A serious man: the intensity of Jake Gyllenhaal
Gyllenhaal brings such a heft to his roles – a trend maintained in ‘Prisoners’ – it’s a surprise to learn he has only just decided that acting is the trade for him
A tough, conflicted version of Jake Gyllenhaal as a detective on the hunt for the kidnappers of two young girls in ‘Prisoners’
A tough, conflicted version of Jake Jake Gyllenhaal as a detective on the hunt for the kidnappers of two young girls in ‘Prisoners’
Jake Gyllenhaal and Jena Malone in cult favourite ‘Donnie Darko’
You know who Jake Gyllenhaal is. He’s stammered his way nervously through Donnie Darko and Brokeback Mountain. He is brother to Maggie Gyllenhaal, brother-in-law (via Maggie) to Peter Sarsgaard. He is close to cornering the market on a certain class of charming vulnerability. You want somebody a little more civilised than Gosling and a little less rumpled than Ruffalo? Gyllenhaal is your only man.
It comes as a surprise then to discover that Gyllenhaal – now 32 – has only recently become comfortable in an actor’s skin.
“There has always been a question of doing other things,” he says. “It is a family business, but it had only recently become my life’s work. It is only recently that I have realised this is what I wanted to do.”
Well, he is on something of a roll. So perhaps this is the time to belatedly commit. Two years ago, he ate up the screen in Duncan Jones’s terrific time-travel puzzler Source Code. Last year, he delivered a cracking turn in David Ayers’s cop movie End of Watch. This week, you can see him in the best straight-up mystery thriller you are likely to see for quite some time. Denis Villeneuve’s grey, tense Prisoners finds a tough, conflicted version of Gyllenhaal as a detective on the hunt for the kidnappers of two young girls. Hugh Jackman turns up as a father who takes the law into his own hands.
A warm reception
It must be nice to promote a film that people really like. Who knows what people will make of your work?
“Yeah. You never quite know,” he says. “I think that is the plight of anyone who does anything that has any sort of result to it. And you particularly don’t know if you’re an actor, because film isn’t your medium. And my brother-in-law said something interesting: you can, as an actor, make the mistake of assuming a positive response is about you. It might not be.”
This is a reasonable point. A lot of people deserve credit for the success of Prisoners. Aaron Guzikowski’s debut script – plucked from the “Black List” of best unproduced screenplays – twists with great elegance. The rest of the cast is strong: Jackman, Melissa Leo, Terrence Howard, Paul Dano, Viola Davis. But Gyllenhaal forms the film’s knotty core. Although there are only a few clues to the cop’s backstory, Gyllenhaal fleshes him out into a rounded personality.
“I spent months on that,” he says. “I spent months working out who he was. There is a line about him being in a boys’ home. When I was making End of Watch, I talked to a lot of detectives. The best of them have had some sort of criminal involvement in their past. They have to be in some way in love with the criminal mind.”
Tall, dark and intense
Very dark, impressively tall in a good two-button suit, Jake Gyllenhaal comes across as a fairly intense sort of fellow. You would bet that he thinks long and hard about any role that comes his way.