Emmanuel Itier: There seem to be many cases when actors have a strategy. Leonardo DiCaprio talked about this once when he did Titanic — that you need to do a big movie. You have to kind of position yourself business-wise. We haven’t seen you in anything like this before. What kind of strategy was there in a choice like this?
Jake Gyllenhaal: It’s funny that you say that, because I feel it is actually character-driven for me. There were a lot of movies that I read, and there were movies that I was offered that I really liked, but it was all in the characters to me. To me, the movie is great. I chose the movie because of the character. It was all about that — about the relationship between Princess Tomina and Prince Dastan, and about family. But ultimately, he was wry and did cool stuff, and always had a fun, great thing to say that wasn’t too “winky winky” at the audience, but he felt like a great character. It felt like this classic kind of character.
EI: You have to look at, historically, when actors have made choices. It does change the dynamic of what they’re offered after that and how they become more popular…
JG: For instance, I made Brokeback Mountain, and there was all this great attention. Then you get offered all these movies, and the weird tendency is that most of the movies you get shown by your agent/manager…it’s like, “Do this one; do that one,” because that’s what the next step is. You’ve got to satisfy an audience. When I really look at what I love to do, and when I think about the puzzle of making movies, and when you’re discussing what works and what doesn’t work, or why would you do this or let me try this, it’s all about satisfying your audience. That’s how I look at it, and I have fun doing it because, if I walked over there and did this, maybe that would be great. And then they would laugh, and I felt like I wanted to do a movie that was greatly fun and satisfying.
EI: That was a very good choice. If you could go back, would you do it again?
JG: Who’s to say? Yeah, because I usually make choices based on filmmakers and definitely story, but no matter how good the story is, if you don’t have faith in a filmmaker, it’s hard to deliver and give your heart. Ang Lee was like a no-brainer, and I can say it because I lived it, whether it’s a totally obscure movie about two sheepherders who end up falling in love in Wyoming or whether it’s a movie like this. It’s the people involved that give you the confidence to do, hopefully, your best work. That’s how I feel.
EI: What do you want to do after this one? Do you want to do a romantic comedy?
JG: I did look at that. I’ve already done it. It’s done and it’s really good too. I just finished a movie with Anne Hathaway [Love and Other Drugs]. She and I did this movie with Ed Zwick. We did that right after I did this. We just finished a few months ago. At some point, I’m going to try a musical. I would like that, if given the opportunity, and we’ll see. We’ll just take one step at a time.
EI: Do you keep some goals to achieve for your career?
JG: I know I’m young, but I have been doing this for enough time that I know it will just change with every moment I experience in my life. If the script comes to my door, or if I chase after something because I am moved by it or, whatever happens. I know it is a direct extension of what is happening in my life. I have made strategic moves in what I’ve done, but there’s always a feeling that it’s not coming from someplace that I believe. So, to me, my life just influences that.
EI: Jerry [Bruckheimer] mentioned that this was probably your biggest physical challenge. What did you feel that you needed to do physically to prepare yourself?
JG: Everything. Jerry would comment while I was working out and say, “Nope, bigger bicep, please.” And I was like, “Yes, no problem.”
EI: Can you walk us through a little bit of the sword training and the rope-climbing — all the stuff you had to do that I’m sure wasn’t part of it?
JG: We started months before with training in getting into the part of working with all these acrobats, at first in Los Angeles and then doing a lot of regular workouts in the gym and that kind of thing. From there, when we went to London, we had a month of pre-production and rehearsals whereas we were going over the script. Between the different scenes that they were doing, I would go and do the stunt choreography and fighting choreography. Then we would just go over for a straight month to boot camp out how to be a Persian Prince.
JG: Yes, I have played it. I played the original version when I was a kid. I played Nintendo, and I could add this to my favorite games because I have been doing that for other gamer magazines. But when I got the role, I started to play for an extended time and there were moments on set when I would be like, “Seriously, wait a second.” I played it for research, and there were times when I would bring in the stunt guys and I would be like, “I was just doing this thing, and you see that he did this and can we try that.” And he would be like, “Show it to me,” and he would climb up a column and he was like, “We’ll see. We’ll try that.” And they even incorporated into that. So I was playing in my trailer a lot for research.
EI: How was it filming in Morocco? We heard there were problems with the weather and the crew getting dehydrated…
JG: We did have some things that happened. When you have thousands and thousands of people in the thousands of extras and 1,000 crew members, as any large group of people are traveling throughout the desert, something is going to happen. We had so much dehydration, it was ridiculous. It was like a soup bowl there. People were walking around with Gatorade and spraying it in people’s mouths between takes. Being from Los Angeles, I am just going to say more of the British cast members were a little bothered. They would be like, “My God, it’s so hot here. This is like LA in the summertime.” Filming in the desert, it gets hot. It’s strange because I had to have a lot of layers on, and it ended up helping me. I was in the appropriate garb for the desert, and everybody else was in their shorts and T-shirts.
