Interview: Jake Gyllenhaal and Conor McGregor on reimagining Road House; “It felt like you were working with your friend”

Road House stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Dalton, an ex-UFC fighter trying to escape his dark past and his penchant for violence, in this adrenaline-fueled actioner. Dalton is barely scraping by on the reputation that still precedes him when he is spotted by the owner of a roadhouse in the Florida Keys. She hires him to be her new bouncer in hopes of stopping a violent gang from destroying her beloved bar.  But the stakes get higher with the arrival of ruthless gun-for-hire, Knox (Conor McGregor). As the brutal brawls and bloodshed escalate, the tropical Keys prove more dangerous than anything Dalton ever faced in the Octagon.

Set to stream on Prime Video from March 21st, Road House is “a junky piece of escapism that revels in its own dirty masculinity” (read our full review here), and before audiences sit down to take a hit, our own Peter Gray was invited to the global press conference to hear Gyllenhaal and McGregor talk about collaborating on the film, what it meant to honour the Patrick Swayze original, and the free rein they had on set to play.

Jake, you’ve been eager to work with Doug Liman for quite a while now! Why was this project the right thing for you guys to come together and collaborate?

Jake Gyllenhaal: I mean, first of all, we have been looking for a long time! I remember being out to dinner with him and talking to him about something else. And then he said, “You know, I’ve been reading this reimagining of Road House.” And I said, “That sounds crazy… let’s do that!”

The whole spirit of it was just, sort of, fun, and joy, and playful throughout the whole thing. Because of that, it was like that every day when we were working. It felt like you were working with your friend and he always wanted to get, like, a part of my personality that he said he hadn’t seen in a film before. I think we pushed each other. It was great!

You mentioned reimagining. The original film was made back in ’89, but you can tell with this film, there’s a lot of love for the original. I imagined personally for you, Jake, having worked with Patrick Swayze back on Donnie Darko that there’s a personal connection to this.

Jake Gyllenhaal: I mean, Patrick was the best. The most charismatic.  I was a fan of his since I was a kid. I’ve watched Point Break maybe 500 times! My sister first took me to see Dirty Dancing when we were kids.

Then we did Donnie Darko and he was always so good to me, and his wife Lisa too. Just supporting me from the start and throughout the years. So I didn’t feel like a great responsibility because we both also come from theatre where you play parts and many other actors play the same part.

But I did feel I wanted to honour him, and I definitely wanted his energy from the original one, to bring it through, you know? Dalton shares some of the same personality traits that his character did too. It was very important to all of us to respect the original. Both this and the original are produced by Joel Silver, too.

Conor, you make such an impression with the film! You just look like you’re having so much fun. Is that fair to say?

Conor McGregor: Yeah, it was a hell of a lot of fun! My first time doing it! I had an amazing cast to guide me and direct me, you know? Assist me. And they just told me to turn the crazy down a notch! So that was me turned down.

How much of that was in the script? This force of nature, not just physically, but his personality too?

Jake Gyllenhaal: When Conor said that he would do it, and he signed on, the part started to sort of grow in that way I think he brought a lot to it. He brought so many ideas. I think what I was amazed by (Conor’s) brain, (he) was like constantly bringing ideas, lines, trying things.

Conor McGregor: We were given free rein to add… you know, we were allowed to be ourselves and they were very supportive of that. Gareth Warren and Steve Brown, who were the stunt guys who were co-ordinating the fighting scenes, if they laid the foundation and then we’d add a couple of blocks here and there, they would build us up and make us feel incredible.

Then we just grew as a team. We had a great team. Very bless and very happy and very proud that I got to deal with these people here.

Then we have the flashbacks with the UFC fights. You were actually in Vegas jumping in the ring between fights right?

Jake Gyllenhaal: Yeah, were we schedule to shoot at UFC 283. And the night before we went to do it, I got COVID. We were all basically there and then I couldn’t go ahead with it, so we had to cancel and wait two months for (UFC) 285 in Vegas.

What they (the UFC) said to us was depending on the how long the undercards went the distance or not, we’d have anywhere between 45 seconds and seven minutes. So we had to make five different alternate plans as to how much time the UFC would grant us to be in the octagon!

And obviously, for me, I consider this a sacred space, to be able to have people go in there and not be a professional fighter. Be in there, we focused on it like we were going to have all seven minutes. And they just said do the whole piece of the choreographed fight, and I thought, “Oh no. We’re going to do this in front of the whole UFC—all the fans and they’re gonna think this looks fake!

Conor McGregor: You did an amazing job, Jake! I know what you’re up against because UFC fans know when it’s real, and when it’s not true, they will not be behind it. That was kind of my addition, to make sure that it held true. And Jake is a consummate professional. I’m proud to walk alongside him, and he done the UFC proud. I was in the crowd, and I was the fan! Then when the fans saw me cheering, they cheered and we got a great pop out of it! It was worth its weight in gold!

Road House is streaming on Prime Video from March 21st, 2024.

Peter Gray

Film critic with a penchant for Dwayne Johnson, Jason Momoa, Michelle Pfeiffer and horror movies, harbouring the desire to be a face of entertainment news.