Thursday, 13 January 2011

Jake Gyllenhaal Part 1 - Learning lessons and gathering the tools

Last night's publication of a fascinating interview between a reflective and thoughtful Jake Gyllenhaal (albeit fairly coldy and snotty) with Scott Feinberg gave us the rare chance to listen to Jake talk at great length about some of his deepest motivations and cares. In response to requests, I've taken a closer look at Jake's words. There is far too much to cover in one post (unless you want to wait 72 hours), not just looking at what Jake said, but also some of the themes raised. It is a veritable treasure trove. And so, in this first post, Jake talks about the early years and how he learned a valuable and painful lesson which ultimately led him to October Sky. There are gaps - some of the recording is unclear, especially at the beginning. And so any hesitations are mine and not Jake's.

Revenge of the Nerds

Going to the movies as a kid: 'I went to the movies a lot... When I was a kid, the actor that I loved - I was a huge fan of the Police Academy movies to be honest when I was a kid (laughs). They're great movies. There were actually really wonderful characters dealing in topics that were funny and also... I mean, mostly funny. I was a big Leslie Nielsen fan and all the Naked Gun movies I loved as a kid. I loved Revenge of the Nerds. In terms of actors that I looked up to, I... I'm trying to think,... I loved Harrison Ford because I loved Indiana Jones as a kid a lot, all of those movies. And then I loved old movies too that my parents always had us watch. I mean I loved Danny Kaye as a kid. we watched Hans Christian Andersen. I even just recently saw it, my niece had watched it, and just couldn't keep my eyes off it, how Danny Kaye, how effortless his screenwork was and how charismatic he was on screen and just the detail and the... in his performances. It looked kind of effortless and ultimately, as anyone knows who's done anything, you can see how much work is involved in that effortlessness. That I remember really, really well.'

Have a chair

'(Laughs) I do remember... I do remember getting a first laugh and I think it started that way for me. Like a lot of people have asked me that question and I never until really recently begun to think that the answer to the latter part of that question it, that it hasn't been until relatively recently that I've felt like performing is something that would be my life's work. I think as an actor, in particular, but I think anyone in the movie business whatever they do it seems to me... cos I'm always wondering if they're going to be able to get to the next job and what's it going to be and I think the nature of the business sort of in some ways thrives on knowledge and security... But it wasn't until recently that I knew that I wanted to do it through my life.'

'But when I was a kid there was a specific moment when I remember sort of getting an idea. My parents were at a dinner with their friends and we were all sort of joking and laughing and everything like that and I remember I was maybe six or eight years old and when one of the - as with a lot of the stories that one tells - it's probably not so funny when I tell it now - as one of the guests was leaving, me getting a chair from the table and telling them 'wait a minute, you forgot your parting gift, I got a chair for you...' I remember it very clearly and everybody, I don't know if they were drunk from the party or not, but everybody, that was the reason that they all erupted in laughter. But I remember that feeling... That having an idea... and then getting a response from it. I remember that really clearly and then it started to grow on me that impulse and I realised that you know, get on stage and try for the same thing.'

Gathering the tools

'My parents let me dabble in things... so I auditioned for that and when I got the role. They let me audition for things, I remember that, and what I think about it now is that I'm sure it must have been hard for them to feel that someone so young had something that they cared so much about and were passionate about. But sometimes it's like teaching a kid patience is one of the hardest lessons, it seems to me watching parents, that's the hardest thing to teach. And they tried their best, and saying to me 'I know you want to do this thing but you really have no idea of what it entails and there's a craft to it and there's... it's not just ambition and drive. It's about gathering the tools'. I remember my mother always saying that to me, 'It's about gathering the tools that you need in order to do this thing that you so desperately want to do cos you'll fall flat on your face if you don't.'

'As a teenage actor, I mean I did a little bit of work but I really did have and protect and I feel very, very protective of my life, which is what they knew, as an artist that there's no way to create anything if you don't have a life. I think that's really what they were getting at. 'You can go off and act and act and act but if you don't have a life that you're cultivating then you are going to have nothing to be inspired by. I think that as writers, as a writer and a director, and someone who's behind the camera and is a creator of a story, understands that more. Like if you're dry of ideas then usually it's because you haven't been out there living your life... I think there's always a need for kids in movies but I am not a huge proponent of it. I'm a huge proponent of... you get thrown up there and you become... you're just not aware. As a child you're innocent and you're not aware of the fact that it's an adult industry. And you have to act like an adult. And I've seen that before. I've been an adult with children in movies. It's a confusing thing, regardless of what anybody wants to say about it and I found it that way and that's what I want to say that it hasn't been until very recently that I've started to feel like it's something I've wanted to do for the rest of my life...'


