Jake Gyllenhaal on Missed Superhero Opportunities and Portraying “Antisocial” Characters

Jake Gyllenhaal in Demolition

“I’ve always wanted to have the opportunity to play a number of different roles, and I knew it wasn’t necessarily the role, but how you played them” – Jake Gyllenhaal

In movies like Nightcrawler and Demolition, Jake Gyllenhaal has shown his range in portraying characters on the fringe of society — as well as the fringe of normalcy. They contrast in the types of mainstream blockbuster roles that Gyllenhaal was once in the running for. In an interview with The Daily Beast, Gyllenhaal spoke about playing these characters and the superhero roles that got away.

Though he hasn’t yet donned a superhero uniform on film, Gyllenhaal was in the running to play two of the most famous ones — he was almost cast as the Caped Crusader in Batman Begins, and he almost replaced Tobey Maguire in Spider-Man 2 after Maguire suffered a serious injury during the filming of Seabiscuit. However, Gyllenhaal points out that he’s not unique in that aspect. He says, “You can’t ask an actor in Hollywood who hasn’t auditioned or been in the running for one of those roles. It’s almost a rite of passage. But you pay for everything you do—and don’t do. For me, I’ve always wanted to have the opportunity to play a number of different roles, and I knew it wasn’t necessarily the role, but how you played them. He adds that much of it comes down to intention, pointing out, “There’s all this strategizing people do where they think, ‘Oh, if I do this then I can do that.’ I think I’ve come to a point where your intention is everything. Your intention is very clear and people can feel your intention, so as long as you’re true to yourself, then people will respond to that.”

For Gyllenhaal, acting is all about creating something new. He explains, “I like to meditate as opposed to destroy things. I think it temporarily feels good to destroy things—or you think it will—but it ultimately doesn’t do much. Creating something is a lot harder, and a lot more satisfying. It takes more time, and you have to sit through the more painful feelings in order to create. For me, it’s why I’m an actor. It gives you a means of expression and a way to go to places where you can find a catharsis in expression, and discover new worlds where you can get away with more than you can in reality.”

Though he hasn’t played a superhero, Gyllenhaal has portrayed a number of antisocial characters that have won him acclaim. He admits that he is drawn to these types of characters, but is at a bit of a loss to explain why. He says, “We have a desperation to categorize people who are ‘not normal. Normal, to me, is perverse. I don’t know why I enjoy those characters. I think there’s more depth to play, and more choices to be made within the workday. You can really explore a lot of different feelings, and that’s what I’m interested in: exploring my own feelings through different characters. When somebody exists outside of what we consider the norm, you have more opportunity to discover.”

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