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May 2004
The Day After Tomorrow: An Interview with Jake Gyllenhaal

By Todd Gilchrist

The Day After Tomorrow: An Interview with Jake Gyllenhaal

Jake Gyllenhaal may be best known as "the guy who almost became "Spider-Man"," but with the release of this week's "The Day After Tomorrow", in which he plays a teen trying to stay alive during a cataclysmic storm, the actor joins such prodigious talents as Tobey Maguire and Leonardo DiCaprio as the latest heartthrob to leap onto the big screen and take it over. He's already done films of critical repute, including "October Sky", "Moonlight Mile" and Miguel Arteta's "The Good Girl", but with this, Gyllenhaal finds himself navigating literal tidal waves rather than the emotional ones he's easily traversed before. Gyllenhaal spoke to blackfilm.com about his experiences on the picture, about negotiating special effects and waist-deep water, as well as his evolving status in Hollywood as a performer on the brink of A-list success.

Let's start off with a good one. What is the most embarrassing moment you've ever had on a set?

JG: Well, I know this is going to sound really actorly, but probably when I haven't delivered what I know everybody knows I can deliver and what I know I can, but I don't. That's pretty embarrassing.

Can you talk about the most challenging thing you had to do in this film?

JG: The most challenging thing for me was making scenes that I think have very little sub-text have some reality to them. You have to get so much information in such a short period of time. Making something feel like you're actually saying it and it's not some plot device was really hard for me. And then there's the tank. I like sitting in a tank with 700 extras going in the bathroom in it, and then reusing that water to then shoot another scene where you're drowning in water, that's disgusting, and it's hard, but it's not as hard as like trying to make a line like 'He will come' work. [Laughter] That's really hard.

So this film script wasn't big on character development?

JG: No, but this is a movie that reaches a lot of people in a lot of different countries all over the world who don't all speak English, and who don't all understand 'Americanisms' and things. There needs to be things that are simple and can be translated. So many people see it and it's important for it to have a message, but it's also a problem because you don't, as an actor, get to play around as much, but it services this type of film really well. And you can't do it any other way because it's just talk and get hit in the face with action.

You and Dennis Quaid play dad and son but didn't have many scenes together to establish your relationship. Did you talk about it?

JG: Yeah, well I was really gung-ho at the very beginning of the movie, trying to make the relationship really poignant. I remember Dennis kind of sitting me down one day and saying like, 'You gotta chill out. It's an action movie.' [Laughter] He was funny about it, but he was like, 'You have to make this work, but like again it has to be in the vein of what it is'. We actually would do a lot of stuff, like I would come in when he was doing phone scenes when we're talking on the phone. I would be there in the other room for him. So, I was there.

Did you hang out a lot together too off the set?

JG: No we didn't have that much time really. We worked very sporadically. He would work a week and then I would come in. So, then I would work for two weeks, he'd work, I'd leave, he'd work for two weeks. In fact, Roland said next time he's going to do a movie like this, where there are so many different story lines going on, he really wants to block shoot everybody. It just makes it really hard to keep performances consistent. It would have been great if Dennis and I shot our stuff at the very end that was us together, after we had our specific things, because the actors I think that did shoot, they were easier to cut for Roland.

This was your first big action film. Were you kind of lost?

JG: You should have seen me, I was like independenting it. [Laughter] I was not hitting my mark and being in the moment and doing whatever I needed to do, and they're like, 'There are 800 extras behind you, dude. You've got to hit the mark'. And Roland is like, 'And there is an enormous wave that I'm figuring out, so you need to be in the blue screen'. So there was that, but I also think that [independent] spirit needs to be in these movies because if it's not, then they suck and they're really boring to watch and I think you want people to be enthusiastic about their performance in the movie even though people don't necessarily remember the performances in them. I know that people walk out of the movie going, 'Oh, that wasn't stupid. That was actually like scary and fun, and I believe that' because we all have that attitude.

Was there awareness among the cast that you were in an action movie with a message (about global warming)?

JG: Every day we got together and discussed it (laughs). No, I think for me, whenever I would get down or I'd be having a hard time or I'd be in the middle of nowhere in the cold in Montreal I'd always say to myself, 'At least this movie has something to say. I don't this it was conscious in us, looking at the monitor and being like, 'did you get that minority in there?' but we all think it's an issue that's really important.

Was the environmentalist bent something Roland pushed throughout production?

JG: Yeah, it was like when I was auditioning for Bertolucci, he was like, 'you're going to have to get naked in this movie. If you don't want to get naked then you can't do it.' Roland was like, 'look, this is a movie about the environment, and if you don't want to help the environment and get out of your car and recycle, you can't be in this movie.' It was a very similar discussion (laughs). I know there's no irony in print, either.

This movie may push you more into the public eye and more in front of the paparazzi. Are you ready for that?