'There was a time in my life where I was able to drive. I got my driver's license and I was in high school still and at the beginning part of my senior year in highschool and I had free periods at school, like I would have an hour in between class sometimes and I had double free periods, when I had two hours and I would set up times where I could audition in that two-hour block of free time during the schoolday sometimes.And I was in a school play and then I would go and audition for things. And actually the great irony of that moment for me was that I was auditioning for things, I read the script of October Sky and I remember saying... 'I want to play this part; I can play this part' and I had...[You can stop me...] But I remember when I was in high school and I had gone into an audition for a highschool play and I asked my highschool drama teacher, who was a very important influence on my life, for directions before I went in to audition for him for another audition I was going to go to and - I didn't really give it my all at the auditions...'

'I had been acting for a long time but I would get a role, and I didn't really give it my all and I'd ask him for direction... assuming that he knew that I could act and that I was, you know... and I guess it goads me that some people have experience and I see it a lot too in any field professionally...'Let me get this, it's no big deal to put my whole heart into it', and I went off and did this audition which happened to be the first audition for October Sky and then I came back and for a couple of days literally after... I wasn't cast in the play and I was devastated. And I went to my highschool drama teacher and... he had no respect. 'There was no respect for what you had to do here. How can you have respect for doing it professionally if you don't have respect for it here, and vice versa? If you don't have respect for it. So why would I want an actor like that in my play?''

'That was a huge lesson for me and then in a strange kind of event I got a callback for October Sky and I didn't want to go. I shouldn't do this! I finally went in and did it and ultimately somewhere out of that lesson I learned I think I got this part. I gave it my all. I mean everything. I gave everything I could to get that part. I remember I auditioned many times. My heart was open to the process and so I got that part from there. And I remember... there were so many things that came up there that I learned from getting that role as an actor. The lessons I learned as an actor.'

'I remember that I auditioned for Ang Lee for Ride with the Devil actually, maybe a couple of times before that and I had walked in to the audition with my hair spiked up and I had all these necklaces on and... you know, obviously, Ride with the Devil, and when I got back from Ang Lee who ironically I ended up working with in another movie (laughs) was... I couldn't see him in any of the roles, he was a modern person, I didn't understand. His hair was spiked up, his necklaces were on - I couldn't see him in the role. And so for October Sky when I auditioned for it, I combed my hair back and I wore a shirt that I thought was sort of 50s like and I really got into the character in a way that... and I started to learn all these lessons which culminated in me getting the role.'

Read here for more about Jake and his teachers.

I have written some detailed reports of October Sky over the years, including this one: You made an astronaut who went to the moon cry, Jake.

I have discovered something I share with Jake - I vividly recall seeing Revenge of the Nerds! I also remember that Police Academy 4 was the first (and possibly the last) film I ever walked out of. Part 2 tomorrow.

Includes pictures from IHJ.


Wet Dark and Wild said...

Hello everyone! Wow, so much material - it would be impssoble - well, undesirable - to squeeze all of this into one post and so here is the early part of the interview. There's a lot to look at. This is the richest interview for Jake in quite a time. We need to get him on the phone more often :)

Anonymous said...

Such dedication, WDW, to put yourself through all that torture, listening to that interview over and over again! ;-) Just kidding, of course. Thanks so much for providing a transcript; I'm looking forward to savoring this interview in printed form just as much as I did in audio.

I do love hearing him talk about October Sky, having met the real Homer Hickam a few times. That's such a sweet movie and Jake was wonderful. One of my favorite scenes is where he's going to work in the mine for the first time and those gorgeous blue eyes stare up at the stars overhead while the elevator descends. It's nice to think that Jake put "everything" into getting that role.


Monica said...

Wow thank you. I love to learn more about one of my favorite movies of Jake: October Sky.
I did not know that he auditioned for another film of Ang Lee. I'm not a fan of Ride With The Devil.

Carol said...

Thank so much for the summary Part 1 WDW:)

Was trying to listen to it through my phone today but my headphones have seen better days so couldn't really hear it.

Looking forward to Part 2:)

lemniscate said...


You're a legend! Thanks so much for putting in such effort to provide a transcript to us Gyllenhaalics of that phone interview with Jake. I started listening to it the other day, but found it quite difficult to understand. Your head must be pounding... It is a treasure...
Don't overwork yourself to bring us a new post everyday. We can be patient. (Right gang?)
Better a well rested WDW, than a burnt-out WDW.
You're amazing!!! BIG HUGZ!!!

Wet Dark and Wild said...

Morning everyone! Friday at last - thank heavens, this has not been an easy week.

Thanks so much, Susan. Glad you loike it! ooh you've met Homer?! Sorry, if I failed to take that in if you'd mentioned it before. What a fascinating man. That scene you mention is my absolute favourite too - heartbreaking and makes me think of my granddad and uncles going down into the pit for the first time. It is good to hear that this role still means a lot to Jake.

