This actor is passionate about his art, and it doesn’t take a genius to figure that out. After making waves for his moving portrayal of Jack Twist in Brokeback Mountain (2005) and losing 30 pounds for his role in Nightcrawler (2014), the actor redefined the word ‘transformation’ and earned a collection of envy-worthy roles. In his latest venture, Southpaw, which released in India last Friday, he plays a boxing champ, and has already stunned everyone with the physical transformations he underwent for the role. Selected excerpts from an interview
A still from 'Southpaw'
Q. The training for Southpaw was aggressive and dynamic. What drew you to the role?
A. Well, I would say it’s true that I think boxing can be a very aggressive, dynamic and, indeed, a brutal sport. But, I also think it is really a science. They don’t just call it that for laugh and giggles. It is really a science of angles and instincts that is sort of beyond explanation. I mean, look, ballet is brutal. It looks easy, but my God, the self-discipline, the intensity, precision and sacrifice that it takes to be a ballet dancer, they never really talk about that. But, it is that hard — and the things that people do to their bodies in that art. I learned what I thought was amazing about the story, and about boxing in general — how many beautiful styles and how many techniques there are in it. I think when you look at the history of boxing, it’s inspiring. It is a beautiful sport.
Rachel McAdams and Gyllenhaal in a still from the movie
Q. Tell us about the training routine.
A. The training was quite intense. I was terrified that I would look like an idiot in the boxing ring. I didn’t know how to box when I started. I had only five months to learn and so I decided to train myself twice a day to make it seem that I’ve been undergoing training for 10 months. Yes, fortunately, I am now well acquainted with styles and techniques of the ring.
Q. You are known to undergo physical transformations for your roles. How much is too much?
A. I had lost 30 pounds for my role in Nightcrawler to portray a hyper articulate, but unstable crime chaser. Then I beefed up to play an inarticulate prizefighter for this one. However, there is nothing like too much, all I want right now is to hone my skills and become a better actor.
Q. Did you and Oona Laurence have to work a lot on your onscreen father-daughter chemistry? How did you do that?
A. We did not really have to work on it. It was immediate. Oona is so extraordinarily talented and an amazing improviser. The first time we read together, she was doing an improvisation with her dolls in her room. At one point she just said, “This is my doll Trudy, this is my doll John…. don’t mind his long hair!” and I just started following her lead and realised how close it was to an original parent-child interaction. I just tried to open my heart to it.
Q. You’ve also gone from playinh the offbeat-film hero to mainstream darling. What is your take on this new Jake Gyllenhaal?
A. Nothing has changed for me. Whether an offbeat hero or mainstream one, an actor is always an actor.
Q. From playing a mountaineer in Everest to the money hungry man in Love and Other Drugs, would you say your choice of cinema has changed?
A. I love to try different types of roles to expand my horizon. I believe in seizing every good opportunity that comes my way.
Q. You managed to garner quite a bit of attention when you played the role of a gay man in Brokeback Mountain...
A. Thank you. I knew it would be a difficult film to make, but it just took off. It’s become something beyond what any of us could have imagined. It was an honour to be a part of Brokeback Mountain.
Q. How did your co-actor in the movie, Heath Ledger’s death affect you?
A. I took his death really hard on myself, I was traumatised. I left my shoot as soon as I learnt about his sudden death. He was a dear friend and I still miss him a lot. I miss him as a human being and I miss working with him. What an unfortunate thing it is that we won’t be able to see the beauty of his expressions ever again.
Q. Have you heard any songs that Taylor Swift has reportedly written about you?
A. Really? I didn’t know about that.
Q. Why do we know so little about your love life?
A. There are a few things that I like to keep to myself.