Jake Gyllenhaal stars in the new movie "End of Watch." (Carolyn Cole )
With 20 years of screen credits behind him, Jake Gyllenhaal is a 31-year-old actor with a résumé that defies expectations. He was raised by parents in the business (director Stephen Gyllenhaal and producer/writer Naomi Foner) and with an actress sister (Maggie Gyllenhaal), but Jake forged his own path with a mix of blockbusters ("Day After Tomorrow"), iconic indies ("Brokeback Mountain") and highly personal projects, like his recent "End of Watch," a $7-million indie about East L.A. cops that took in $39.1 million worldwide. Ask how he did it, and Jake suggests it's a mix of being raised right, gut instinct and a deep desire to tell meaningful stories.
Do you find that since you've turned 30, you feel differently about yourself and the world?
At 30, there were a number of moments in my life that culminated or began — like my family being born in a new way, with two nieces that are now in my life. My parents got divorced right around that time. When you're in your 20s there's a certain sense of wanting to take responsibility for the way you behave, the way you look at the world and how you interact. I've always felt that way in the movies I pick, or the things I care about, because I was brought up by people with good values. But, yeah, there was a real biological turning point at that time.
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Your parents kept a tight rein on your early career. Do you think that helped your later choices in this business?
I wasn't going out and earning money for a family, which many young actors find themselves in. My parents just wanted me to be a kid. Their dedication to try and tell stories they cared about and felt they could put their heart into was definitely something I was brought up with. And my perspective — that it's incredibly important when you're making it —
You mean whatever project you're making?
Yeah. You're putting your heart into this creative process and it means so much in the moment you're doing it — yet at the same time having the ability to be objective and say you're just making a movie, it's kind of absurd — that was definitely what they always instilled. It's not until recently where I've been able to see that. I get to make movies, and I'm so blessed, but most of the time I go, "This is absurd, this is way too much money and way too many egos and way too many people thinking they're the most important thing in the world." This is fun. We should all be having a great time.
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You've based yourself in New York; you generally choose smaller, independent projects over tent poles. How much of a conscious effort has it been to have a "normal" life?
It's about what makes me feel free. It doesn't serve an artist well to be stuck in a hotel room, ordering room service. What we do is not important, but you have to devote your life to it. And what is your life? The only thing that's going to inform the work you do. You're only as good or as interested in however much you're interested in your own life.
Speaking of family, were you and your older sister Maggie ever competitive about both being actors in this business?
There is that type of competition as siblings, but that's a sibling relationship. She went to see "End of Watch" the other day and called, and she's crying and said she was so proud of the work I'd done. No matter what anybody says about the movie, my sister was moved and proud of the work that I'd done. That was everything to me.
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You became great friends with your "Brokeback" costar Heath Ledger; you're the godfather of his daughter. What did you learn from him?
I work with actors, and I've made a conscious effort to work with people who are more talented than me, because I think they bring out your best work. Heath was always full of massive charisma and great skill, and he really took his time to listen to himself and find that. And I have great admiration for that.
We started off by noting you're in your 30s. Where are you in your 60s?
Hopefully alive. (Laughs.) Hopefully with a family, hopefully as a father, with a family I can be proud of, which will most likely be a mess of one. If you're asking me if I see my career or whatever — well, there are so many talented people out there, so many people who have, as Jay-Z says, "genius-level talent." I don't want to be presumptuous enough to say I'd still be doing what I do in 30 years. But I would like to be.
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