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Jake Gyllenhaal On His Evolution As An Actor and Why He Feels More 'Alive' Than Ever

Photo of Nigel M Smith By Nigel M Smith | Indiewire February 28, 2014 at 10:12AM

There's no denying Jake Gyllenhaal is a heartthrob, but meeting the actor in person, it's also clear that the 33-year-old is first and foremost an artist. It's evident in his recent choice of roles, and in the passionate and thoughtful way he speaks about his craft.
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Enemy, Jake Gyllenhaal

There's no denying Jake Gyllenhaal is a heartthrob, but meeting the actor in person, it's also clear that the 33-year-old is first and foremost an artist. It's evident in his recent choice of roles, and in the passionate and thoughtful way he speaks about his craft.

Gyllenhaal has always been one to take on challenging roles in provocative fare, dating back to his breakout role as a troubled teen in "Donnie Darko." In the years that followed, the actor worked with a series of notable directors including Sam Mendes ("Jarhead") and David Fincher ("Zodiak"). After experiencing a minor setback with "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time," his first bid at a blockbuster franchise, Gyllenhaal returned to the dark character studies he made his name on. His latest, "Enemy," from his "Prisoners" director and good friend Denis Villeneuve, opens March 14 and is currently available to view on DirecTV.

READ MORE: Jake Gyllenhaal, Spiders and Sex in NSFW 'Enemy' Teaser

The Toronto-set thriller centers on Adam Bell (Gyllenhaal), a university professor who, while watching a film, happens to notice that one of the actors onscreen possesses a striking resemblance to his own. Bell becomes consumed with his doppelgänger -- an actor by the name of Anthony Claire (also played by Gyllenhaal) -- and decides to seek him out. Worlds collide, and, of course, chaos ensues.

Indiewire sat down with Gyllenhaal in New York to discuss his second film with Villeneuve, their unique working relationship, and this new stage in his career.

I walked into "Enemy" without having read the book on which it's based. I watched it as a straight up thriller until that final shot that upended everything I had seen up that point. I left this film feeling not played, but dumb. Did you get the film upon the first read?

You're not in the select echelon of people.

Enemy Jake Gyllenhaal Isabella Rossellini

I knew what Denis was going for. All I need is like an anchor, conceptually, emotionally, and he explained to me what he wanted the movie to be about. You know, he wrote a bit of a manifesto and he said, "Before you read the script, this is what I want the movie to be about. I want it to be about intimacy, struggle with identity, searching for your own and how that gets mixed up with being intimate, romantically, sexually, all those things."

I love that idea of someone being split. Trying to kind of find their way and commit to in the end... a real relationship with his wife, who is pregnant with their child. You know, that's to me what the movie was about. To me, that was the beautiful hopeful ending, that I thought, "Okay, that's where he's moving towards." Now the irony of it is, and I don't know if this is a spoiler, the end is cyclical because no matter what we commit to in what we decide we want our lives to be, there's always the biological, psychological aspects that will torment us at times. You know, there's always that snake. The snake doesn't go away, you know what I mean? It's always in the corner of the woods, you just need to know where it is, so you don't step on it again. You can walk around it. And I think that's the idea of the movie to me. There's a lot of other shit there too.

But very simply, Denis said, "This is a movie about being a man in a relationship. and the fear and the relief in a certain type of commitment."I was like, "Ahh, i love that idea!"

All of what you're saying is so heady. As an actor, I'd imagine that in order to play these two characters, you had to let all that cerebral stuff go to just live in the moment.

Enemy, Jake Gyllenhaal

Well, Denis always thought he wanted it to be about two people. I always had this idea that it was about one. So we were constantly having that conversation. But to me, to play it, you need those concepts. Like going to the children's section of the library and going like, "OK, this scene at the end where Sarah Gadon's character tells me to stay, is an admittance of some sort of truth that I was, at the beginning of the movie, incapable of being able to admit." And so I think to play that, it was about being close to her and feeling ashamed, and there were a lot of things about feeling love -- I think those things kinda came into play.

Every day was an experiment in those kinds of emotions. And when I acted with myself, Denis set aside three days for the first time we meet each other to really discover that. We would discover during the day what was going on. We would start on one side and we would shoot that side, and I felt a little more comfortable playing Adam, the professor character, because he was more of a solid guy and so I'd play that.

We would just play man.

This article is related to: Jake Gyllenhaal, Denis Villeneuve, Interviews, Enemy, Prisoners, Thriller






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