I pick up Jake Gyllenhaal in Lower Manhattan, not out side his building, a redbrick factory converted into luxury condos designed for discretion, but instead at a hotel taxi stand three blocks south. We set out for Monticello Motor Club, a members-only racetrack in the southern Catskill Mountains, two hours north, in my beat-up Jeep.
He volunteers to take the wheel—“I’m a good driver, you’ll see!”—then to navigate, and he sounds a little aggrieved when he’s upstaged by Waze. “I want to be a good copilot here,” he says as we creep toward the Lincoln Tunnel. The traffic is bad, but he doesn’t complain. He’s been looking forward to leaving town, away from the endless obligations and the hounding tabloids. This day is work, too, of course, but at least it will be offset by adrenaline-inducing fun. His incoming calls go ignored, his texts unread. As we climb the New Jersey Palisades, and the city passes from view, his shoulders seem to slacken under his comically puffy coat. He rifles through his backpack and pulls out an energy bar. “I brought this for you,” he says. “I’ve got a bag of nuts, if you want to share them later.” He’s really into food. On Thanksgiving, he spatchcocked his first turkey—“a very intense spatchcocking.” He’s working his way through a list of recipes he always figured would be difficult, but none so far have been the catastrophe he’d presumed. Crème brûlée? Not that hard. He asks about my job, my wife, our book club. Can he join? We’re reading Gary Shteyngart’s new novel? He loves Gary! “We’re very good friends.” Gary loves Chekhov. And what’s the deal with the durable literary influence of the Russians? “Let’s have fun,” he says as we leave the highway for the county roads. “Fuck it.” Near the foothills of the Catskills, he reaches toward me with an offering in the palm of his hand: “Tic Tac?”
He’s a youthful forty-one, slim and fit and energetic. He says he feels agile. As strong as he ever has. His age shows in only the minutest of ways. His hair, long and brown and fully accounted for, is studded with gray. His eyes, the clear blue of a butane flame, are still equine in their expressiveness. But now, when he smiles, wrinkles run radially toward their edges.
Once we arrive, Gyllenhaal ducks into the restroom in the collector-car gallery and returns gushing about the sink fixtures. “Think it’s a bad sign that it took me fifteen minutes to turn off the waterspout?” he asks the small crew who’ve come in for the day. He turns to me. “You’ve got to see those spouts.”
“I just watched The Guilty,” says Ionel, the club’s general manager. “I’m watching all your movies.”
“Oh, thanks,” Gyllenhaal says, bowing his head.
“Like, every single one of them.”
“Thank you, man.” He glances up from his shoes. “But don’t watch them all.” He laughs—staccato, open-mouthed, infectious. Ionel laughs. We all laugh.
This is not the Jake Gyllenhaal I expected. For two decades, in more than thirty movies, he’s played all manner of complicated men: sleazeballs, bruisers, obsessives, ex-cons, bad cops, good cops, the schizoaffective, and five wid-owers. At his best, he is one of the finest actors we’ve got—capable of plumbing the depths of masculine feeling that most of us spend our lives trying to bury. His reputation has been forged from such portrayals; he’s received nominations for both an Oscar and a Tony. You’d have trouble finding a story about him that doesn’t mention his total devotion to the craft, or the sadness lurking behind those puppy-dog eyes. Here’s a man who has earned fame, and also a measure of power, while avoiding—until very recently—the worst trappings of celebrity. Who fiercely protects his personal life; who once answered a question about what he’d had for breakfast with “There are some things I keep to myself.”
It’s hard to reconcile all that with the generous, self-effacing, funny guy before me. The guy who quotes, in a conversation about snap bracelets, The Little Mermaid.
We head to the pit of the main track and climb into a race car. This time, Gyllenhaal’s in the driver’s seat. “You have to put on your seat belt,” he says. “I demand it.” As we’re idling, Chris, our Monticello tour guide, whose literal job title is director of fun, walks up to our car—a BMW M5—and checks the tire temperature. It’s a chilly December afternoon, and when tires are cold, he says, they lose their grip, become “like plastic.”
