he is or what’s going on. He’s especially confused about the beautiful woman (Michelle Monaghan) who’s sitting across from him, chatting away as if they’re a couple. In short order, he’s informed that his “real” body – or something like it – is somewhere else (he has no idea where), and while inhabiting his new one, the military is ordering him to find the bomber who’s about to blow up the train he’s riding in. He’s given eight-minute segments to track down the villain. If he’s not successful, the train, and all of its occupants, himself included, will go sky high. Yet because he’s not really on the train, he’ll have another eight minutes to do it all again, and again, hopefully to find the bomber.

Gyllenhaal thinks it’s going to be a treat for audiences to watch similar scenes multiple times – each one just a little different, a la “Groundhog Day.”

“I found that the exercise in variation, when forced by the constraints of repetition, is fascinating and kept all of our minds always going,” he said of his fellow actors and director Duncan Jones (“Moon”). “When we came to doing the scenes on the train and then coming back to it, we made the choice to kind of make each one, each source code, like its own chapter in a book. So each one had its own name, had its own intention. Within each story, we could improv and vary it. We made lots of different choices all over the place.”

But he was also very happy with the script.

“The screenplay was so taut and tight and so strong when I first read it,” he said. “It really started to change when Michelle was cast and when Duncan came on.”

Putting a spotlight on the film’s love story was a big question for everyone.

“There’s a sort of very emotional romantic aspect to the choice the character makes,” he said. “Duncan, Michelle and I worked on that. It was basically a guy who moves from not being able to ask this girl out for coffee to a guy who can ask this girl out for coffee.”

He laughed and added, “He has to get blown up a number of times in the process, but it feels like that when you have to ask out somebody that you’re into.”

That part of the story, and Gyllenhaal’s reaction to it, is a hint that there’s more humor involved than one would expect in a fairly serious science-fiction film.

“When we discussed the comedy in this movie, we thought about being with the audience and the questions they might ask,” he explained. “We knew that we had to be one step ahead of the audience. And I think that’s what’s brilliant about Duncan’s job with the movie and with the script. They’re always one step ahead of you. Even if you know who the bomber is, you have no idea what’s coming next. I love that concept, and within that concept, there’s room for humor.”

The Patriot Ledger