Jake Gyllenhaal Talks ‘Life’, Preparation and Singing Sondheim

Actor Jake Gyllenhaal

“My favorite actors are like artists” – Jake Gyllenhaal

Is Jake Gyllenhaal an art house actor or a blockbuster star? Is he a celebrity or is he an artist? Perhaps Gyllenhall is all of those things, and more — it’s hard to describe an actor who often stars in films like Life that open in thousands of theaters as well as films that open in one. In an in-depth conversation with The Guardian, Gyllenhaal speaks about roles that require “preparation” — and why he sometimes likes to avoid them — including his current acclaimed performance in Broadway’s Sunday in the Park with George.

Gyllenhaal wanted to do Life for two reasons: first, the script left him “legitimately terrified,” but more importantly because he wanted to engage a less intensive process than some of his more recent roles, adding, “After playing role after role where I’ve given a ton of time in preparation, I made a resolution to just enjoy myself making a big, fun movie.”

That “preparation” often includes significant changes in his body, whether it was bulking up for Prince of Persia and Southpaw or slimming down for Nightcrawler. It’s an aspect that Gyllenhaal and his sister, actress Maggie Gyllenhaal, disagree on. He reveals, “My sister and I have this argument often. I’ve lost weight or learned a new skill and she’s said: ‘You don’t have to change your body to play a character,’ and there are times where I agree and other times I don’t.”

One of the reasons why Gyllenhaal feels it is necessary is because it helps in the creation and understanding of a character. Gyllenhaal explains, “It seems to me that anybody feels they can be an actor nowadays… People say: ‘How hard can it be?’ But the truth is, the creation of a character, the understanding of human behavior, is a craft and to be learned and worked and experimented with and discovered. My favorite actors are like artists, and when you see their career, you see someone who is able to actually physically draw a perfect figure and then deconstruct it, or not, based on a foundation of skill or practice. Whereas I noticed that some people just throw some paint up on the wall and call it art.”

A recent challenge that Gyllenhaal has tackled is musical theater — he has received rave reviews for his performance in Stephen Sondheim‘s Sunday in the Park with George at Broadway’s newly reopened Hudson Theatre. While Gyllenhaal says singing is not new to him, singing on a professional level required work on his part. He says, “I’ve sung since I was a kid and again… everything requires work. Everything is craft. Some things come somewhat naturally to some people, but after that, if you want to do it in a professional sphere, it requires a lot of work. I’ve put a lot of work into understanding my own voice and how to communicate with it. I’m by no means a professional singer. I’m an actor, and why I love Sondheim is because he’s a playwright – with lyrics and music – but everything has intention, and so is absolutely actable on almost every measure.”

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