Jake Gyllenhaal’s rise to the top in Hollywood began with his first role at 11 playing Billy Crystal’s son in City Slickers. Many other parts followed, and, of course, there was an Oscar nomination as the gay cowboy in Brokeback Mountain. Hard to believe that movie came out 10 years ago.
As a full-fledged star today, Gyllenhaal is the first to tell you he wants to be an actor who can disappear into the characters he plays. Last summer, the 35-year-old transformed himself into a tattooed and torn-to-shreds boxer in Southpaw. That was followed in September by the harrowing true-life story Everest, about a climber who struggles to survive when he and his group are trapped in a deadly snowstorm. Now, Gyllenhaal is once again suffering on the big screen in Demolition. Hitting theaters in April, this intense drama is about an investment banker whose carefully ordered life falls apart after the death of his wife.
Jeanne Wolf: While you are hurting emotionally in Demolition, you trained hard and felt real pain in Southpaw. What was it like the first time you got hit for real?
Jake Gyllenhaal: I deserve and need a little smack in the face occasionally. My mother would definitely tell you that. Actually, that was motivating for me. Part of knowing what it’s like to be a boxer was that feeling that you’re going to take some punches. You have to know that feeling or it seems false to the audience.
JW: You are making the effort to challenge yourself and go to some very intense places. Why push this hard?
JG: I can’t do the same thing over and over. It’s just not the way I am. I am about variety, and I am fascinated by all different types of people. I love discovering things and I love being pushed. In the last couple of years, I’ve played characters that have sort of been in different, darker worlds, but I always like finding the humor in those places, too. It’s not all about darkness.
JW: With all the temptations that come with fame and big hits, you have a work ethic that truly impresses people who expect any kind of diva behavior.
JG: As I keep on acting, I don’t forget that it’s a job. My dad was a very successful film director, but he was never pretentious about it. He’d always go, “If I were a plumber, you’d probably have been a plumber too.” There’s some truth in that. I’m doing this because my parents started doing it. They influenced me to follow them and use acting as a way of saying something politically, not just to have a great lifestyle. It’s been a very interesting ride.