“Are they warm?” Gyllenhaal asks.
“Starting to get a little heat in them,” Chris says as he walks back to the car he’ll be driving to lead us on a tour of the racing line, the swiftest path around the course. “All right, follow me.”
“Paaaarty,” Gyllenhaal says unconvincingly. We take off.
Gyllenhaal next appears in Ambulance (out April 8). It’s about a close-knit team of bank robbers whose plan collapses as soon as it starts, leading to a movie-length car chase that, yes, involves an ambulance and, yes, is directed by Michael Bay. Eiza González and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II costar. “The other day, Eiza and I were talking about the pronunciation of names,” Abdul-Mateen tells me, “and we joked that no one has a problem pronouncing Jake’s name, because we’ve known it all our lives. He’s a Hollywood staple.”
González is thirty-two; Abdul-Mateen, thirty-five.
But that’s the effect of Gyllenhaal’s long, unpredictable career. It feels like he has been around forever. He was still in high school when he launched to leading-man status, as a rocket-building West Virginian in October Sky. His breakthrough performance came two years later, in 2001, as the morose, maybe schizophrenic Donnie Darko. It remains one of his most recognizable roles. Someone told him recently they’d only seen the movie while stoned. “Oh, great,” he said. “Try watching without it. See your experience.” While he doesn’t love revisiting his own movies, that’s one he’ll stop to watch and think, Oh, right. Oh, wow.
Darko’s personality overlapped with his own at the time: “philosophical and angsty,” as he puts it. By then, cinema’s superhero era had just begun; while many up-and-coming actors were following the money to Hulk and the Star Wars prequels and other modern classics, Gyllenhaal set down a different, broodier path. Though he only realized it years later, he was driven by a want to prove—to himself, but also to his Hollywood peers and power brokers—that he took the job seriously, he planned to do it for a while, and he’d dig as deep as he needed in order to understand it.
He studied his costars. “The thing about Jake is that he’s so emotionally intelligent,” says Maggie, his older sister by three years. “He’s able to read everything that you put down.” On the set of the 2002 drama Moonlight Mile, he watched Dustin Hoffman knock out sets of triceps dips on a walker to raise his heart rate before a scene. “I was like, ‘Oh, this is what a good actor does,’ ” Gyllenhaal says. At the end of the shoot, Hoffman gave him a copy of Konstantin Stanislavski’s An Actor Prepares, inscribed with a message—“You’re good, but you’ve got to get better”—and a walker of his own. During the filming of 2005’s Brokeback Mountain in the Canadian wilderness, Gyllenhaal took note of Heath Ledger’s meticulous, intense technique. “While we were on set, Heath would get in his moment, and he would stay in his moment,” he says. Both he and Ledger received Oscar nominations for their performances, as two sheepherders in love.
This article appeared in the March 2022 issue of Esquire
Gyllenhaal tried his hand at massive productions. “There have been times when I’ve done the George Clooney rule of ‘Do a big one, then one for you,’ that whole thing,” he says. When filming began on The Day After Tomorrow, the 2004 summer blockbuster with climate change as the foe, he approached Dennis Quaid to work through their scenes, and Quaid “was like, Chill out. Chill out, bro.”
The 2009 Afghanistan-war movie Brothers, seen by few and little remembered, marked a turning point for Gyllenhaal, changed his entire approach to acting. With director Jim Sheridan’s encouragement, costar Tobey Maguire prepared by immersing himself in the world of veterans suffering from PTSD and anywhere else he deemed necessary to find meaning and honesty and truth. “I was influenced by watching Tobey do that,” Gyllenhaal says, “so I started to do that, too.”
