WEIRDLAND: The Two Jakes

Friday, August 25, 2006

The Two Jakes

Extracted from an article previously published in:, and sent to me by Penny Lane (thank you for this article, Penny): THE TWO JAKES

Jake Gyllenhaal and I are deep in conversation in a cozy corner banquette at master chef Mario Batali's Greenwich Village restaurant, Babbo. Raved by The New York Times, the place is packed and noisy but the food is sublime. [...]Gyllenhaal says, "You should record my voice really fast so that you can slow it down and I can sound really weird." He beams. It's the first goofy thing he's said all evening.

I'd expected more. Goofy and weird have been such leitmotifs in Gyllenhaal's work that when we meet, it's startling to see how handsome he is. Fresh from a month at his family's place on Martha's Vineyard, he's tall, muscled armed, and tan, with bright blue eyes and sun streaks in his thick brown hair. But shouldn't those eyes slew sideways at me with a terrible sick slyness, the way they do when his character is hearing voices in Donnie Darko? And the hair would be more familiar if it were sticking out at right angles a la Bubble Boy. Or dyed black to set off the goth pallor he sports as Catherine Keener's jailbait teen lover in Lovely & Amazing. Or maybe he should just be pitifully grubby, like the depressed dropout whose life depends on the love of Jennifer Aniston in The Good Girl.

Not that these offbeat, often troubled characters haven't been good to Gyllenhaal. As Donnie's girlfriend-to-be (Jena Malone-no slouch at otherness herself) observes, "You're weird...That was a compliment." Capturing an impressive swath of the anguish that afflicts the young, from outgrowable ego wounds to serious derangement, he burnished his talent and forged an identity with such roles. But grooves have a way of turning into ruts, so Gyllenhaal is moving on. For starters, he treated himself to a leading role in one of last summer's guiltiest pleasures, the global-warming disaster flick The Day After Tomorrow. Gyllenhaal's part wasn't exactly a stretch. At 23 he once again played a teen, but at least the teen was bright, competent, and even lucky in love.

"He was always kind and he respected me as an actress even though I was so much younger," says Emmy Rossum, who was just 16 when she played Gyllenhaal's love interest in the film. It was the first blockbuster for the both of them, and as Hollywood baptisms go, this one featured plenty of water and mutual rescue scenes. "It took a week to shoot one," Rossum says. "We were in the tank all day doing take after take, and there was pounding rain. Jake was fun, always trying to keep up our morale."

"I was tired if thinking that as an actor you had to look bad on-screen," Gyllenhaal says about doing the role. "You had to play a 'character'. I think when I started working, doing those odd characters, I wanted to prove myself." Gyllenhaal turns 24 this month, and he's started proving himself in earnest. He's at a turning point in more ways than one, and he's highly, sometime painfully, conscious of it. "Scared shitless", as he puts it, but exhilarated, too. Last spring he was about to film the much buzzed about Brokeback Mountain when Kirsten Dunst, whom he'd been living with and has called his first real girlfriend, asked for a split after nearly two years together. He doesn't try to hide how much this rocked him. When he says with touching urgency, "I want to grow," he means it. [...]
First up is the aptly named Proof, the film version of the Tony-and Pulitzer Prize winning Broadway play directed by Shakespeare in Love's director John Madden, costarring Gwyneth Paltrow, Anthony Hopkins, and Hope Davis. Currently in post-production is Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain, based on a famous New Yorker short story by Annie Proulx and featuring Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger as young macho cowboys in pre-gay-liberation1961who fall furiously in love. The third film, Jarhead, directed by Sam Mendes and based on Anthony Swofford's lacerating memoir of his Marine service in Iraq during the first Gulf War, stars Gyllenhaal in the title role. At dinner, he describes with some trepidation the weeks of authentic boot camp Mendes is scheduling before shooting begins. I ask if authentic means actually crawling through mud on your belly under webs of barbed wire while bullets whiz overhead. " I don't know," he says, his eyes wide as he performs a a cartoon gulp.

Listening to Gyllenhaal describe these projects is like watching someone take a giant, trembling step into his own future, the breakup with Dunst a poignant reminder of the uncertainty of it all. Madden says, "Jake's got a face where you can see the weather change clearly." Because Gyllenhaal is candid about his fears, it's easy to forget the nerve - and underlying confidence- his choices reflect.[...]
Gyllenhaal can be intensely serious but he's also a serious flirt. At one point, as we sit side by side, he offers to show Batali the poison ivy he got on the Vineyard by hugging his dog, Atticus. Before you know it he's yanked up his shirt, exposing much of his torso. The poison ivy's nothing to write home about, but the Gyllenhaal torso, all golden and washboardy, is an edifying sight to behold. It's bold, impudent gesture, and flat-out sexy, too, not least because men don't usually flirt by flashing their bodies- not straight men anyway. But part of what makes Gyllenhaal such a smart-woman's heartthrob is an uncovered quality that has no place in the armored smugness of conventional masculinity. [...]

