Weeks before last night’s premiere of Sunday in the Park With George, the Stephen Sondheim musical’s star Jake Gyllenhaal and director-auteur Cary Fukunaga got together to make a backstage teaser featuring Gyllenhaal performing the show-stopping number “Finishing the Hat.” Maybe because of Fukunaga, maybe because it showed off the newly renovated Hudson Theatre, but probably because of Gyllenhaal’s vocal chops, the video went viral, to the tune of more than a million views.
“[The video] was totally spontaneous and that’s mainly Jake breaking the internet,” Fukunaga told Vulture at the revival’s opening night. “I was just there to record it. He called me up a couple days beforehand. I was in the middle of writing in upstate New York — but couldn’t really turn down the opportunity to go and shoot something in this theater after 50 years of [it] being shut down.”
Gyllenhaal and Fukunaga knew each other socially, but also share a professional tie through Gyllenhaal’s Nine Stories Productions partner Riva Marker, who also produced Fukunaga’s Beasts of No Nation. At the Sunday after-party at the New York Public Library, Gyllenhaal explained that when he pitched Cary, the director wanted to do “something super simple.” “We went to the theater and there are these beautiful stairs and he was like, ‘Can you hang me from the ceiling?’” Gyllenhaal said. “You’re trying to catch lightning in a bottle in moments like that. It’s all live and we wanted to do it live and we wanted it to be messy. That was his whole thing. He wanted it to be as present and messy as possible, without being too messy.”
As for that messiness, Fukunaga admitted that they did three or four takes to get the shot right. “But mainly because it was my fault,” he joked. “I kept screwing up.”
Still, there may be a future for Fukunaga in musicals yet. “I know that I’ve always wanted to do a musical, so to be able to feature a piece of Sondheim is pretty cool,” he said. And what would a possible Fukunaga-helmed entry in the genre look like? “I have no idea yet,” he said with a smile. “I guess it just depends on what the story is.”