He did two more big ones, both released in 2010—the rom-com Love & Other Drugs and the so-bad-it’s-funny-oh-wait-it’s-just-awful Prince of Persia—and then, until the end of the decade, he mostly did ones for himself. He sought out renegade directors who’d offer him the leeway to bore as deeply into his roles as he thought he needed. He even handpicked Duncan Jones, David Bowie’s son, for the sorely underrated time-warping thriller Source Code. The press couldn’t get enough of the lengths Gyllenhaal would go to in order to prepare. To play an upstart videographer of other people’s misery in 2014’s Nightcrawler, he ran up to fifteen miles a day, chewed gum instead of food, and shed thirty pounds to achieve the look of a hollowed gourd. Then, for his next role, as a down-and-out boxer in 2015’s Southpaw, he packed on muscle and went up to 180. “My God, that’s extreme. That’s dangerous,” says Southpaw director Antoine Fuqua. “Actors do that, you know, but Jake goes right to the edge.” He adds, “And sometimes you have to pull him back. He’s like a stick of dynamite.” Denis Villeneuve, who directed him twice, back-to-back—in 2013’s Prisoners and 2014’s Enemy—characterizes Gyllenhaal as “a wild horse.”
“I don’t know anybody who would say, ‘You know what Jake is? Incredibly laid-back about work,’” says Jeanine Tesori, a theatrical composer and producer who collaborated with him on his Broadway-musical debut: Stephen Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George, in 2017, about the agonies and the ecstasies of the artistic life. Gyllenhaal was a natural onstage; he received a Tony nomination in 2020 for his subtly heartbreaking performance in the play Sea Wall/A Life. In some ways, he enjoyed it more than movie acting; in theater, he could see—feel—the audience’s reception of his every performance. Maggie recalls seeing him while he was in his first Broadway play, Constellations, in 2015. He and costar Ruth Wilson would “be out every night, having a great dinner, drinking a bottle of wine, no stress about making sure that every single atom of himself was focused on the work. I loved seeing him so carefree. I preferred hanging out with him when he was like that.”
By 2019, he was ready to do his biggest project so far, going by the box-office returns: Spider-Man: Far from Home, in which he plays Tom Holland’s foil, Mysterio. Next, he did one for himself, the psychological police drama The Guilty, also directed by Fuqua, shot during the pandemic and released on Netflix in the fall of 2021—and nearly seventy million people watched it in just four weeks. Then Gyllenhaal thought, Why not do a Michael Bay movie?
He says that while “Michael can be brash, and he can be awkward,” they had a blast together. Abdul-Mateen recalls watching in astonishment as Gyllenhaal “made the entire set his playground,” and not just in front of the lens: “Jake loves the camera.” He means that figuratively but also very much literally. “There were times when he would take the camera from Mike. And then you look around and Jake is shooting the scene. I had never seen anything like that before. I’m curious about those things, but I would never ask the director if I could shoot a scene.”
Of all his performances, the one closest in spirit to the Gyllenhaal I see at the racetrack is not Donnie Darko or Jack Twist or Prince Dastan of Persia. It’s Mr. Music, his cameo role in the finale of the Netflix kids’ special for adults John Mulaney & the Sack Lunch Bunch. Excitable, goofy, failed choral leader Mr. Music, with a glockenspiel affixed to the front of his jacket and a tune on the tip of his tongue.
Gyllenhaal doesn’t like to sing; he loves to sing. He’s loved to sing since he first watched the biopic La Bamba. As a boy, he’d sing its title song over and over as he strummed a tennis racket, doing his best Ritchie Valens by way of Lou Diamond Phillips. “He was so into that movie,” Maggie says. At his production company’s holiday party, which has been on hiatus for the past two years due to the pandemic, he leads attendees in a Christmas-carol sing-along. He knows, just knows, it makes everyone feel better, even those who at first decline. (After talking to one guest, I can attest that not everyone feels better. “I was eyeing the exit,” they said.) “Even if people sing just a tiny bit, it makes me feel good,” Gyllenhaal says. “When you’re singing, there’s no shot other than opening up. It has to be heart first.” Maggie says that when her brother sings, “it’s almost like this clear channel expressing who he is. There’s nothing blocking it.” At one point, when I ask if he’s ready for more questions, he says, “Sure. I mean, we could do that. Or we could just sing karaoke.”