EI: Did you ever feel like your destiny was laid in front of you?
JG: You always approach every movie thinking it’s going to be a success. Just as you would say, “I am going to be an actor and I’m going to be a successful actor.” If you didn’t believe that, how could you do it? Was it predestined? You don’t know me very well, but I can go way too deep and then we would both be crying. I worked with boys in juvenile hall. The difference between what happened with their lives and what happened with my life is…I guess it makes me believe in some kind of destiny. It makes people believe in the order of things. What are the lessons we learned and why? My parents were in the movie business, so I got involved and said that I am going to do it. But you have to have something else besides that.
EI: Everybody else knows that about you and your sister [Maggie Gyllenhaal]. Did you know you have that?
JG: The balance between knowing you have it and really feeling that you may not.
EI: Are you also going to go behind the camera in the future? Your sister is now producing.
JG: In my opinion, to watch someone like Jerry work, to be around someone like him…if you’re anybody who’s interested in anything, you say, “I love how I was just manipulated.” I admire it and I think it’s amazing, and it’s great fun as long as you are in the process and you’re not like, “Wait a second. That was…wow.” I have great respect for that. I literally did work out more because he said so. I love movies. I think with all this talk this year of all the movies that have come out, I’ve been asked those questions about how big movies are going to change because of Avatar, and I keep going back to the same thing, which is the reason Avatar is so good is because the story is good. Yes, the visuals are extraordinary and they go beyond anything we have ever seen before ever, but the story is good. It works; it moves us; people are moved. That’s why. That’s really essentially why.
EI: How did you acclimate to green screen and special effects and all of that kind of stuff? Can you describe some of that?
JG: I think this might be the last movie of its kind because we had all the sets built. We had thousands of extras with us every day. I was interacting with all the real stuff. Most of the things that are CGI in this movie were above and around us. There were different things. There were snakes, and I had to work with that, but if it wasn’t working for the CGI, for instance, acclimating to that was easier because of the economy. I don’t think they will build all those big sets…
EI: Like the sand floor that collapses and all of that — can you tell us a little bit of what was required? What would you do with it as you were falling down stream?
JG: In the sand room, we had a green slide that was basically plywood that was hugely high, and at the very bottom of it was a pad with three stuntmen around it. I was sliding down this green thing, and I had to do it fast. It was so much fun. There was no safety on either side, so if you slid off, you would just slide off and fall. I don’t know if there were even pads there, but they wouldn’t let me do that. There was one stunt my first jump, that was like a 35-foot jump, and I was really pretending I wasn’t nervous about it. I was going to be all good with it, and I was pretty terrified about it. It’s in the trailer of the movie. I run and then I basically jump, and I looked over 100 times, and I remember saying, “Screw it. I have to trust these guys and do it,” and I did it. But things like that every day as we were coming up with new ideas. I would look at the video game and I would say, “What about this?” and they would incorporate it, and then all of a sudden, I would be up on the wire for two hours. But then it was going to be really dope in the movie. It’s going to be great. There was another thing that we found somewhere, where we thought I should dive on this guy from above, and I did it three times. I looked at it on playback and it doesn’t even look like a human being falling from the air. It was so weird.
EI: s the physical stuff more difficult for you than the happy emotional stuff in movies?
JG: No, I love being physical. I loved training for this movie and being able to do the stunts. That was what the training was about. Jerry and Mike [Newell] always said we were going to make this real. You’re going to do this for real, and the reality of it happening made it really fun because it’s just not fake. We did it.
EI: Which part so far was the most difficult, research-wise?
JG: This movie that I did — Brothers. I loved doing research for that movie. I continued to be involved with all the people that I did research on that movie with. I was saying juvenile hall boys over there, and I still see them. That was probably the best.
EI: When did you look at yourself in the mirror? Did you feel different?
JG: Sexy. More sexy. When I have to do my accent, and particularly doing humor… Humor is so different when you have a British accent. You have to do very little, and dry humor particularly. It’s so great. And then I had exercise and I was ready to go. And that prowess — that feeling of being able to defend myself and being able to actually sort of fight. It was the most technical role I have ever done, and I learned so much from it in terms of what I brought to the movie.
EI: Did you feel more aggressive and more powerful as a man?
JG: Because I was bigger and had more muscles? More women flirted with me when I shaved my head as a Marine than they did when I got big muscles and had long hair. There’s just something about the mystique of the military and being in war. I actually was injured more. There were just too many muscles.
EI: Let me ask you a question about family, especially this guy with his father figure. He had a father figure that kind of sets him off. How would you say your father has set you off? What kind of guidance has he given you do something or solidified who you are?
JG: I’ve had actually many father figures in my life, and I think that is kind of the point of this movie, in a way. This kid doesn’t know who his family is and he does something because his heart is good, and he does that in the beginning of the movie just inherently, which is why I loved it too. There is this mythology that he has a good heart and it is seen by somebody else, and being seen really deeply is what part of being a family is.