“Prisoners” may be among the darkest fare to hit theaters this fall, but at the Variety Screening Series showing at the Arclight on Nov. 15, Jake Gyllenhaal and director Denis Villeneuve couldn’t keep the laughs at bay.

“You have to know that Jake and I made a promise that we’d make this a serious Q&A tonight,” said Villeneuve, who is a Quebec native, after Gyllenhaal answered the first of several questions in a French accent to razz his director. “But Jake is so silly.”

“What? I’m translating for him,” Gyllenhaal said to excuse his levity. Gyllenhaal was also sporting bandages on his left hand, the result of an injury he sustained on the set of the upcoming thriller “Nightcrawler.”

Maria Bello and scripter Aaron Guzikowski joined Gyllenhaal and Villeneuve for a discussion with Variety‘s Chief International Film Critic Peter Debruge after the film. And while Gyllenhaal and Villeneuve showed off their comedic chops, all four told the audience that they thought “Prisoners” was too dark to be made.

“This screenplay was talking about things that are sadly accurate about our society today, and I felt deeply inspired by what it was saying about cycles of violence,” Villeneuve said. “I strongly remember falling deeply in love. But I put it aside because I thought it was too dark. Then it was haunting me so I had to get on board.”

“I figured it was too dark to be made into a movie,” Guzikowski said. Bello agreed: “The studio decided to make this film, but I read this script and I thought, ‘This is so brilliant, but it’s so dark. Who would make this film?’ We’re putting a traditional Hollywood thriller with this foreign independent sensibility, and with this breadth, this breadth that it takes to build the suspense … and I wasn’t sure about it from the beginning.”

Gyllenhaal attributed “Prisoners’” getting the green light in large part to Hugh Jackman.

“I’d just like to give credit to Mr. Jackman — I call him Mr. Jackman because it annoys him and I’m trying to get him mad — because this movie would not have been made without him,” he said. “In a world where someone in his position could be making a lot of different choices, he chose this movie. We all wouldn’t be here without him, and the movie wouldn’t be what it is without him.”

“I was across from him in some of the most extraordinary moments I’ve seen as an actor watching another actor work, and I’ve been blessed to work with amazing actors,” Gyllenhaal continued. “Beautiful, beautiful work he does. And this movie exists because he said, ‘I want to do it.’ And that’s amazing, particularly given the darkness that both [Villeneuve] and [Guzikowski] thought was so dark that they couldn’t get it made.”

And while both director and writer said they were thrilled to see that that dark material saw the (green) light, and in particular that the studio allowed them to maintain the film’s ambiguous ending, both quipped that they’re ready to get into the comedy game.
“How can we get out of that spiral of violence? That’s the question,” Villeneuve said. “That’s what art is often inspired by, and that sadly inspires me. But I wish that one day I will do a comedy. Do you have an idea for a comedy?”
“Yeah, I’m writing one in my head at this very moment,” Guizkowski said.