Coming out of the Toronto International Film Festival and the Venice Film Festival, fans are starting to get an idea of which films are sure to be awards contenders in the coming months. There’s “A Star is Born,” “Roma,” and perhaps even “The Favourite.” But one of the most well-received films at any fall festival, so far, has been Barry Jenkins’ “If Beale Street Could Talk.” The follow-up to his Best Picture Oscar-winning film “Moonlight” seems to have struck a chord with audiences after its world premiere. And according to Jenkins, we have Jake Gyllenhaal to thank.
In a new interview with the LA Times, the writer-director talks about his new film, why Gyllenhaal had an indirect, but major, effect on its production, and how he handled a controversial scene in a post-#MeToo world.
“Actually, Jake Gyllenhaal is kind of one of the reasons [‘Beale Street’] happened,” admits Jenkins. “He’s a big [James] Baldwin fan, and he had been talking to the estate, went through the channels and got them to respond to his queries about another project. And then I just happened to write them a letter, literally, the next day.”
He continues, “And a woman at the estate — not Baldwin’s sister Gloria Karefa-Smart, who runs it — but the woman who runs all the official documentation, she said, ‘Well, I felt kinda bad because we were listening to Jake Gyllenhaal and we don’t ever want to be the kind of estate that only listens to famous people’ — I was nobody at the time — ‘so when your package came through, we were like, ‘We might as well listen to this guy named Barry Jenkins.’’ And here we are.”
For those not keeping score, this marks the second major film of the fall to thank Gyllenhaal for helping make happen. The first being the upcoming “Halloween” reboot/sequel. That Jake Gyllenhaal sure does have some magic.
However, the execution of the film, which earned a glowing review from us, was all on Jenkins, who appears to have outdone himself, even in the shadow of “Moonlight.” And the secret to his success is staying close to the source material. That method paid off when tackling one of the more harrowing scenes in the film (and novel). Including a scene that involved a brutal sexual assault was not up for debate, according to Jenkins. Instead, he just relied on Baldwin’s book to guide him.
“We shot this film in October and November of last year, so it was right when all the Harvey Weinstein stuff was happening. But with everything in the adaptation, it was about a fidelity to the source material,” he explained.
“I just wanted to hew very closely to what was in the book as far as how we dealt with [the sexual assault scene]. And what I really wanted to do was give Emily Rios, who plays Victoria, a chance to look the audience right in the eyes so the audience has to realize that there is someone here who has been victimized and she is not the antagonist in this film,” he continued.
It’s clear that Jenkins put the same amount of blood, sweat, tears, and overall thoughtfulness in his adaptation of Baldwin’s book as he did with his award-winning previous film. And even though Gyllenhaal had a minor influence on the film getting made, the A-lister had zero to do with Barry Jenkin’s finished product.