Tuesday, November 13, 2012
The Times of London sees End of Watch as redemption for Jake Gyllenhaal
Round, close-set eyes, long face, upturned nose, beatific grin... No matter how hard one tries to banish the thought, when you see Jake Gyllenhaal, you can’t stop the image of Woody from Toy Story popping into your head. Maybe that’s why he got cast in Brokeback Mountain; perhaps Heath Ledger reminded the producers of Buzz. Today, though, the picture is somewhat skewed, because Gyllenhaal’s youthful looks are obscured by an added cartoonish adornment — a beard of such pirate-captain volume and lustre, you suspect there’s a band around his head, holding it in place.
We are used to black-clad Hollywood bucks disfiguring themselves in the name of art, as if handsomeness precludes integrity, so this is nothing out of the ordinary. The face rug is, however, for a part; he’s appearing in If There Is I Haven’t Found It Yet at the Laura Pels Theatre, in New York.
Lampooning Gyllenhaal — with a soft “g” — is a bit mean. He is, it turns out, a most excellent and genial fellow. Generous, too, breaking bread in a downtown Manhattan hotel, late in the afternoon, when he really ought to be limbering up backstage for tonight’s show. “I happen to like not starting my engine until very soon before,” he says. “It makes it a little more exciting for me.”
So why the comeback? “It was a questioning of what I want to do with my work and my life, and if I felt fulfilled,” he says. “I think it may have been turning 30. I’d made a promise to myself that I would really only pursue my artistic instincts, no matter where it took me, and I kind of broke that promise.”
There is a contrivance, in that the film is supposedly viewed through Gyllenhaal’s omnipresent digicam: “YouTube meets Training Day,” as Ayer put it. Key to the exercise, Gyllenhaal says, was realism. He spent five months on night-time ride-alongs with the LAPD, cruising the ’hoods seen in the movie. Whenever an actor makes such a claim, I say, one can’t help but think of the film The Hard Way, in which, for the purposes of filmic research, a pampered movie star (played by Michael J Fox) is foisted on an abusive hard-boiled detective (James Woods). “So do I,” he chuckles. “And, by the way, don’t think we didn’t get all that shit while doing it for real. The very first ride-along, we were the second call on a shooting, a murder. Guy bled out right in front of me.”
Gyllenhaal runs through the highlights, picking out Donnie Darko, the Sundance hit The Good Girl (as Jennifer Aniston’s toy boy) and Jarhead as particular favourites. “And obviously Brokeback Mountain [his Oscar-nominated, Bafta-winning turn as the gay cowpoke Jack Twist], not just for the process, which was incredibly special, but for the result that came out of it. I’m so grateful to that movie for everything.” One might add David Fincher’s serial-killer docudrama, Zodiac, or Love & Other Drugs, opposite Anne Hathaway, with Gyllenhaal as a Viagra-touting pharmaceutical salesman.
You know your most underrated performance, I say. “No?” Bear Grylls: Man vs Wild — a corking episode in which Gyllenhaal and the survival expert are dropped on a glacier in Iceland, then yomp across volcanoes, swim icy waters and try to eat a rotting sheep. He laughs. “That was fun. That was the start of all this crazy stuff, going on the streets with cops after going with Bear. I thought, ‘Yeah, this sounds dangerous. Let’s do it.’”
One thing Gyllenhaal’s new direction won’t include is the screen version of Fifty Shades of Grey. Stories have spread across the internet linking him to the part of the priapic Christian Grey, something based on the casual comments of the book’s author, EL James. “Literally, I know nothing about that.”
Currently, he has a more pressing engagement, with a theatre audience. He’s cutting it fine and still has the rush-hour traffic to contend with. You know what, he says, family business or not, acting would still have been his vocation. “Because, at times, there is nothing that brings me more joy than being up on the stage or being in a movie, watching an actor give an extraordinary performance across from me. That gives my soul joy. And I know it sounds like a total cliché, and it is, and in print it sure will be, but it does.”