What is about to unfold, over steaming cups of tea on a recent Thursday evening, can only be described as an epic bromance between two very chiseled leading men.

“I hope this doesn’t come across as too much of a fluff piece with two actors who really, really loved working with one another,” Jake Gyllenhaal says with a sigh, a bit chagrined after spending an hour extolling the numerous virtues of Hugh Jackman.

The two geek out when they’re together, their conversation ranging from stupid paparazzi encounters in Manhattan to the times they watched ESPN in Gyllenhaal’s Prisoners trailer during filming. The two instantly bonded, and Jackman gives much of the credit to his wife, Deborra-Lee Furness.

“She has a lot of qualities of Jake, actually. When the two of them got together, Deb’s like, ‘I like him, he reminds me of me. He’s awesome,'” announces Jackman, grinning wickedly. “What comes into their heads comes out. They are idealistic, big dreamers, quite romantic. Both have a wicked sense of humor, very naughty. Don’t tell them what to do.”

He turns to Gyllenhaal, who looks almost teary-eyed. “You’ll tell me the (expletive) things about yourself, which most people want to hide about themselves, especially movie stars. Deb and I have been fans of Jake since October Sky — we’ve always thought that this kid is unbelievable.”

Given the early reviews of Gyllenhaal and Jackman’s intricate revenge thriller Prisoners, the critics tend to agree. The film, opening Friday, is a thoughtful, lengthy and twisty meditation on the price of vengeance. Jackman plays an all-American God-fearing carpenter who spins out of control when his daughter gets kidnapped. And as Gyllenhaal’s tic-laden, insular cop investigates the disappearance, Jackman decides to solve the vexing and horrifying riddle on his own terms by imprisoning the weirdo (Paul Dano) he suspects of being responsible.

The film was transformative for both Gyllenhaal, 32. and Jackman, 44. For the former, it continued his recent commitment to working only on specific projects that speak to him, regardless of scope or size or paycheck. And for Jackman, who earned his first Academy Award nomination for last year’s Les Miserables, it’s a solid foray into darker, more intense and infinitely more emotionally nuanced work than his recent superhero stints as tormented Marvel Comics creature Wolverine.

Both actors approach their careers very differently. “I’m an actor who likes to prepare and sometimes my head can get in the way of me. I can over-think things,” Jackman says.

Gyllenhaal, meanwhile, seems to have a more instinctual process. “The unconscious is a huge guide. You can listen to it in different ways. If you pay attention to certain instincts, it will lead you to a very interesting place. You have to find the people you gravitate towards,” he says. “Hugh believed in me. He wanted me to play the role. He’s a massive (expletive) movie star — sorry to swear — and he has the ability to choose anything, and he chose this. He was able to champion this material.”

It’s been a powerhouse 12 months for Jackman, something the affable Australian tends to play down; he’s a genial, outgoing man who’s loath to hype his own work. He admits that for Prisoners, he broke his own rule. “I read a couple of reviews. I normally don’t read them. My publicist knows I don’t read them. She just sent me an e-mail: ‘You should read them.'”

He recalls just how surreal his first day on the Prisoners set was. “The first day of shooting, I’d just been nominated for my first Oscar. I was spinning about it. As I walked on set and I saw (cinematographer ) Roger Deakins, who had just gotten his 10th nomination. I walked up to him and said, ‘Congratulations, Roger, between us, it’s 11 nominations,'” says Jackman. In response, recalls a laughing Jackman, Deakins muttered that he wasn’t even sure he was going.

As for Jackman, “You were wearing your tuxedo underneath your costume,” jokes Gyllenhaal.

All kidding aside, for Gyllenhaal, the film explores a complex theme: “Where does forgiveness lie in ourselves and where does it lie in others? This subject matter has so much weight. It needs space. It makes it very hard to watch at times because you want to know the answer. To fathom for me, not being a parent — it’s acting out of some sort of fantasy. You would hope someone would behave a certain way, maybe not in this way.”

He played a cop before, in 2012’s acclaimed End of Watch, and had already made one film with Prisoners director Denis Villeneuve, Enemy. At the time that Prisoners was coming together, Gyllenhaal was on stage in the Roundabout Theatre Company production of If There Is I Haven’t Found It Yet. It proved fruitful.

“I was doing a play up until basically the week before we started shooting. When I was doing the show, I started playing the character on stage, which was weird to do,” he says, as Jackman nods his approval. “I would just try something. I started testing things out. The first week, I didn’t have the look totally down. I shot two very small scenes. I needed to be thinking while I was also observing. A sign I have found of highly intelligent people is that they have very interesting physical mannerisms, and I tried that. It was my job mostly to watch. That was a big aspect of it, to listen and to probe.”

Of course, there’s a flip side to playing a watchful, observant loner. “The character is hiding from his own thing. He’s scared of his past. I wanted that in the scenes. But it sometimes took me away from my real life. I haven’t worked since that. I’m about to start working again. It took a while to not look at everybody and question them. ‘What’s your truth?’ Everyone is like, ‘(Expletive) off. Go deal with your truth,'” says Gyllenhaal.

The finished product is challenging to sit through, especially for a parent, because it’s the manifestation of every mother and father’s nightmare: children going missing while playing outdoors in a bucolic neighborhood. “My wife watching it was literally gripping my hand. As far as my character goes, my wife would go further. She would lay waste to an entire landscape. There’s a lioness, that’s my wife,” says Jackman.

Though Gyllenhaal doesn’t have kids, he spends ample time with his nieces Ramona and Gloria, the daughters of big sister Maggie. But Jackman is the dad of Oscar, 13, and Ava, 8 — he understands just how brutal the subject matter is.

“Even reading the script, I felt the pit in my stomach. The key was being specific. The more research I did about it, the more I felt that weight of responsibility. Every day in the papers this story is played out,” he says.

Still, says Jackman, he didn’t draw on his own fears as a dad to fuel the helpless, protective rage that’s swelling inside his character. His family is too precious to him, as is his sanity.

“I think it’s dangerous to constantly call on your own life as an actor. I try not to always use that as a trick. I’ve seen people play with that and it screws people up,” says Jackman. “A movie like this is tough whether you’re a dad or not. I certainly hug the kids a bit tighter. I certainly watch them a bit closer.”

Jackman, who, like Gyllenhaal, lives in downtown Manhattan, will be heading back to Broadway as legendary stunt performer Harry Houdini; the script is currently being revised. And Gyllenhaal is on a severely restricted diet as he preps for the crime drama Nightcrawler, which he’s also producing —Gyllenhaal is only half-joking when he says he’s having raw kale for dinner. “I ate a lemon slice like that because I was so hungry,” he recalls, making a sour face. “And I said, ‘I love it!'”

The two get ready to wrap up the interview, but not before exchanging more sweet nothings. Jackman compliments Gyllenhaal on his commitment to character, and for being so honest about his own faults. Gyllenhaal, in turn, admires Jackman’s complexion.

“Let me say this, because it annoys him — his skin is like a baby’s (butt). How much more can you annoy someone?” jokes Gyllenhaal.

Jackman brushes off the compliment: “It’s all makeup. Plus, you come to these junkets and you get eight hours of sleep. It’s gold.”