Jake Gyllenhaal Talks About "Brokeback Mountain"

Behind the Scenes of His Love Scenes with Heath Ledger

Jake Gyllenhaal Photo from Brokeback Mountain
Jake Gyllenhaal stars in "Brokeback Mountain" directed by Ang Lee. © Focus Features

Despite his youthful looks, Jake Gyllenhaal has been acting in films since 1991, when he played Daniel Robbins in "City Slickers."  Since then, he has worked steadily in plays, motion pictures and television. As articulate as he is talented, Gyllenhaal shared many insights when he discussed some of his favorite roles and working relationships. 

On "Brokeback Mountain" Director Ang Lee’s Style

“There’s an odd benevolence to him and his process, in the same way that his movies are benevolent. It’s empowering because you feel like, ‘Okay I’ve given all I can. There are scenes I’ve seen and I’m like, ‘Oh wow, I gave so much more, but he pulled it back.’ And that was him balancing his film. I just learned a lot as an actor in a director, especially in particular an auteur’s movie. It’s just another tool on my tool belt.”

Jake Gyllenhaal’s Positive Feedback from Writer Annie Proulx:Annie Proulx wrote me a note very recently that has made - no matter what happens and how people respond to the film - has made the entire movie, making it totally worth it. She wrote me a note with a limited edition copy of ‘Close Range,’ which is the book that ‘Brokeback Mountain,’ the short story, is in. And in it she said that Jack Twist refers to, ‘twist’ refers to the strength of thighs and butt muscles that a bull rider has to have in order to stay on the bull. I had never really thought of it that way. It’s so funny. It’s so clearly in your face the whole time and you never really know what that is. I thought, ‘Yeah, there’s a real endurance.’

Everybody joked when we were filming ‘Jarhead’ even, that I had this sort of like ridiculous kind of strength that I didn’t even know, because I didn’t really know how tight I was holding onto people. There were times when I would like choke people…if I was holding on to them. Once Lucas Black, he punched me in the face because I was choking him and I didn’t even know. But there is like a strength in nature, like holding on to that goal, whatever that might be, to me is something I really relate to. And wanting things to progress and whatever the response is definitely something that I related to in Jack Twist. I really fell into [that], always pushing Ennis [Heath Ledger’s character] to say how he felt or to try and communicate something, even if it’s imperfect. I never really knew at the time that that’s… When I read the script for the first time, I thought, ‘Oh Ang will probably want me to play the Ennis part’ because I’ve played much more isolated characters before, and that’s a very obvious, very actorly way of thinking about it. Because, actually, Heath and I as people are really more of the characters that we play.”

Gyllenhaal can’t recall the specifics of the note Proulx passed to him however he is very proud of her reaction to the finished film. Gyllenhaal hadn’t had any contact with Proulx until the moment she gave him the note in the book. “She just wrote a long note to me in the book, a beautiful, beautiful note, and if I could actually quote that then it would be pretty awesome. But the thing that I relate to in the character was that one thing, and it honored me that she felt very proud of the movie.”

Jake Gyllenhaal on His Approach to the Love Scenes with Heath Ledger: “When this came up, to tell you the truth, I questioned… I was like, ‘I wonder if Heath can pull this off?’ This is a very, very intense [role]. It’s the most critical role in a lot of ways in this film, to really push you through to the end and show that this relationship is really something meaningful. I thought, ‘Could he?’ Then we started to work together and I was just [convinced].

We talked a lot. Heath would say stuff to me like, ‘I really think this character is very sensitive to light and I think he’s very sensitive to sound. He doesn’t really like being around any place that’s too noisy.’ We would talk a lot about that. And then when it came to doing love scenes and stuff like that, the best metaphor I can give is that it felt like we were both like, ‘Are you ready? Yeah. Let’s go,’ and we dove off the boat into the deep end. It’s like when you’re terrified of the water, you see a little kid thrown in the water and they’re trying to get back to the boat as fast as they can. That’s what it was like. But at the same time when we were there we really went for it.

