Hollywood heavyweight Jake Gyllenhaal stopped by on the final day of the Dubai Film Festival to pick up the International Star of the Year award from Variety.

Hosting an In Conversation event at Madinat Theatre, the 34-year-old celebrity kept his cool amid waves of fervent adoration, forced to declare his love for one fan, and accepting a homemade artwork celebrating his most famous movie quotes from another. In between these fits of devotion, Gyllenhaal offered a reflective, one-hour talk on his craft and career, which includes roles in Jarhead, Brokeback Mountain, Zodiac, Nightcrawler and Southpaw.

Coming from such a creative family, was it ever an option to be a doctor or a lawyer?

My grandparents were doctors. My grandfather saw me in a play once and afterwards asked me, “So when are you going to get a real job?”

With your parents being in this business, did you already have a sense of what life as an actor would be like when you were young?

When you’re brought up a certain way I think there are certain things that are innate but there’s also something deeper within me that makes it all seem natural.

Did the fact that your mother was a writer give you an insight into the inner workings?

Yes I think it does. I remember her doors were often closed and I saw the painstaking process. I would say writing is beyond any other art form because it is solitary and then the irony is that it’s taken away from you and put into other people’s hands to be interpreted, which must be lovely and horrible all at the same time.

You made a number of films over the first 10 years of your career but in the last five years you’ve made twice as many movies. Is there some design in this?

I think I learnt that worrying about perception makes everything move more slowly. When you listen to your instinct it’s quick and sharp as a knife. So a few years ago I just turned directly to my instinct without the worry about what I thought people might think.

Do you find yourself trusting your instincts more as your career has gone on?

I’ve started to realise that you could express who you were through four or five different characters and that makes everything become a little less precious.

You seem game to work with directors who are coming up. Is that part of your decision-making and something you seek out?

I do. I really do. I enjoy working with anybody at any stage of the game if they’re talented. We tend to gravitate towards those whom other people have already chosen or deemed talented. For me, I go back to trusting my instincts. I tend to listen to them purely as an artist as opposed to what everybody else is saying. If it lines up, and there’s mutual respect, we go ahead, regardless of whether anybody knows them or they’ve made a movie that everybody loves or not. That’s my process as opposed to trying to run into the rat race and trying to get attention from a lot of other people.

What was established previously that made you decide to work with directors like Denis Villeneuve and Antoine Fuqua several times over?

It’s finding like minds. Both of those directors have a profound love for the actor and a deep respect for the job. There is an intimacy with the two of them that I have and we just think alike in a lot of ways. They also give me great room when they make their movies.

What makes you come out of filming a movie saying: “Yes, that was really a great experience?”

I like to give myself a long run-time before I start shooting. So I can prepare for a long time and then I can feel like I’ve given everything and put it all out there and it won’t be my fault if it doesn’t work. I just don’t want a director to have a feeling that they don’t have everything they need to work with in the editing room.

What is the thing that actors look for in a script?

Structurally I’m looking for something that has an end and knows where it’s going. You can mistake structure with really good dialogue and vice versa. My mother always said to me: “It’s OK to ask anybody telling a story, what it’s about!” So I often ask people: “In one sentence, what is this story about?”

What are your favourite movies and are there filmmakers outside the US that you admire?

I love Jerry Maguire and The Goonies. People are usually so pretentious about it but I really love those movies. I adore every single one of Jacques Audiard’s films and I am a huge Ken Loach fan. My Name Is Joe is one of my favourite movies ever.

Which directors would you like to work with most right now?

Probably the Coen brothers. Spike Jonze. Those are the type of people whose films you see and you just listen to what they have to say. I had the honour of being on the jury at the Cannes event this year with the Coen brothers and that was what I had always wished for, to mind meld with these two brilliant people.

Are there roles that you have to shake off after you’re done filming or those which you don’t want to leave behind?