Morning Monica - I didn't know that either. I'm so glad Jake did October Sky instead :)

Thank Carol! It isn't easy to listen to in places at all. I'll give it a better go on my stereo this weekend, to see if it's any clearer.

Thank you, Lemniscate! And I appreciate that :) And that's good too know. There's a lot I want to do with this interview. It's too much to try and do in two or three posts.

Have a lovely Friday everyone!

Anonymous said...

Dear WDW, You are making a really fine service to the history of The Movies. Indeed, this whole blog is one already, with its almost dayly summarize inventory of what is happening in the world of Jake.

But you ongoing transcript will be of fundamental importance to all who are interested not only in Jake, but also in the Making of a New Movie Star. Thank you very much indeed!


Anonymous said...

Thanks WDW!! This was a lovely thing to do! October Sky will always be in my top three favorites of Jake's. As films go, I think it is quite perfect, in the highest sense of the word. It has a purity and an authenticity that makes repeat viewings a very rich experience.

paulh said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you for the transcript, WDW! It's probably a treat for directors to work with Jake when he arrives in their offices and begs them to let him play a particular role. When he's passionate like that, it means he's going to give everything he has, and it will show on the screen. Even a movie that's not all that great will be elevated by the commitment of its actors. And if it's a good movie, that might tip it into the Great category.

I'm sorry you've had a rough week, WDW. I lost electricity for four hours on Wednesday, during the worst part of a snowstorm that dumped 15 inches of snow on Boston. Then yesterday I was castigated by another driver in a supermarket parking lot because my door accidentally touched the door of his car. There was no damage that I could see, but he was wound up and completely unforgiving. Apparently I'm responsible for everything that's wrong with the world. I'm suspecting that he has either Tourette Syndrome or Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome. I expected disturbing dreams overnight, but nothing out of the ordinary came...

mermon said...

Thank you so much WDW for transcript of that interview! For your hard work and willingness to help us, non anglophone people. Now I can see
I didn't understand even half of it before. Thanks to you we may have it all.
It looks like young Jake liked comedies a lot.
I remember Police Academy, quite popular in my country.
What an interesting story about auditioning for October Sky. It priceless to get to know that.
Casting to Ang Lee movie - "I had walked in to the audition with my hair spiked up and I had all these necklaces on.." - hahahaha, I can imagine that. That's true, young Jake has some pics with necklaces:)
Ang Lee - "I couldn't see him in any of the roles, he was a modern person, I didn't understand." - I'm happy that Jake took a lesson and changed his hairdo for October Sky casting and that Ang Lee gave Jake a chance to another try in BBM :)
I liked the story about Jake's teacher from older post. It's so nice when teacher supports his pupil, is proud of him and observes his career.

I'm looking forward for part 2.

mermon said...

There are new pictures of running Jake on IHJ. He has changed a lot! He has huge biceps and legs muscles! Or he works out to pass his free time, to relax, to forget all this last stress from tabloids, or... he started to get ready for Prince of Persia sequel :), which I would love to, but I wouldn't count on that.

Wet Dark and Wild said...

Thanks very much H :) I want to do it justice. Part 2 will follow tomorrow. It's seldom Jake gets the chance to speak like this - I think phone interviews suit him. Thanks for the sentiments about the blog :)

Thanks 17:53 - I totally agree - October Sky was a great beginning for Jake.

Hi Mermon! Those were such interesting points - the support for Jake was there and finally he made use of it. Fascinating stuff. Part 2 tomorrow.

I love the running pics, although I think the arm and leg muscles are nothing new - they're just being revealed and I'm grateful for that!

Paul, that storm sounds terrible! I hope it passes over. I get so scared when I lose power - I don't like the dark. That driver is an idiot. An idiot.

paulh said...

"That driver is an idiot. An idiot."

He was thrown off-balance by a bad day that started with a "treatment" at the local V.A. Hospital and was then made worse by
my carelessness. His car was new, and he was understandably concerned about having it dented so soon. I kept a respectful distance. He asked if I saw his car when I opened the door, and I said yes. He asked if he should call the police. I said that depended on whether his car was damaged. "How could it not be damaged?" he said. I looked and saw no damage, and said so. He kept on haranguing me. he didn't go to check on it himself. There was a disconnect there. He should have reacted with relief or even happiness, but he was in his rut.

If he's being treated for cancer, I hate to think I made his misery even greater.

Wet Dark and Wild said...

I'm sorry to hear that, Paul, although as there was no damage I'd have thought he could have been less aggressive. It sounds to me as if you didn't make his misery greater, just that he was working through some feelings and you were in the wrong place. Hugs to you.