JG: If it were to happen, I would have a better perspective on it then, but I knew what I was getting myself into and if I didn't, well, I shouldn't be doing it. And if I'm going to complain about it I shouldn't be doing it either. There's a part of me, a part of that masochistic side, that likes it, and then there's also part of me that doesn't like it. There have been a few times recently where I go home and I need to take my dog for a walk and then there's these guys taking pictures of me taking my dog for a walk. For a little while, it was a time when I could just unwind and now it's not that anymore. But I know what it's about.

But your dog doesn't.

JG: Yeah, the dog doesn't, but I can teach the dog how to sic photographer. [Laughter] Sic camera, sic photographer.

How close were you actually to getting "Spiderman 2" or was that just blown out of proportion?

JG: It's kind of stupid to talk about because it's not my part, and it's Tobey's part. It's his and it always will be, and it came up when there were issues with his back and what was going on with that, and it was really flattering, but I'm really happy that he's playing the part.

Are you nervous about doing the upcoming role in "Brokeback Mountain"? I mean isn't it a love story between guys?

JG: The movie is about identity and about figuring out your identity and that I'm more scared about facing than the part of it which is a love story between two guys. I mean, look you do a love scene in any movie it's uncomfortable. Tons of people are watching you and it's not real and it's a very intimate thing and you're faking intimacy in a weird way, you know? It's the scenes before and after it that make it intimate.

What is your favorite personal performance of yours from your independent days?

JG: I probably would say there are pieces of every performance that I like, not one performance that is great. But I do like the movie "Lovely & Amazing".

And what did you feel you personally achieved in that one?

JG: A comfort, a real sense of camaraderie on the set which made me feel comfortable. I was a young actor not having the experience that so many other actors have who have been in the business for a long time. Building up a defense and figuring out ways of bringing things up even when you're not supported, is something I don't have. Whenever I feel like I falter, it's because I don't feel like I'm completely supported. In that movie, I walked into rehearsals with Catherine Keener and she immediately made me feel sexy and I remember Nicole Holofcenter, the director was like, 'Do you want some coffee?' and I'm 'Yeah, I'll have some coffee.' She's like [Catherine] 'I'll have anything he has.' And I was like, 'Okay, cool!' You don't get that from other actors. Usually you walk on and you're like, 'Can I have a coffee?' And they're like 'oh, you want coffee.' And I'm like, 'what? What's wrong with coffee?' So I like that film because I just felt relaxed and myself, and honest, and happy.

So you think it's important to star opposite somebody that is really supportive?

JG: Yeah. But then there are actors who are really amazing who I've worked with, who I just don't mesh with also, who give an incredible performances, and we just don't have the same style. I unfortunately, right now in my life need a lot of help, and there's some actors that don't. There are some actors who can just rehearse and show up and deliver and then give you a little on your side and then you go home. I really need a real connection.

What did you learn on this movie that you had not learned before?

JG: Learning how to relax was a really big thing, to not take things so seriously. There'd be days where I'd come off set, before I did this movie, I'd be like, 'I sucked', and beat myself up all night. Waste my free time, and it's done and it's over, and this movie, because I knew a lot of it was beyond my control, I just kind of walked off set and would be like, 'That's it, I thought it sucked, but it's fine, I have tomorrow to figure it out.' And I'm going to take that into more character-driven serious performances, and again I think it really loosens me up.

Do you plan on doing more theatre?

JG: Yeah, I really want to do more stage. [Maggie Gyllenhaal], my sister is on stage in Brooklyn right now, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, doing Tony Kushner's new play, and she has basically rewritten a lot of the play with Tony. There's this thing in the New York Times about it, and she got this amazing review in the New York Times about how she was an actress that everybody needs right now. And she's really inspired me again. That's what the creative process needs to be. And then the fact that a journalist recognized that that's what it needs to be made me go, 'Yeah, I really want it,' because I was like, 'Oh, do movies, because all the offers are coming in now.'

Did you decide to drop out of college?

JG: Yeah. I don't know. I might go back. I went to Columbia. I learned really core modern western thought in two years and what shaped that, and I feel myself very well educated because of it, so whether I graduate and I get the degree - I'm just hoping for one of those honorary degrees.

Donnie Darko is a cult film among teens and young adults especially. It's being re-released - what are they changing in the film and do you think it will find more of an audience now?

JG: I'm not sure what the next installment, the next version of the "Donnie Darko" will be. I know that Richard (the director) is re-cutting it and it will be 20 more minutes. I'm really interested to see if it just going to kind of stay this thing that people want to be underground, in the shadows, or if people are really going to want to see it like that. I'm just happy because things like that don't get a second chance that often. We were joking the other day that the new version would be like me and Richard doing a commentary over it, 'That was such a fun day.' 'I know' or like, 'this is the new version? This sucks'.

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