"Jake auditioned, but I'd seen his work," Madden says. "He's incapable of being unspontaneous- he approached every line as if the thought has just formed in his head. The only thin I wanted to be sure about was that he and Gwyneth matched in age onscreen. It's a very tricky part to cast because of the geek factor" Proof is set un the world of cutting -edge mathematics. Paltrow, who did the play with Madden in London before making the movie, stars as Catherine, the daughter of a math genius (Hopkins) whose mind is disintegrating. Having lived for too long in his shadow, she knows she may have inherited his genius but fears she may have his mental illness as well. After his death she is wooed out of out of isolation by his graduate assistant, Hal (Gyllenhaal), but not without frightening complications. Proof is much more than a love story; nevertheless, Catherine and Hal's relation is its pivot. Madden cast Gyllenhaal, he says, because he could handle the geek factor and still have "a masculine and romantic dimension."

Watching the movie, I felt that I was seeing Gyllenhaal play a man for the first time- a math nerd, but who's sexual and decisive and who makes a terrible mistake. There were no quirks to make him interesting , no boyish fumbling to win your heart. More that anything he seemed naked, with only himself to get him through, and that was exciting. Despite the demands of his other new films, only in discussing this role does he mention having to summon his nerve. "In Proof I just wanted to be courageous enough to show myself, and f--cked up and unclear as I am," he says, "and somehow it wasn't that odd." During the shoot he had moments of anger at having to play a character who felt so close to home. "And in a weird way it was sad," he says. "It felt like the death of something, as if I'd lost a little imagination. I want to move back from that now a little bit."[...]
The rest are, well, a little weird. But who would want it otherwise? A touch of strange is catnip to women- the interesting ones, anyway. Just ask Lovely & Amazing director Nicole Holofcener, who had never seen Gyllenhaal;s work when he auditioned to play a 17-year-old Fotomat clerk whose shyness doesn't cramp his besotted pursuit of Catherine Keener;s cranky married woman. "He came in with really high hair," Holofcener says, an audible grin in her voice. "He has some kind of rockabilly thing going. It was so weird but not pretentious at all. And then he read, and he was perfect - sweet and inherently funny without being too immature. He had a kind of wisdom, which convinced me that he could play the part without making disgusting. Probably everyone in the room was attracted to him."

"There's a playful quality about Jake that I think is very helpful to him," Rossum says. "I think women respond to him on-screen because he seems to be a sensitive but playful man, and we like that." Over dessert (all five of them), I ask Gyllenhaal where he lives." I have no idea," he says, adding that he last lived with Dunst in Los Angeles and he hasn't figured out where he wants to make his home. He loves New York and wants to do theater here, but L.A, is where he grew up, and he leaps to its defense with the passion of a native son. "I'm left with a real problem: where I want to live-and essentially, who I want to be." Looking startled by his own words, he explains, "I'm really questioning what I want to do right now. Questioning everything.
Yes, and already finding some answers."


kokodee said...

The poison ivy's nothing to write home about, but the Gyllenhaal torso, all golden and washboardy, is an edifying sight to behold. It's bold, impudent gesture, and flat-out sexy, too, not least because men don't usually flirt by flashing their bodies- not straight men anyway. But part of what makes Gyllenhaal such a smart-woman's heartthrob is an uncovered quality that has no place in the armored smugness of conventional masculinity.

Oh the merry sounds you will hear from all gyllenhaalics, male or female! He really should take off his shirt more often!

penny lane said...

Yeah Kokodee, everyone has been commenting on that part of course..! But I think overall it's an heartwarming article showing an endearing Jake all of us love...

Kendra said...

Penny Lane, that article is amazing. Whenever you want, you can send me more stuff!

Now,because men don't usually flirt by flashing their bodies- not straight men anyway.
is this woman from 19th century? All men I've dated have flashed some of their flesh, being straight.

Simon Agent 002 said...

I remember reading this interview, and it's one of his better ones...the journalist provides a great feeling of the atmosphere.
It really less fact based, then a first hand seat at the table with them.