Actor Jake Gyllenhaal won rave reviews for his role in the film "Brokeback Mountain." But along with the kudos comes curiosity as well. Serena Altschul has our Sunday Profile:
For actor Jake Gyllenhaal, being in movies for some 26 of his 36 years means it tough telling fact from fiction. "Throughout my career, the number of times I've answered the question, 'We heard Paul Newman taught you how to drive,' and I'm like, my poor father!" he laughed.
"So, set the record straight: He didn't teach you how to drive," Altschul asked.
"No, he didn't teach me how to drive. My father taught me how to drive!"
Yes, Paul Newman was his godfather. And Jake was born to Hollywood director Stephen Gyllenhaal and screenwriter Naomi Foner. But he says that doesn't mean his upbringing was filled with glamour.
"What I remember of my childhood is that my parents were very hard workers, always trying to get things made," he said.
In fact, because of his own hard work honing the roles he plays in the movies, he says he's often mistaken for his complex, con-screen characters.
"Surprise: I'm not the characters I play!" he said.
Take 2005's "Brokeback Mountain," about forbidden love between two cowboys, played by Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger.
Altschul asked, "Did anybody say to you, like, this might be a career problem for you?"
"Yeah, yeah. I mean, but c'mon. To me it was never anything that I thought really twice about when I took that movie. By the way, afterwards, you know, I definitely got an onslaught, and at times definitely today at different times people really love to joke about it."
That portrayal earned him an Oscar nomination. It was, he said, a career high point for him.
And now, there's Oscar talk around Gyllenhaal's latest performance. In "Stronger," a movie he co-produced, he plays real-life Boston bombing survivor Jeff Bauman.
When asked whom he thought about playing him, Bauman, joked, "I like Denzel Washington, so I'm like, 'Denzel can play me!'"
Bauman lost both legs in the attack, but his spirited determination to overcome the obstacles he faced became an inspiration to the city … and a challenge for Gyllenhaal.
"His story just humbled me and made me feel like I was nowhere near the person that he is," Gyllenhaal said. "And I questioned while I was doing it whether I ever could be."
He says he looked to Bauman for help. "I'd show him how I take my legs off, how I get in and out of chairs, and how I sit up," Bauman said. "In the movie, it's just perfect."
Perfect, in part, because of the subtleties in his performance -- nuances that have become something of a trademark … from a cameraman stretching the limits of morality in "Nightcrawler," to a boxer fighting for his family in "Southpaw," to an investment banker lashing out against the sudden death of his wife in "Demolition."
"I find myself all the time trying to follow rules," he said, "and one of the safest places that I've had in my life to not follow those rules is in my work. Finding characters I think that are outside those boundaries and exploring those things in myself that I'm curious about are the reason why I do what I do."
It's been that way almost from the first. His breakthrough role was in the cult classic "Donnie Darko," playing a teen experiencing visions after a freak accident.
His costar, playing his older sister, was his real-life sister, Maggie.
Altschul asked, "Were there other projects or things you'd like to work with her on?"
"That was it, that was the only thing," he said.
"That's it? One film?"
"Yeah, I mean we're not really like a circus act, you know?" he laughed.
But like a traveling performer, Gyllenhaal takes on all kinds of challenges. He's worked on more than 45 stage and screen projects.
These days, it's his private life that's on his mind -- if he could only get some privacy.
Altschul asked, "Are you thinking, I'm 36, it's time to think about family?"
"Yeah. Absolutely. Yeah. I mean, I would be like the luckiest person, I feel like, in the world if that were to happen."
"It's not a given?"
"No. It's a search. And if I think about the relationships in my life that mean the most to me, it's just there is not a lot of pretend. That means we, I guess, we need to know ourselves. I need to know myself as best I can to be able to be as honest as I can.
"Hopefully with cameras around all the time, right?" he added.
Gyllenhaal dismisses many of the rumors that swirl around his off-screen activities. "Even I don't know all the potentially famous people that I've dated, you know?" he laughed.
"You didn't even meet half of them?"
"No, I honestly have not. So that should be something that I've admitted here."
"You mean a lot of it's rumor? A lot of people you'd 'dated,' just that's not true?"
"I'm gonna go on record right now and tell you absolutely."
Happily, Jake Gyllenhaal has found at least one true love -- the Broadway stage. Most recently he appeared in Stephen Sondheim's "Sunday in the Park with George":
"You love to sing and dance?" Altschul asked.
"Let's take dancing out of it. But I do love to sing and act, yes."
"But you dance?"
"There's an occasional dancing in there, but like, man, you are pushing me today! Relationships! Dancing! I'm not saying that I like to dance. Let's be clear about that."
In point of fact, his stage work has been hailed by critics and audiences alike -- and Jake Gyllenhaal reluctantly admits he's savoring every minute.
"I can't put into words how much joy it gave me, and gives me, that I did it," he said.
"Kind of like this interview?" Altschul asked.
"Yes, yes. When I do my next interview, I'm gonna tell them how much joy this interview brought me!"
To watch a trailer for "Stronger," click on the video player below.
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