We knew we had to consummate this somehow. It couldn’t just be a story about friendship because there’s a part of two people connecting intimately, sexually, that drives that intimacy through the years. In my opinion when you see the movie, as soon as that happens, you’re like, ‘Okay, I’m here now. I’m ready to see what’s going to happen.’ Or, ‘I’m out of here. I’ll see you later.’ But either way it does knock you into something. We knew that it was going to have to do that and we were going to have to commit to it. There was a high five and jump in. I think at the time too, it was just – I don’t really remember it very well…”

Page 2: Jake Gyllenhaal on Backstories, Emotional Baggage, "Zodiac," and "Jarhead"

Page 2

Jake Gyllenhaal on Backstories and Emotional Baggage: “I think regardless of what any of us say, I think we’ve all had pretty interesting, if not say rough, childhoods. So to me, in terms of changing my life in a way, it made me go like, this struggle to try and present something, this struggle as an actor to go, ‘This is what I’m feeling right now.’ I think you see that in performances a lot. I think I’ve done that a lot. In this movie it was like, ‘I’m going to show up and what baggage I carry with me I’m bringing with me. I’m not going to try and create new baggage to somehow play a character. I’m showing up every day and this is what I bring with me.’ That, to me, is why it’s been really nice the response that ‘Jarhead’s’ gotten, as well as tough from people too. It’s like, ‘Wow, yeah, it is complicated and it is okay to be complicated.’ So, no, I had a very interesting childhood in a lot of ways and I brought that with me, and somehow Jack and I parallel somewhere.”

Jake Gyllenhaal’s Next Project – “Zodiac:” “It’s a movie about the serial killer. The Zodiac was a serial killer in Marin County, Vallejo County, San Francisco area in the late 60’s, early 70’s. He would send these letters to the San Francisco Chronicle, different newspapers around town. It’s a true story about three people on the case, the detective, the journalist and then there’s a random cartoonist who becomes obsessed with the case. And after the other two fell off, he kind of picked it up where they left off, and solved the case. But they never really found the Zodiac…”

Jake Gyllenhaal’s Role in “Zodiac:” “I play the cartoonist. And they could never really get the guy, so he’s still out there supposedly, and [said in a joking manner] I feel very safe making a movie about it.”

Gyllenhaal’s character is Robert Graysmith, the cartoonist who became obsessed with the case. “We met many times and he’s been to the set. He was just on set the other day, my last day of work,” said Gyllenhaal.

Jake Gyllenhaal on the Special Challenge of Playing a Real Person: “It’s easy now. The challenge I think is…it’s different with every story, and it’s different with how every director approaches it. I’ve considered characters that I’ve played that aren’t necessarily real people to be people that are still living out there, or have lived, who have struggled with the same things.

I think Jack Twist is just as much of a real person as Tony Swofford [from ‘Jarhead’]. I approached both in the same way. They’re aspects of every person, everybody’s personality, particularly with something like Jack Twist. I went and I met with a lot of different cowboys and rode horses and learned how to pack mules and do all those things, and that became a big part of that character for me. With Robert Graysmith it’s a different style, because David Fincher is very much into the reality of what happened. He’s filming the murders exactly inch by the inch, literally how it happened and where the bodies were, and how they moved, and all those things. It’s based in a real reality, things that really happened, things they really said. So for me it’s very important to get the idiosyncrasies of Robert Graysmith.”

Jake Gyllenhaal Responds to “Jarhead” Critics: There were critics and others who said it wasn’t appropriate to do a movie about the Gulf War at this point in time. Gyllenhaal said, “My response is, to me what’s interesting is, I think that people tend to want to politicize so many things. I think that films on their own, just by the nature of what they are, are political. But to need something, to want something, I feel like it’s interesting… It’s like I’ve noticed people asking Sam [Mendes, the director of “Jarhead”] for a sense of leadership, to take some side or something. And maybe it’s because they feel some sort of lack of leadership themselves or something. I don’t know what that is.

To me it’s one Marine’s experience, the film, and we’ve had enough perspective I think on the first Gulf War, and it is a very different war. My character in that movie says, ‘Every war is different, every war is the same.’ And I think it’s really important to acknowledge that the soldiers that fought in the first war had a very different war from the war that’s going on right now. It lasted four days, and the casualties were nowhere near the same. Their experience of warfare is completely different, and it is a different war. I understand that the topography is the same, and the geography is the same, and all of those things, but to me experiencing it and talking with the men who fought in that war, it’s very special to them. I think it kind of upsets me to know that all wars get blurred into one somehow. It’s a very special, intense experience for all of them, and that to me is why I think it’s such an interesting film, and so different from – and yet, at the same time, so the same as - what’s going on now.”