You hold a piece of them inside you whether you like it or not. When I finished Nightcrawler and Southpaw, I don’t think I really realised how much time I had put into the creation of the characters. They both changed my molecular structure a little, which sounds so pretentious but it’s true. Then after shooting is complete, you get thrust out of it and I’m like “wait I’m a boxer” and “where’s my daughter?”

What constitutes your preparation before you start filming?

There are so many different stages. There is the intellectual stage, where you’re really learning and trying to figure out facts about your character. If your character has a job then you’d go and read about it and jump on it. I will try and seek out that reality and try to experience it, learn it or at least watch it.

As for character development, different screenwriters work very differently and some create characters that allow for a tremendous amount of room for the actor to interpret, while others will give you a little less space. I prefer both.


He’s not going to lighten up anytime soon

“Most of [my roles] are yelling and breaking things … At different times in my career I have tried to present something other than what I was. People say, “when are you going to do a comedy? What you do is so dark”. I think a romcom can be really dark.”

He finds his inspiration from hip-hop. Yes really

“I take my guidance from hip-hop — I really do — treat every situation like it’s the first time and maybe the last. That’s from Biggie [The Notorious B.I.G.] you know.”

You don’t have to live a role

“If you’re playing a drug addict, I don’t think you should go and try doing drugs — it’s called acting. As much as there’s talk of method and living a character, imagination is half of it.”

On what he looks for in a script

“I think that you’re looking for a sign of confidence. As an audience we like to sit in seats and say that ‘this guy has got it’. I really look at pace, it’s a very important thing to me. You can mistake structure or really good dialogue, and vice versa, but structurally I’m looking for something that really has an end that knows where it’s going. My mother said to me early, “you need a story that you can sum up in one sentence”.

The biggest myth in Hollywood is …

“That everybody is really short, it’s just not true. I feel that’s a stereotype that I don’t appreciate. The really talented ones, maybe, but I’m really tall. Dustin Hoffman, he’s really short.”

On Brokeback Mountain

“It still feels very close to me. I think it did have a part in changing the mainstream [prejudice], and I’m very proud of being part of it. When I was offered the script, I did not hesitate. Maybe that was naive, but I’m an artist, and when some work speaks to me, I have to do it, no matter what. I had no idea what an effect it would have. If we did have an idea, I don’t think we would have been able to make the movie that we did.”

On reports he once said he’s keen to play Kurt Cobain

“Sometimes it’s the end of a long day and someone says, ‘can you just say this?’. I’m a big [Nirvana] fan. I did a movie that went straight to video — a classic — called Highway with Jared Leto, about two guys that go to Seattle in the time when Kurt killed himself. I’m a huge fan and it means a lot to me. But I don’t think I’ve got the chops man, sorry to disappoint.”

On how acting is like Pac-Man

“It’s like Pac-Man, you can say: I eat over there, then I’m going over there, then I’ll eat over there, and hopefully I don’t get eaten.”

On acting and intelligence

“I realised a few years ago that I’m not as smart as I thought I was, and that I need to do a tremendous amount of preparation to feel comfortable in any moment. I wish I had known that early on, that acting is really a craft. In the world today there’s a big emphasis on celebrity and the idea of success. What I love about acting is the success of getting pleasure from your craft. It brings me the most joy in my life. Acting offers me an opportunity to see what a real job is. To go out to the real world and learn the risk that real people are taking. The risks we take in a scene are nothing compared to risks that people take every day. And if you can learn from that, you can change your whole life. It changed mine.”


On music he likes

Oh geez. I’m a big Drake fan, so… Actually I just said that so you’d all like me more (laughs). I take my guidance from hip-hop, to be honest. To me, it’s all about every situation you act like it’s your first time and your last. That’s from Biggie, you know (laughs). I’m also listening to this band Nathaniel R and the Night Sweats. There’s Otis Redding too. And the Hamilton soundtrack.

Source: (1) (2) (3)