He’d performed in a few school musicals. But it wasn’t until decades later, when Jeanine Tesori learned of this and asked if he’d consider trying it out as an adult, that Gyllenhaal sang again for the public. And when he did, people listened. His voice, The New York Times wrote in its review of a concert performance of Sunday in the Park, is “a richly flexible timbre that confidently elicits the most delicate shades of passion and despair.” It continued: “Who’s your voice teacher, Mr. Gyllenhaal, and can you please send his or her card to every Broadway-bound actor you know?” Who can argue with that?
“That exchange with Jeanine ended up changing my life,” Gyllenhaal says. He’s been repaying her ever since. Five years ago, Tesori had a brain hemorrhage. “I didn’t want anybody to know,” she says. “But he found out. He has his ways.” Gyllenhaal showed up at the hospital bearing food for the nurses and urged them to take good care of her. “He slipped in, slipped out, made sure I was okay.”
Maggie tells me about a recent dinner she’d had with a childhood friend who’s known Gyllenhaal since he was born. “She said, ‘You know what you should do? Direct your brother in something funny.’ And I knew exactly what she meant,” she says. “He was always really funny. Cracking us up is not even the right way of putting it. We would be hysterically laughing at the things my brother was doing. And you could tell he really loved that.”
They grew up in Hancock Park, a neighborhood of wide avenues and leafy trees in the heart of Los Angeles. Their father, Stephen Gyllenhaal, was a director, mostly of made-for-television films. Their mother, Naomi Foner, had worked as a production assistant for Sesame Street before becoming a screenwriter. Though their careers were bumpy, they were still well- connected in that company town. When Naomi needed a pediatrician, she asked Mel Brooks for recommendations, and he also suggested the progressive elementary school that the kids attended, which The Hollywood Reporter describes as “the 800-pound Hollywood gorilla of L. A. pre- and elementary schools.” For a time, Steven Soderbergh lived in a room above their garage. One night when Gyllenhaal was ten, toward the end of a dinner his parents were holding, he offered guest Billy Crystal a dining-room chair as a parting gift. “I think I’ve always been a bit absurdist. That’s just sort of me,” he says of the gesture. The comedian thought the boy was funny, which led to Gyllenhaal landing his first part, in 1991, as Crystal’s son in City Slickers. The spirit of the family’s home was social, artistic, and politically conscious—“the underground railroad for East Coast intellectuals,” Naomi (problematically) told The New York Times in 2004. At a fundraiser she hosted for a Chilean activist group, Kris Kristofferson played an acoustic set in the wood-paneled living room. Growing up, Gyllenhaal might come upon his parents catching up with, say, the novelist Michael Ondaatje, or Ted Danson. Paul Newman taught him how to drive.
The Gyllenhaals summered on the western side of Martha’s Vineyard, in Chilmark. “My favorite times growing up,” Gyllenhaal says. “I found play and fun, and it was free.” Maggie loved it there, too: “L. A. always felt a little strange. Martha’s Vineyard felt much more like a home. There was a kind of freedom. When we were kids, people hitchhiked. Jake had a group of close friends there. They ran like a pack. Some have remained his really close friends. Jake still has such a strong connection to that island.”
Filming for October Sky, which took place in rural Tennessee, began the spring semester of Gyllenhaal’s senior year; it wrapped a little more than a month before graduation. “I remember coming back to school”—Harvard- Westlake, the private school at the southern edge of the San Fernando Valley, for which the tuition at the time was $12,800 a year (today, it’s $42,600)—“and being like, ‘What’s going on? Where am I? How do I fit in?’ ” he says. “All these people had done so much together over the time I was gone. I was back and ready to assimilate, and I definitely was not fully able to.” He’s the one who’d changed, not his classmates. “I was thrown into a very adult world at a certain age.” Not only was he surrounded by professionals, but he was expected to be a professional, too. He’s since realized, he says, “there should’ve been more room for me to play.”
It took two decades and a pandemic, but Gyllenhaal is making up for lost playtime. His industry friends have noticed. Comparing the man today with the one he met years ago, Villeneuve says, “Jake is definitely happier, more at peace.” Fuqua says he’s “much calmer, a little more open,” and seems “to be having more fun. And I think that’s maturity.”
