“How do you fall in love with a sociopath?” asks writer Dominic Sidhu in the inaugural issue of NeueJournal. “Jake Gyllenhaal connects to the core of his characters by opening his heart to the darkest parts of their worlds,” he continues, “The actor examines the empathy behind his complex performances, the magnetism in vulnerability and gives us a taste of the sweat behind his newest role in Southpaw.”

Gyllenhaal is one of the many famous faces in the debut issue of NeueJournal, a 264-page publication from NeueHouse—a place for creative people by creative people. The covers were all shot by famed photographer Brigitte Lacombe. Here the actor delves into his mental and emotional journey. Read on and see more when the inaugural issue hits newsstands July 1:

I never think of the characters I play as inherently disturbed. I’m more disturbed by characters who don’t have an inherent flaw, or who don’t have some awareness of their own intricate struggle.

I’m looking for the subtleties and idiosyncrasies that make it real. If I’m told my character is a sociopath, I’m going to find the parts of him I could love. If someone says my character is totally healthy— whatever that means, I’m going to find the darker parts of him. It’s not to be contradictory, and I wouldn’t say it’s a form of rebellion. I believe that art can create empathy and at its best there’s an absurdity to it all. There’s a kind of madness to being human, but it becomes harder to see as you get older. Perhaps madness is the wrong word. It’s a kind of vulnerability. But the flip side of that is a childishness that we all have, and that is what I try to draw out in these characters. I think however you were raised, whatever environment you came up in, in this incarnation or maybe even in the many lives you lived before—all the experiences you’ve accumulated, become a subtle part of you. I love these deeply human subtleties.

Popular movies tend to say that we should only have one continuous feeling, but I believe, and this may have a tinge of pretention, but if you look at a river, it’s going to look like it’s flowing in a single direction, but everything in it is being pulled a hundred different ways, and those different factors are part of its current. I look at characters that way—maybe in their circumstances they are going one way but beneath the surface, something else is happening, there are conflicts, different impulses, other choices.

There’s another level to this—of making the character unconscious in my body, and making them part of my molecules and locating that level of awareness. A lot of this happens in preparation and that is the part I love more than anything—it can be the biggest part of the process. I can spend four or five months researching, and putting myself in their environment to the point where their decisions become instinct, there are still choices, but their experiences can start guiding you.

This can be physical. With Southpaw, my character Billy is a boxer and is very much about being in his body. I spent more than five months training and really changed the molecular structure of my body. That kind of physical transformation goes deeper than muscles. It affects your psyche at a subconscious level. We are made up of 90 percent water—and in all the sweat of the role and the physical conditioning, something is internalized—the environment, the lifestyle of that level of training becomes very real. One of the things the film is about is vulnerability. Billy is struggling with his own rage and has been applauded for that in the ring. His rage has gotten him where he is, he’s a boxer, he fights and fights and fights and at the end of the movie, because a series of things that happen, he recognizes the importance of vulnerability, of essentially being a good father, being a good person in the world.

To go to that place, to give everything and still be healthy, you need to recognize and create boundaries. Trust is essential, and there has to be a level of an intimacy with your director and with the other actors, where you can be vulnerable and you can listen to them. And ultimately you have to be definitive and clear about the place you are willing to go. You need to be able to know what a safe space is. With Southpaw, the director Antoine Fuqua and I became very close. He created a world, where we knew Billy would have to completely let go, and that there would be this breaking point, but I could allow for that, because I knew Antoine always kept me safe, and I always knew I could come out of it and take a breath. Commitment and discipline aren’t about not resting; I think pulling yourself out of it is a huge part of the process. It lets you be more intense.

These stories teach you a lot about yourself. Sometimes it’s only after the fact, you realize why you told them. It’s not about how people respond to it, it’s very personal. Southpaw brought me to a new chapter where I’m more interested in vulnerability. When I look back at the last five characters I’ve played, there’s been a sort of brokenness and protective quality in them. With Billy, there’s this change and this vulnerability, and I think now I feel myself move more towards opening my heart in character. I’m interested in moving in different directions and listening to my instinct more. You listen to that and it’s a question of fate, free will and destiny. You wonder, “Am I listening to myself? Or is something else guiding me?” I’m not sure. But that is what I’m looking to explore.