I had the pleasure of recently running into Jake Gyllenhaal in NYC, as he was on his way to work. He is currently one of the stars of the Roundabout Theater Company off-Broadway play “If There Is I Haven’t Found It Yet.” Apparently, Jake isn’t very receptive to reporters; since his theater comeback, he hasn’t been accepting interviews. The Roundabout Theater Press reps were very curt with me when I first attempted to approach them with my request. I did manage nevertheless to have a quick ‘tete-a-tete’ with the Hollywood superstar, and learned a lot about him by keeping my ears open around chatty staff and bystanders.
Actors have a reputation, and it isn’t a pleasant one. They are seen as exceptional marketers who pose as approachable warm-hearted people on camera so that we, the consumers, will buy into their brand. In person, it is said they can be about as cuddly as a cactus. This cannot be said of Jake Gyllenhaal. In the vast and empty Universe of false appearances, he is a bright – and honest – star, no pun intended. Jake is very charming in person, polite, kind, down-to-earth, and has a smile that would make anyone’s day.
Apparently he is known for socialize with all those who work around him, be they directors or maintenance staff. He takes the time to acknowledge people daily, with a simple yet consequential greeting. He does not shy away from complementing his on-stage co-workers; in fact, he gladly gives them glowing reviews: “These actors are f[reaking] amazing. Wonderful! And I’m a harsh critic, you know? I am. And they’re probably just as harsh as I am. But so far it’s been wonderful [working with them].” (Backstage.com)
Jake’s return to the stage had been in the works for a while, and long overdue in his mind. He has previously mentioned wanting to do a play after every three movies he acts in. Unlike many actors, Jake did not start off as a theater performer before making it to the Big Screen. He was 21 when he first did theater, and performed in “This Is Our Youth” which was playing in London, England. “If There Is” marks his American stage debut, and it is a hot one. He plays Uncle Terry, a lost, disorderly yet insightful character in the family drama. Family is important to Jake, and is partly what attracted him to the play, but also what mainly drove him to leave Los Angeles for New York City.
“Somebody was trying to get an angle on why I moved to New York, and I was like, ‘Because my family is here and I love them. And I want to be with them and they mean everything to me.’ This is the best possible place for me to be, to be near my family, doing a show about the mess of a family, and then maybe having my family come watch it.” It just so happened the day I went to see “If There Is,” Jake’s grandfather was also in the audience, making Jake’s wish come true. They had dinner afterwards; it was sweet and touching to watch them interact as they left the theater.
Jake’s presence in New York has not gone unnoticed. After most shows, the entrance of the theater is surrounded by throngs of over-enthused, hopeful girls anticipating an appearance by Jake. Metal railings are even put in place to ensure the actors do not get bombarded by a mob of fans. Many girls scream out things like “Jakey, Jakey I love you!,” a nickname the actor apparently strongly dislikes because it simply is not his name. It is a bit awkward to be nicknamed by a stranger, before you have established the familiarity that leads to the natural transpiring of a nickname. So remember, if you ever do get a chance to encounter Jake, try to avoid calling him “Jakey” if you want to stay in his good graces.
It is still a mystery to some why Jake has chosen to leave cinema for theater at this point in his life and career. He has recently been landing notable roles in impressive films, either as the lead or supporting character: Brokeback Mountain (2005), Zodiac (2007), Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010), Love and Other Drugs (2010), and more recently End of Watch (2012). Some would argue he is at the height of his career, peaking as an actor and really settling into a mature and confident performer who is just roles away from an Oscar-winning performance.
I thought his performance in End of Watch was fantastic, and he showed most of his fans another facet of his talent in Brokeback Mountain. However, not all of the movies in his portfolio have been successful in my humble opinion. I am referring in particular to Prince of Persia. Even though he worked hard to pull off a British accent, and worked even harder to get a body that probably gave most women a reason to watch the film, the movie as a whole was a bit of a disaster. Rumor has it that Jake does not like to be asked about the film. Could it be that he is also ashamed of the whole production? Does he harbor personal insecurities about his performance in the film that lead him to harshly criticize and chastise himself? Or could it be that fans of the video game have given him a hard time for being in the Disney adaptation, which stayed true to the game in no way? Maybe someday it will be known. For now, he has not commented on the matter, and does not wish to, probably at Disney’s discretion.
Jake Gyllenhaal is a terrific person and a fantastic actor that keeps improving his skill and delivering memorable and impressively affective performances. I will be keeping a close watch on his career and cannot wait to see his future roles and performances. The stage – like the screen – suits him well.