To mark the end of the successful 12th Dubai International Film Festival, Hollywood mega-star Jake Gyllenhaal sat down to give in-depth insight into the industry and his thought processes as he climbs his way to silver screen supremacy. Buro 24/7 Middle East has all the details from the exclusive closed-door session...
Coming from such a creative family, was it ever an option to be a doctor or a lawyer?
My grandparents were doctors. My grandfather saw me in a play once and afterwards asked me, "So when are you going to get a real job?"
With your parents being in this business, did you already have a sense of what life as an actor would be like when you were young?
When you're brought up a certain way I think there are certain things that are innate but there's also something deeper within me that makes it all seem natural.
Did the fact that your mother was a writer give you an insight into the inner workings?
Yes I think it does. I remember her doors were often closed and I saw the painstaking process. I would say writing is beyond any other art form because it is solitary and then the irony is that it's taken away from you and put into other people's hands to be interpreted, which must be lovely and horrible all at the same time.
You made a number of films over the first 10 years of your career but in the last five years you've made twice as many movies. Is there some design in this?
I think I learnt that worrying about perception makes everything move more slowly. When you listen to your instinct it's quick and sharp as a knife. So a few years ago I just turned directly to my instinct without the worry about what I thought people might think.
I take my guidance from hip-hop to be honest. To me it's all about acting like it's your first time and also your last in every situation. That's from Biggie.
Do you find yourself trusting your instincts more as your career has gone on?
I've started to realise that you could express who you were through four or five different characters and that makes everything become a little less precious.
You seem game to work with directors who are coming up. Is that part of your decision-making and something you seek out?
I do. I really do. I enjoy working with anybody at any stage of the game if they're talented. We tend to gravitate towards those whom other people have already chosen or deemed talented. For me, I go back to trusting my instincts. I tend to listen to them purely as an artist as opposed to what everybody else is saying. If it lines up, and there's mutual respect, we go ahead, regardless of whether anybody knows them or they've made a movie that everybody loves or not. That's my process as opposed to trying to run into the rat race and trying to get attention from a lot of other people.
What was established previously that made you decide to work with directors like Denis Villeneuve and Antoine Fuqua several times over?
It's finding like minds. Both of those directors have a profound love for the actor and a deep respect for the job. There is an intimacy with the two of them that I have and we just think alike in a lot of ways. They also give me great room when they make their movies.
What makes you come out of filming a movie saying: "Yes, that was really a great experience?"
I like to give myself a long run-time before I start shooting. So I can prepare for a long time and then I can feel like I've given everything and put it all out there and it won't be my fault if it doesn't work. I just don't want a director to have a feeling that they don't have everything they need to work with in the editing room.
What constitutes your preparation before you start filming?
There are so many different stages. There is the intellectual stage, where you're really learning and trying to figure out facts about your character. If your character has a job then you'd go and read about it and jump on it. I will try and seek out that reality and try to experience it, learn it or at least watch it.
As for character development, different screenwriters work very differently and some create characters that allow for a tremendous amount of room for the actor to interpret, while others will give you a little less space. I prefer both.
I think you can get lost in the reality of a character really easily.
What is the thing that actors look for in a script?
Structurally I'm looking for something that has an end and knows where it's going. You can mistake structure with really good dialogue and vice versa. My mother always said to me: "It's OK to ask anybody telling a story, what it's about!" So I often ask people: "In one sentence, what is this story about?"
What are your favourite movies and are there filmmakers outside the US that you admire?
I love Jerry Maguire and The Goonies. People are usually so pretentious about it but I really love those movies. I adore every single one of Jacques Audiard's films and I am a huge Ken Loach fan. My Name Is Joe is one of my favourite movies ever.
Which directors would you like to work with most right now?
Probably the Coen brothers. Those are the type of people whose films you see and you just listen to what they have to say. I had the honour of being on the jury at the Cannes event this year with the Coen brothers and that was what I had always wished for, to mind meld with these two brilliant people.
Are there roles that you have to shake off after you're done filming or those which you don't want to leave behind?
You hold a piece of them inside you whether you like it or not. When I finished Nightcrawler and Southpaw, I don't think I really realised how much time I had put into the creation of the characters. They both changed my molecular structure a little, which sounds so pretentious but it's true. Then after shooting is complete, you get thrust out of it and I'm like "wait I'm a boxer" and "where's my daughter?"
What do you think is the one myth people have about the industry?
That everybody is really short.