Jake Gyllenhaal Finds Joy in the Process

November 26, 2017

Jake Gyllenhaal is celebrated for his many performances including the title role of Donnie Darko and his Oscar-nominated portrayal of Jack Twist in Brokeback Mountain. When Gyllenhaal takes on a role, he’s known to commit intensely to the character. This can include physical transformations like when he dropped nearly 30 pounds for his role in Nightcrawler or gained 15 pounds of muscle for his part in Southpaw. But while his devotion to the process is a discipline, it’s also a joy.

In this Off Camera interview, Jake discusses how he had five months to prepare for the Southpaw role of boxer Billy “The Great” Hope. In addition to his bodily transformation, he states he was “around boxers all the time, going to every fight that I could, researching the history of what my character had gone through, going to orphanages, and talking to people in the system, and being there and picking up that energy. Like picking it all up and trying to sort of exist in it, and then putting that into–after enough time–you know, I feel like almost your molecular structure changes a little bit and then you put that onto the screen. And I think that translates to an audience … and I find joy in that kind of process.”

Gyllenhaal likewise exhibited a burning conviction while prepping for his role in the crime drama End of Watch. The film was shot in 22-days, but he was given six and a half months to develop the part of police officer Brian Taylor. Director David Ayer required that Jake and costar Michael Pena spend their days with gangsters; they went on 12-hour ride-alongs with Los Angeles cops up to three times a week; they received training in hand-to-hand combat, police tactics, and weapons including being Tased to immerse themselves in the material. “It changed my life–everything about my life,” Gyllenhaal said.

“The very first ride-along I went on, I saw someone killed. And then what ensued was six months of that and a lot more than that,” he revealed in an interview with Inside the Actors Studio. “Very often times there were situations where Michael Pena and I would look at each other and realize: here we are with two flashlights and bullet-proof vests in the middle of Southeast LA, we’re told to get behind the back of a car because there’s some s*** going down, and we go like, ‘This is for real, this is why we do what we do.’ And I think we brought all of those experiences into the movie with us.”

Gyllenhaal’s father is a TV and film director and his mother is a screenwriter, producer, and director. As they worked on various projects, Jake’s childhood was filled with an appreciation for the creative process. His father would read through scenes with Jake to prepare for auditions, and in doing so, taught his son many fundamentals of acting.

“My father loves actors, and he loves having faith in the fact that someone’s going to show him something that he never thought was possible.” He continued, “It sticks with me to this day obviously. I mean it is everything to know that you constantly want to impress that person who is at the helm, and you want to give them every possible instinct that you have, every piece of your mind and your brain, and the work you’ve done, and the preparation and the time, so they can make the best possible story.”

No Regrets in Auditions

August 20, 2012

Chris Cooper once told me to never have any regrets. After Chris said that to me, I walk into every scene thinking, ‘Exhaust every possibility.’ Once you get to a certain place, it’s like you just deliver everything you’ve got. Don’t have any regrets. It pops up in my mind over and over and over again.”–Jake Gyllenhaal

Have you ever left an audition convinced you could have done a better job? For some reason, you didn’t give it your all. Maybe you felt inexplicably uncomfortable with the material; you might not have had the right chemistry with your partner; perhaps you had trouble parking and had to rush into the studio red faced and sweating. Countless are the ways an actor can get thrown off during an audition. Indeed, Thespian legend has it a successful actor blew his callback because he was distracted by the smell of hamburger. The clients were munching away while he struggled to read his lines–having skipped lunch, the poor fellow was starving.

So what to do with these kinds of regrets? Do you agonize over the lost opportunity? Do you carry the dent in your confidence around with you into future auditions? While some anesthetize their feelings with a pint of ice cream or a bottle of fine wine (or a bottle of cheap wine) you can do better! How about avoiding the slump by simply asking for another take? While you won’t always be granted another try, sometimes you will be given that extra chance. But remember, if the lobby is as busy as a beehive and it appears the camera operator is about to go postal, that is not the time to ask for another take. And you certainly don’t want to become a habitual give-me-a-second chancer. So pick your spots. And if you are given the green light to try again, deliver everything you’ve got!