Twenty-three years into this new millennium, the war film genre feels at once antiquated and freshly-evolving. Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant plays like a bridge between both. Paced like a gritty, ’70s actioner while confronting the broken promises of our modern, battle-worn nation, the film is a fascinating piece of work.

Ahead of the film’s release this Friday, we were lucky enough to have a quick chat with co-stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Dar Salim about the tough shoot, war movies, and hidden gems in their careers that they’d recommend. Check out the video interview below, followed by a transcription.

The Film Stage: So this looked like quite an arduous shoot. What was the hardest day on set?

Dar Salim: Physically, I think for me, it would have to be pushing Jake up the mountains. They had this stunt fight and I hurt my knee but things were going…so you just had to do it. The way Guy Ritchie works is he kind of finds the story, the action, on the day. So I knew if [I] didn’t roll with it and we put a stunt guy in there, we’d lose some of the story as well. Or an opportunity for some of the story to arise. So the day I was pushing him up the mountain and had a kind of a breakdown, the character had a breakdown, which we kind of found on the day. That wasn’t in the script. Yeah, that was probably the hardest physical day.

Jake Gyllenhaal: I mean, to me, really, I love pushing the physical limits of things, you know? It’s something I enjoy. So when you push me hard, I kind of want to go harder. In terms of difficulty, it was about keeping my eyes open when I was laying upside down in a cart and they were throwing dust and blood and water at me. I would say it’s most difficult – though this might seem a bit strange – it’s hard to keep your eyes open when they’re throwing, you know, water and blood and dust in your face. Though, Mr. Ritchie, that’s what he required of me. And so I took a lot of fake blood, water and dust. It’s really the trials and tribulations of actors. You know, it’s difficult stuff.

For you, Jake, it’s what, almost twenty years ago, you made Jarhead? It’s different in many respects, obviously. Do you take anything from that set and bring it to this one?

Gyllenhaal: Absolutely I do. I mean, you know, to me, it’s interesting playing a recruit, you know, in the Iraqi War with a completely different mentality towards what warfare is. And then, many, many years later playing a very experienced, wizened Special Ops Sergeant and what his devotion to his job, to his country and the ideas behind that. How much has changed! It is really interesting. As a young actor playing that part. And then, hopefully having wizened myself a bit after a number of experiences over the years. It is a totally different attitude. Yet I do [take a lot from that first set. Even things like tactical training and weapons handling and things like that. Even though they’ve evolved since that time, I still use the basis of what I learned when I was doing Jarhead from all the incredible technical advisors we had on that. And then it was just updated by our technical advisors that we were working with… the special ops guys who we worked with. We had incredible tech advisors on this for the kind of stuff we did here. So not only mentally but it’s interesting to think of the evolution of a career through two different roles in the military, you know?

I always like asking actors this. Is there a movie of yours that is a gem in your opinion. A movie from your past? I’ll give you an example. Dar, for you for example, The Devil’s Double is a movie that I really liked when it came out and then and then Jake, Moonlight Mile is a movie that I’ve loved for a long time…

Salim: Well, most of my work has been Danish, you know, in Scandinavia. So I’d say go for some of the Danish work…with some subtitles, but it’s good. Watch Darkland (Underverden), one and two. 

Gyllenhaal: I think some of the Danish filmmakers working right now are some of my favorite filmmakers. So, you know, I would go in there and search Dar’s CV. You’ll probably be pretty entertained. But for me, you know, yeah, you know, Moonlight Mile is a really interesting one. It’s filled with absolute legends, that movie. And to watch the technique of actors in that, it’s just, it’s like, I mean, I don’t know if I would have been able to, like, not have my head explode if I had really realized who I was working with at the time. It was scene after scene with a legend, you know. And so, yeah, in that way, it’s interesting to see. Also, you can see a pretty bad haircut of mine too. So that’s always entertaining.

It’s era-appropriate!

Gyllenhaal: True true true!

The Covenant opens in theaters on Friday, April 21.

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