“I like the feeling of walking into a place and not knowing what’s going to happen,” Jake Gyllenhaal said as he entered the artist Bill Viola’s studio in Long Beach, California, on a clear day in early fall. He was wearing loose khaki cargo pants and a black T-shirt, and he was with his father, Stephen, who was one of his first directors.
Gyllenhaal, who is 33 and lives in downtown Manhattan, grew up in Los Angeles and began acting in plays when he was a student at the prep school Harvard-Westlake.
He landed his first major film role at 15, in October Sky, and from that point on was considered to be an emerging leading man. For a while he went along with that notion, starring in blockbusters like The Day After Tomorrow; but, beginning in 2005, with Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain—for which he received a best supporting actor Oscar nomination for his heartbreaking portrayal of a cowboy in love with another man—Gyllenhaal has gravitated toward offbeat, less “heroic” characters.