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The Unexpected Actor Who Helped Donnie Darko To Get Made

When thinking of the list of ubiquitous cult-classic films, "Donnie Darko" is one that often comes to mind. The psychological thriller has been dumbfounding audiences since its 2001 release, despite being a box office bomb at the time. The story follows Jake Gyllenhaal as the titular character, a teen in the 80s who is living his normal life when a jet engine crashes into his bedroom. The freak accident caused him to have visions, including one of a gigantic bunny named Frank (James Duval), who tells him the world is set to end in 28 days. The film is a sci-fi visual feast, mixed with an unconventional teenage love story. The film starred (and helped propel the careers of) now huge names like Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone, Seth Rogan, Drew Barrymore and more. 

"Donnie Darko" is one of those films that stands the test of time because it's so unique. Most viewers, and even Gyllenhaal himself, question what the film is truly about, because of its layered complexity. And while it's hard to imagine a modern-day film world without the influence of "Donnie Darko," director Richard Kelly gives credit to two unexpected actors who helped the film come to life in the first place. 

Richard Kelly says Donnie Darko was a collaborative effort

In an interview with GamesRadar+ for the 20th anniversary of "Donnie Darko," Kelly explained the process of how the film went from a wild idea in his head to one of the most beloved cult classic films. He credits two actors who finally got the film greenlit after a year of Kelly pitching the script. One was Jason Schwartzman, who had just come off of his starring role in "Rushmore." In fact, Kelly says that Schwartzman was initially supposed to play Donnie. "I owe him an enormous debt. I don't think I'd have a career if it weren't for Jason and his support. I think Jake would say the same," Kelly said. Due to a scheduling conflict, Schwartzman couldn't take on the role. 

And Schwartzman is responsible for bringing another major actor into the "Donnie Darko" orbit — Drew Barrymore. His agent brought the film to Barrymore's producing partner Nancy Juvonen. From then on, not only did Barrymore have a role in the film, but her company Flower Films produced it. Kelly added that it was Barrymore's office where he first met Gyllenhaal, who he knew would be his Donnie "within 30 seconds" of meeting him.