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November 2005
JARHEAD: An Interview with Jake Gyllenhaal

JARHEAD: An Interview with Jake Gyllenhaal

By Wilson Morales

Jake Gyllenhaal is currently one of Hollywood’s youngest actors who’s blazing on the big screen with great roles and working with Oscar winning actors and directors. We saw him earlier this fall playing opposite Gywneth Paltrow and Anthony Hopkins in the film, ‘Proof”, and now we are see him again in a role that challenged him physically and mentally. In ‘Jarhead”, Gyllenhaal plays a marine named Tony Swofford who has no idea what’s in store for him when his platoon gets ship to the desert in anticipation for a war. In speaking about his role at a press conference to promote, Gyllenhaal also talked about how he lost a tooth while filming and working with Jamie Foxx.

Sam Mendes had made the comment that he saw you transform from a boy to a man, with making this movie. What was the journey like for you making this movie, and did you see yourself change and if not how so, if so how so?

Jake: Well the main difference is I started the movie with no hair on my body and then I seem to get hair all over my body. For me I think, with Sam it was like we went through a pretty, I went through a pretty, I wouldn’t say rigorous but it was a long process of him casting me. It wasn’t really like rigorous necessarily but at least in my mind, you know I went through a lot of things and I really wanted to do the part from the beginning, so I was into it, and along the way, I thought at times I wasn’t going to get it, so for me, he put me through a long process and by the time he cast me I think he was pretty sure he wanted me to play the part. And in wanting me to play the part, I think he accepted that he wanted me, like for me and for the things I had inside of me, in me he saw that there were things that probably other people, other directors hadn’t seen before and he wanted to push. Just the idea of letting me, for wanting me for everything that I could give, that I could just do what ever I want and not be wrong gave me the opportunity to go to a place where I think, in knowing that you’re stable enough and being that if you make, what ever choice you make, is going to be okay. I feel that’s part of what being or becoming a man is; in knowing that the choices that you make you have a good enough conscious time to do that, what ever you do will be, it’ll be alright. And that’s what Sam sort of like ushered me into, I think he ushered me into not pretending to be something that I wasn’t or putting on something that I thought I should be; it was just, just purely like oh you’re doing that, that’s fine but I see maybe there’s more there, you know in many scenes he would say to me how do you want to this, we could shoot your coverage first or we could shoot something, we could do their coverage first, we can come back, how are you feeling like, what do you feel, what are you actually feeling? You know, not I’m going to force you into my agenda, you know. And in doing that it kind of forced me to see me for who I was. I wasn’t putting on any for him or anyone else and that made me grow up immediately and on top of all that, there was the physical stuff of just pushing my body to a limit where it had never been pushed before and then there was also just being around a lot of people who I really respected and looked up to, people like Jamie Foxx, Peter Sarsgaard, who are in my opinion, really like admirable men and you know, and also our military advisors who are, to me, people who have been and seen some really incredible and awful things and are still kind, caring, really cool people and particular grown ups you know, and so I just looked up to all them and the things they did I, you know I tried to emulate at times and then I, it was just a process of growing up, you know and Sam opened me up to that, it’s weird because I think on movie sets, people tend to act immaturely, you know, or they’re allowed to and Sam would actually ask for the opposite so we just, that’s how it went.

Jake, why were you so passionate about doing this, and was it easy for you to relate to this guy?

Jake: I first read the book and I was like, well the prose in the book is just extraordinary. The way Tony writes sentence after sentence is just, even when I read them in the book, the opening quotes of the movie over black are Tony’s words. They’re direct; they’re lifted from the book directly. We were in the last day of shooting, Sam brought me into the ADR stage, and we read some excerpts from the book and we read the voice over that had already been written in the book and I mean, in the script, so it was, the book itself just spoke to me somehow and it was like a generation I think of people, a style in the same way that Dave Eggers has defined a sort of generation of writers. Jarhead the book didn’t have that much of it and I just related to it somehow, that idea of like, it wasn’t like a clear through line, I don’t think the movie really has that either, I mean you’re looking forward to war most of the time, but if I was to ask you what scene came before another scene you probably wouldn’t be able to tell me, as I probably wouldn’t be able to tell you and I’ve seen the movie now three or four times and I’ve shot the movie for five months and there’s a style to that that I really responded to and then just in the character I think I hit it at a perfect time where I was just the right age where, you know that’s the age where all the guys who’re going over there now, and went over there in the Desert Shield and Desert Storm time, that’s when and there’s something about the aggression and harnessing that aggression. Being able to have a part where you don’t have to do your hair or have wardrobe, you know you don’t have to deal with any of that stuff, you know you’re in, you basically have no wardrobe or anything, you’re basically you, I mean, you know and that to me seemed like it could have either been a place where you weren’t allowed to do anything and you were controlled you know, or some place where you could do anything and whatever and it ended up being the latter. So that’s what I was into, it’s just like none of the strappings and going to a place where you could you could really just, I could at least deal with a lot of feelings, that I think are in me but that I hadn’t really paid a lot of attention to and Tony’s book really expressed those feelings pretty passionately so I was just down to get angry and shoot at people.

