Jake Gyllenhaal cover story - ELLE Men China
Writer / Producer: Dana Poblete
Photographer: Brigitte Lacombe
Jake Gyllenhaal is a curious guy. We meet for lunch at one of his favourite Manhattan bistros, Buvette, in the West Village. It’s tiny and bustling with beautiful New Yorkers, and the ambrosial aroma of butter permeates every cubic inch of air in the place. He wants to know about where I’m from, my family, even if I want to have kids. “I’m interviewing you now,” he jokes. He orders a salad nicoise and braised asparagus, and I go for a wacky combination of julienne carrots with pistachio and lemon and a Belgian waffle. “Nice,” he nods with an approving grin. Later on when the food arrives, we are mistakenly served a salmon salad, which Jake and I share—a dream scenario for just about any girl (or guy) who has ever been a “Gyllenhaalic,” which I’ve read his fans call themselves, which I was, unknowingly, for years.
His curiosity is precisely what makes Jake Gyllenhaal tick. As an actor, he is an observer who desires to learn about the crafts he is exposed to on the job. He is human, searching for connections with the people he works with, which explains his closeness to many of his co-stars—Brokeback Mountain co-stars Heath Ledger and Michelle Williams asked him to be the godfather to their daughter, Matilda. There’s Anne Hathaway, whom he lovingly refers to as “Annie,” who also acted alongside him in Brokeback Mountain and Love and Other Drugs, a romantic dramedy of a casual hook-up gone serious when he falls in love with a girl who suffers from Parkinson’s disease. He had the privilege to work closely with his own brother-in-law, Peter Saarsgaard, in Jarhead, a story of the mental and physical journey of a United States Marine during the Gulf War.
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DP: So did you have a moment when you decided that acting is what you’d do with your life?
JG: I’ve always tried to figure that out in my mind, cause I’d never had one of those epiphanies where you see something and you really want to do it. Though, I do remember watching a lot of old movies with my family. I remember watching old Danny Kaye movies when I was a kid, and falling in love with how he performed and just thinking there was a real balance between the discipline and craft that he was doing, and at the same time a sense of fun and freedom. I think there was something in that that really appealed to me as a kid. It’s one of those crafts that so clearly requires, in my opinion, great discipline. What I loved as a kid was watching all these people around me draft. My mother, with draft after draft of her screenplay, completely changing and watching the process of that happening. How stories would evolve and change, even stories I would hear from my family members and friends of my family. Over time they would change, and they’d pick and choose the moments that were most engaging. I was surrounded by that as a kid and so I think it was just sort of natural. I don’t really call myself only an actor; I love stories.
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DP: It seemed like an interesting choice to have Ang Lee direct [Brokeback Mountain], only because he grew up in Eastern culture, and there he was, working on a film that has more of a Western feel. So was there anything about his approach or his point of view that you felt affected the film in an interesting way?
JG: I think anybody who’s ostracized from their own culture to observe another culture tends to have a really interesting, keen eye of the culture in a way that people who are in it subjectively just don’t. But I think there are a lot of similarities to the way Ang behaves—his quietness, his silence, his meditative quality—and some of the characters in the movie. And I think also his connection to nature, which to me feels very much cultural, and I think sort of weirdly connects the two worlds. His direction was fascinating because a lot of it was...he was very quiet in a lot of the processes. In the beginning he was very close, before we started shooting, and then as we started shooting he sort of withdrew a bit and allowed for the scene to take place in front of him. That was something that I was always interested in because it was definitely different from what I was used to. We were all living together in this trailer park basically for the first month of shooting. I’d wake up in the morning and I’d look out the window and Ang would be doing tai chi outside by the river. We were making somewhat of a western, but an unconventional one, and it was interesting that that’s what our director was doing, but I think that just added to his ability to comment on something that was not directly his culture. I think that’s why the movie is as interesting as it is.
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