Jake Gyllenhaal is deep – he’s known for avoiding the usual Hollywood spotlight and isn’t afraid to communicate his belief that movies are important as much for their ability to explore the human condition, as entertain us on a Friday night.
RSNG spoke with the 41-year-old actor and Spider-Man: Far From Home star to find out why he doesn’t worry about box office success, how he steps out of his comfort zone, and what’s the best advice he’s ever had…
RSNG Is fighting convention something you've tried to do during your life and career?
JAKE GYLLENHAAL, ACTOR “I think we're all always fighting convention in a way or we're not and then we succumb to that. Ultimately all that matters is what you as an individual believe in, regardless of what other people tell you you should believe.
“I guess in a way that's something I'm trying to do as an artist, but all human beings should be doing that because if we did, we'd have a totally different world.”
Life is all about discovery and risk, and exploring new aspects of myself as well as the world in general
RSNG You have always been willing to push yourself to the limit in films like Nightcrawler, Southpaw and Everest. Is that something that you feel driven to do?
JAKE GYLLENHAAL “I've always been anxious to challenge myself as much as possible. I've never wanted to do things that were easy or too comfortable. I feel challenging myself is the way I grow as an individual because I’m forcing myself to exit my comfort zone.
“For me, life is all about discovery and risk and exploring new aspects of myself as well as the world in general.”
RSNG Does that sometimes mean you take things too far?
JAKE GYLLENHAAL [Smiles] “I'm hardest on myself. I'm very passionate about what I do and I can't take the easy way out. I just can't... acting offers you an opportunity to find catharsis through the way you express the emotions of your characters and by behaving in ways that you wouldn't dare to in your own life.”
RSNG Do you have a natural predilection towards characters that are either extreme or as emotionally complex or conflicted as possible?
JAKE GYLLENHAAL “I like characters who are messy and complicated because that's who we are as humans. It's much more interesting for me to explore those states of being than playing characters who don't find themselves under stress, or need to face up to serious problems.
“We're all struggling in our own particular ways, and we all live in different states of joy, hope, fear, and anxiety. That's what makes us interesting and those are the kinds of characters I enjoy portraying.”
RSNG Is this what you feel is the essence of acting for you?
JAKE GYLLENHAAL I love performing and I am constantly fascinated by getting into a story, and exploring what I can do with a character and be able to help tell interesting stories that reveal something about us as human beings.
“Maybe I'm too idealistic but it means so much to be able to get at the truth of ourselves and use acting as a way of examining human nature.”
RSNG How would you label yourself as an actor?
JAKE GYLLENHAAL “I'm not at all interested in becoming the kind of actor who needs to worry about his box-office performance with each film. That defeats the purpose of what you want to accomplish as an actor. Of course, you need to have some sort of standing that enables you to get cast in bigger budget films, but the main goal is to find good stories, and directors who have a strong vision and interesting sensibility.
“I love my work, I love being excited and drawn to it, but I felt I had moved away from the work itself, and I was being asked questions that I didn't know how to answer. About, you know, life, everything.
“The reason why I started acting was because I deeply, deeply love acting. You know, I love storytelling, I really do, and I just felt like I was moving farther and farther away from that idea, and I didn’t like that.”
RSNG You're often identified in the media as a kind of heartthrob. How do you feel about that?
JAKE GYLLENHAAL “It has nothing to do with me. It's the media image of me and it's not really something that defines who I am. I go to very few public events, I live very quietly, and don't really do anything that attracts attention to me beyond my work in films and promoting them by doing interviews.”
RSNG You’ve spoken candidly in the past about your relationships – [Gyllenhaal has been with French model Jeanne Cadieu since 2018] – do you think it is difficult for couples to stay in love or commit to relationships once the initial buzz of sexual attraction gives way to something else?
JAKE GYLLENHAAL “I don’t know, really. That’s the great question that everyone finds themselves trying to answer at different points in their lives. What happens is that sexual and physical attraction is gradually overtaken by deeper emotions and also by practical considerations and decisions.
“That’s when you have to think very seriously about whether your love for another person is so great that you want to spend serious time with them going forward, or not. Or maybe that the intensity of your feelings is so great that you can’t think straight, and you need to see whether you can actually live together in one place and find those little ways of accommodating each other’s needs and desires. That’s the challenge, isn’t it? It takes a lot of thinking about.”
My parents encouraged me to express myself, test my limits as far as possible and not take the easy way out
RSNG Speaking of which, do you still follow Buddhist teachings?
JAKE GYLLENHAAL “It’s something which has enlightened me in many ways. When I started reading about Buddhist philosophy (while making Donnie Darko) I saw right away that I had an intuitive grasp and conviction about so many of the same ideas and principles, so I naturally gravitated towards it.
“It’s not something I think about as much, but I try to follow some of the teachings because I believe in them, and I feel I am a better person for trying to be open to simple joys and truths about life, and appreciating the beauty in other people.
“I believe there’s a spirit and energy that links us all in some way.”
RSNG How do you feel you’ve evolved over time?
JAKE GYLLENHAAL “I’ve learned to trust myself more and worry less about making the right decisions. I think in general I’m more relaxed and I have less apprehensiveness and anxiety about myself, and other people in general.
“There was also this dichotomy between my approach to films and my approach to life. I think I’ve sorted a lot of that out now.”
RSNG Your career has seen you play a wide variety of characters. You seem to enjoy both the physical and psychological transformation involved?
JAKE GYLLENHAAL “I have so much fun creating a character and I love observing people and all the complexities and oddities of human behavior that inform what I do.
“I enjoy the kind of creative expression that comes with mimicry, and I love exploring human psychology, how we interact with each other, and going beneath the surface of human behavior.
“As an actor, I like the catharsis that comes with pushing the boundaries of what you ordinarily feel comfortable with doing. My parents encouraged me to express myself, test my limits as far as possible and not take the easy way out. If I can emerge out of my career having always held true those pledges, I’ll be happy.”
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Photos: Shutterstock/REX, MovieStillsDB