What kind of respect did you gain for the military and for being a marine leader? You know just having to do this and then when you were filming it.

Jake: I started off without a doubt, I started off with a judgement as probably anybody does who hasn’t had any experience in anything but has a point of view of it and I think I always connected the military with the administration and after being involved with a lot of guys, and I can only speak for the marines really because I didn’t, because that’s who we played so, and right now to give you an example if anyone’s like “oh I can’t really see you playing you in the army” I’m like, “no, I wasn’t in the army” you know what I mean and it really makes me upset and before I would have been like “yeah, whatever, yeah” and now it really gets to me and I’m automatically like, I play a marine and there’s a difference and, to me, that’s where I came from and where I went to was like, I realized that. I guess I just thought there was a kind of innocence or like a non choice and it’s very clear that there really isn’t and there is a choice in it, and that it’s a pretty extraordinary place and the things that I learnt just from the peripheral of it, just being near the people who have been involved in the military of any kind like, just what I learned from that and how it made me realize things about myself. I can’t imagine what really happens when you’re in it so just a profound respect in the end and I think it’s a shock to my mother who has her own judgments you know and I think rightfully so as everybody should and does.

You’re an artist of course, you’re a very serious actor but with this movie and Brokeback Mountain, it’s like you’ve hit two out of the park and it’s a great wind up to a year. What has it done for you career wise and with both these movies coming out, do you feel like you’re in the Oscar race for one or both?

Jake: There’s a lot of talk about things like that when you’re working with a Director like Ang Lee or when you’re working with a Director like Sam Mendes because they are inevitably two Oscar winning directors, do you know what I mean. When you’re working with Jamie Foxx, when you’re working with Chris Cooper, it’s inevitable that people attach those things to those projects. I feel like all that I have as an actor is the process. And it’s hard for me to realize that somewhere because as an actor you go through, and you’re like this is all exciting, talking about the movie, being proud of it but all that we have, it’s kind of odd, is you make. Peter said something to me after we finished the movie; he said it’s a very odd profession, a profession where people, you give a performance and then a year later people commend you on the performance but it’s really, it’s odd to separate yourself from that because it’s so far from what you’ve done. All I can speak of is the process and in that, I like, it both Sam and Ang have changed my life regardless of the result of any of these films. I’m so happy with the response that has happened with Brokeback Mountain so far, and how people are responding to this movie because I think you are the only people who have really seen it so far but to me the processes of both movies have changed my life and that’s what I take away with me and everything else is fun, and it’s a laugh and it feeds the ego.

Can you talk a little bit about the day you lost your tooth, Sam told us that story, and also why you wanted to do Brokeback Mountain so much?

Jake: Fell off, actually, a month ago, and I had to get it put back on, really a very weird experience. Well, the day that I lost my tooth was - it sounds like a children's book. The day that I lost my tooth was a really interesting day. It was a point at which I realized that I had told Sam before we started ‘I'll throw up in the sand for you, I'm gonna do anything I can for you,’ but I never thought I would chip off my tooth for him. Because that's permanent, like vamoose vomit, but your tooth's gone, and yeah, the scene was the scene with Fergus in the tent, where I put the gun up to my - the rifle up to my mouth, and I asked Brian on one take, the last take, if he could not hold the rifle so tight, because I really felt like he didn't want to. And he was really holding on to it tight, and I really had to pull at him to get the rifle, and I just said ‘can you not pull?’ I forgot, because the scene is a long scene, I asked at the beginning of the scene, and it just went ‘bam’ into my mouth when I pulled it, and I felt my – I remember, I looked down, and I saw that my tooth had come off; I had it in my hand. And I thought first, I could stop this scene, or I could keep going, and I should probably keep going. Sam told me before we did the take ‘this isn't one of the close up takes,’ he said ‘think about boot camp in this take, or just think about boot camp.’ And, for some reason, somewhere it just started hitting him, and I just got so angry that he had chipped my tooth. And I just started hitting him, and we didn't talk for a month actually after that; yeah, we didn't talk for a while, Brian and I. It's actually a testament to Brian, because Brian is nothing like the character he plays, and if you meet him in person, and I'm sure you'll all meet him at some point because he is a fantastic actor. He's just, that scene, he's just amazing in that scene, and we didn't talk. Sam actually, after that scene, said ‘we hadn't had a scene where I apologized to him,’ and after that scene, Sam said we need to make a scene where he apologizes to him, where he says he's sorry, because we didn't see that.

Why Brokeback Mountain after this?

Jake: I did Brokeback Mountain before I did this movie, and you don't say ‘no’ to Ang Lee, and you don't say ‘no’ to Sam Mendes. And you beg both of them, no matter what you're doing, whether you're wearing a sand cap over your dick, or whether you're making love to Heath Ledger, you just don't say ‘no’ to them - that was why. I think that both stories are written by - the short stories, the short story of Brokeback Mountain and the book of Jarhead are just two of the most kind of extraordinary pieces of literature.

