One of the most heated races this awards season is in the category of lead actor, which is packed with veterans like Michael Keaton (“Birdman”), rising stars such as Eddie Redmayne and Benedict Cumberbatch (“The Theory of Everything,” “The Imitation Game”), and actors going outside their wheelhouse like Steve Carell (“Foxcatcher”).

Joining those four Wednesday morning as a SAG Awards nominee for lead actor was Jake Gyllenhaal, who snagged the slot with his chilling turn as an unscrupulous news videographer in “Nightcrawler.”

The Times caught up with Gyllenhaal to talk about his (and his dog’s) reaction, his physical transformation for “Nightcrawler” and his favorite other SAG Awards nominee.

You’re in New York today. What are you up to?

We’re about to start tech on my new play today. I guess this will give me the confidence I need to go on stage.

How did you hear about the nomination?

I was walking my dog and got a call from my publicist.

Was your dog excited?

He actually, strangely, started barking really loud.

There are a lot of strong performances from actors this year. Were you surprised to be included in today’s nominations?

There have been — particularly from peers this year, some extraordinary performances. I would hear that in rumblings in almost every interview I’ve done. I knew there were a lot of great performances in the mix, so it was a huge surprise. But I also was really excited about AFI supporting the movie the other day.

And I also am kind of super-psyched that my sister was nominated too [for “The Honorable Woman”]. I love her more than a million awards times infinity. I think she did the best work I’ve ever seen her do.

You guys can hang out at the show now too.

We hang out anyway, but it’ll be fun.

A lot of smaller films are being rewarded this year. Any thoughts on why that might be happening now?

I mean, in a way it’s no surprise. There’s an intimacy that the audience goes into the dark for. They want to feel a sense of reflection, but also a sense of real entertainment. And when you make an independent film, there’s not pressure to please the audience. You can ask the complex questions.

I mean, I’m all up for entertainment — “Nightcrawler” has one of the best car chase scenes I’ve seen in a movie. But I think there’s something about the intimacy and privacy of making a film before anybody really believes in it. That type of community creates a story and filmmaking that’s infectious and ultimately equal to the movies that are being financed by studios.

You underwent a huge physical transformation for “Nightcrawler.” Does this nomination make that seem worth it?

What’s interesting is really only an actor knows how much time goes into preparing for something you really love. And the coolest thing about this award — I mean nomination, I consider it an award already because it’s so cool to be acknowledged — is to have other actors say, “We see that, and we think you did a good job.”

This character was a particular type, and I knew I had to fit myself into him. I knew I’d had to shape myself and it would demand extraordinary concentration.