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Jake Gyllenhaal plays Louis Bloom in Nightcrawler, a n ambitious, possibly sociopathic videographer: ‘When I was playing the part, I really couldn’t think of him [as a sociopath]. … In every role, you have to find the love or the excitement.’Chuck Zlotnick

In Nightcrawler, Jake Gyllenhaal plays Louis Bloom, a hazardously ambitious video newsman who doesn't let the law or morality stand in the way of the money shot. Writer-director Dan Gilroy's film – which earned strong reviews and Oscar buzz over festival season – marks the first producer credit for its leading man, who finally seems to be choosing roles that display his chops. Here, Gyllenhaal gives his take on the movie's underlying message, his character's man-bun and why sociopaths need love too.

I walked out of the movie thinking, wow – Jake Gyllenhaal has just created one of the great cinematic sociopaths, but then I read that you don't see Lou that way.

When I was playing the part, I really couldn't think of him that way. I have to be inside the character's head. I can't be thinking that I [as the character] am doing whatever I'm doing because I'm a sociopath. In every role, you have to find the love or the excitement. I thought of the story as the birth of an artist. Somebody who found his calling.

Without giving anything away, he finds it at pretty significant cost.

I guess that is how it comes off. For me, the story is speaking to an idea and a generation. I feel like there's a generation that's been taught about achieving success, a certain type of success, at any cost. Many people are feeling, 'I'm going to work as hard as I can and sacrifice everything I can to get this one thing.'

Lou is just the extreme. I do think he's sociopathic in some ways, but that also feels like a dismissal because he's also so innocent. He wants to learn. In the first scene, he asks for a job and the foreman says, I don't hire people who steal [things]. So Lou thinks, okay, well then I won't steal any more because, otherwise, I won't get a job. Okay, I guess maybe that's a bit sociopathic.

We never get a back-story on Lou. As an actor, is that something you figure out?

Yes, I do that, but I don't want to say what I think the back-story is because the mystery of the character is part of what the whole movie is about.

That's makes sense. But do you know how 10-year-old Lou would act at the dentist office?

Huh. That's an interesting scenario to pose for every character you play. I think a lot of what Lou tells people is not true. I believe that he has a bit of a military background as well as a lot of other details that aren't in the script. In terms of developing the character, I was really guided by the dialogue; Dan [Gilroy]'s word choices, which are so specific and weird and really led me into the character.

A colleagues of mine remarked that the movie was like TMZ with more blood. Do you see it as being a comment on paparazzi culture?

The stakes are a lot higher in Lou's world, but yes, there is a general comment on media, journalism.

You've managed to build a huge career without being frequent tabloid fodder. Does someone in your position have a choice to be an actor or a celebrity?

I think we all have a choice. My focus is on my work and I think that is really the most important thing. It always has been.

You've obviously cut your hair since filming. The man-bun you sport in the movie almost deserves a best-supporting-actor nod.

The hairstyle is something we came up with. I thought of Lou as a ninja or, at least, that's the way he considered himself. When it was time for him to get it work it was like: "Okay. Hair up. Ready." There were times when I was tying my hair up with my knee on the steering wheel and Riz [Ahmed who plays Lou's assistant Rick] was like: "Oh my God."

Are you aware that the man-bun has been making a pretty big splash in the fashion world?

I wasn't. Is it just called a bun if a woman wears it?

Yes. And a man-bun on a guy. You might want to consider growing it back.

Maybe I shouldn't have [cut it].

This interview has been condensed and edited.