The whole incident just reminds me of the Martin Sheen cutting his hand during Apocalypse Now, but any how I wanted to ask you about taking to Tony. I know that you didn’t meet with him that much, was that intentional that you didn’t want to really imitate him, that you were creating this character or was it just that there wasn’t the time to be able to do that?

Jake: It had nothing to do with time, I went back and forth in my head about do I want to, I mean I’m playing a real person in the movie I’m doing right now and I went back and forth with that too every time, I recognized that Bill had written it, the part as “Swoff” in the script and it wasn’t Anthony Swofford and I knew that this was a story about someone in a period of time, it wasn’t specifically about Tony but it was Tony who had the courage to bring the story out, so I thought I didn’t really want to meet him. I was terrified that I was going to realize that, and I did when I met him, that I thought I oh I’m nothing like him, I’m nothing like Anthony and Sam’s going to realize when we meet that I’m nothing like him and he’s going to be like you know what I, just you know. Some of the other actors look like him and I don’t look like him and I... and when we met Sam sort of, we were in the middle of rehearsals and Sam was like “we’re going out to lunch with Tony” and I’m like “with Tony, with who?” and he’s like “with Tony Swofford” and I’m like “okay, great, cool” and we went, because he really like popped it on me and we went to lunch and I couldn’t say a word and I was like in a panic attack immediately because we had been rehearsing for like two weeks and I was just like getting into a rhythm of like cool, I’m figuring this out and I was like I’m nothing like him again but it was very conscious choice and I told Tony when he came, I said, we both recognized this because he’s such a really like magnificent writer and it’s not the only book he’s ever going to write, I think he recognizes like that artifice and I think he recognizes it as sort of like that piece of myth you know, that and I think he really respects actors and I think he’s pretty extraordinary that he did, that he said oh okay, that he’s not asking me to video tape him and see what his like twitches are and where he’s shy and this and that. I wanted to present the closest thing to me as I could you know in parts and I didn’t want to wear a mask of, or try and imitate somebody and I don’t think that’s, hopefully not what Tony would want either and that...

Who’s the person you’re playing now, the real person?

Jake: His name’s Robert Graysmith, he’s a cartoonist. He was a cartoonist with San Francisco Chronicle and he sort of, wormed his way onto the Zodiac case in San Francisco in the sixties and seventies and ended up solving the case for everybody who had not and whose lives had been ruined by the case and he, just out of pure obsession and oddness really and passion, solved that case. He’s a real, and I actually am video taping now, and that was a choice of mine and I think it just depends on the story and yeah.

How’s it working without David Fincher right now on the Zodiac film?

Jake: He’s extraordinary in his own separate, very different way.

How so?

Jake: It’s a totally different universe. I mean the movie really is extra... I’ve never seen a movie that looks like it, the technical things he is doing are like all new, never been done before and I think that it’s also different move for him because it’s performance driven too, which is not to say that the other one’s haven’t but there’s lots of dialogue and all this stuff that he’s dealing with and it’s definitely a different universe.

Jake do you think it’s fair to say that watching this film, boredom is as great an enemy of the soldier in the field as enemy bullets or bombs?

Jake: I think a soldier’s mind is as great of an enemy as, enemy in the field as bombs or bullets, I think that’s probably what I feel like the movie is about; like that when you use these techniques and you teach someone and you harness a pure time or an instinct in them, and then they’re not allowed to express that. I think the mind is confused by that and yeah when the boredom sets in, when you realize we’ve been here for one hundred and twenty two days and we’ve been sitting in the same tent and, I’ve done a little too much masturbating cause it’s like you know, I mean it’s true, sad but true. There, I think it’s more about the soldier’s mind; it’s how, Sergeant Major James D. Dever, our military advisor, would say “smooth is fast, smooth is fast”. He’d say it like all the time, smooth is fast because you’d always rush, your mind would always be like, you’d be putting together our rifles, and we’d be cleaning them and putting them back together, cleaning them and putting them back together and I would always be like, I have to prepare for the scene where I have to put the rifle together so I have to get it really fast and he’d always come over to me and put his hand on my shoulder and say “smooth is fast, smooth is fast” and there’s that mentality of you, it’s not about letting your mind get caught up in all of it you know. As soon as you’re clear, then you’ll get it right, when you’re not over thinking it, but yeah when you’re given the time to think I think it probably can be as dangerous of an enemy..

Jake what are you reading at the moment?

Jake: I’m actually reading John Didion’s book, Year of Magical Thinking.

What kind of music are you listening to?

Jake: Music? All different stuff; I’m listening to Kayne West CD, all that stuff, Jamie Foxx’s new album…

How was working with Jamie?

Jake: It was fantastic. I totally look up to him like, and it’s so hard to say that and not sound so stupid, but I really do, I think he’s extraordinary.

Is Heath a good leading man?

Jake: He’s great, he’s fantastic.





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