Gyllenhaal says he spent too long “driving hard, focusing intensely, grinding.” He’s learning to shed that. “It’s my family, my friends, and the people I love who take priority,” Gyllenhaal says, “and not, I hate to say it, the career. And maybe that’s me saying they didn’t always.” He’s trying his best to concentrate on the signal and cut out the noise. He’s found that professional disappointment can yield personal benefits. Through his production company, Nine Stories, he’s been working for almost three years on a television adaptation of Lake Success, a novel about the unraveling of a narcissistic hedge-fund guy. It had been in development at HBO, but the network passed. “The best way I can put it,” he says, “is that Succession is such a successful show that Lake Success found its way into turnaround”—meaning that it can be shopped around elsewhere. “HBO already had a finance show.” The fate of the project is up in the air, but if nothing else comes of it, at least he’s formed a relationship: The novel is by his now very good friend Gary Shteyngart.
At forty-one, Gyllenhaal says, “you recognize mortality in a different way.” For one, he’s lost friends and colleagues: Heath Ledger. The director Jean-Marc Vallée. Penny Allen, his acting coach for more than a decade, who’d also worked with Maggie and her husband, Peter Sarsgaard. Life has a way of counterbalancing the pain of such losses—not always, but sometimes. Gyllenhaal is the godfather of Ledger and Michelle Williams’s daughter, Matilda. And before Allen died, she celebrated her birthday with a gathering of actors she’d worked with over the years. Though he won’t name the others in attendance, Gyllenhaal says it was an extraordinary group. They lined up and wished their acting coach—and an actor in her own right; she played the head bank teller in Dog Day Afternoon—a happy birthday. It was a tender goodbye.
He also thinks a lot more about his mother and father. “As you get older, you get to a place where you see yourself as you saw your parents when you were a child. And that’s a really beautiful perspective.” But also: “I’ve been on this earth with my parents for forty-one years, and it’s a really deep, really complex relationship.”
In 2008, after thirty-one years of marriage, Naomi and Stephen divorced. Naomi, who’s now seventy-five, moved to New York to be close to Maggie and her family; soon after, Gyllenhaal sold his home in the Hollywood Hills and did the same. When his parents put the place on the Vineyard up for sale, he considered buying it, “sort of,” but decided against it. Maggie says that was for the best. “I think that would’ve been really dark. It was time for that place to go.”
Stephen, now seventy-two, still lives in Los Angeles; he’s remarried, and he and his wife have a son, Luke, who’s seven. Gyllenhaal sees his half brother whenever he visits Los Angeles or they visit New York. “It’s been very beautiful to watch my father, from my perspective, be a dad,” he says. “You don’t ever get to see that.”
On the first night of Hanukkah last year, Naomi hosted a family party. Gyllenhaal was there with his girlfriend, the French model Jeanne Cadieu. So were Maggie and Peter and their two daughters, Ramona, fifteen, and Gloria, nine. Naomi made latkes and a roast, and they all exchanged gifts. Gyllenhaal gave his nieces tickets to Hadestown on Broadway; he’d seen it with them once before. “They were insistent,” he says. Maggie gave him and Cadieu a mezuzah cast from the doorframe of an apartment building in Germany. Ramona passed out handwritten Shakespeare quotes she’d picked for each family member; Gyllenhaal’s was from Hamlet.
He and his sister are very close, “and I can’t say that about every step of our relationship,” he says. As kids, they fought; as young actors, they competed. Today, “she and I have reached a point where we really are friends. We rely on each other.” For her part, Maggie says she feels “closer to him than I ever have. I’m so grateful for him. He seems so great lately—generous and loving and really solidly there for me and my family.”
Gyllenhaal and Cadieu, twenty-five, spent the first months of lockdown in the Los Angeles guesthouse of his godmother, Jamie Lee Curtis. With nothing to do and nowhere to go, Gyllenhaal began making sourdough bread. “I unknowingly joined a train that everybody was on,” he says. Every afternoon, he’d bake two loaves and bring one to Curtis, passing it to her through a window. “That became our offering of friendship.” After a while, he started delivering the other loaf to friends, “not only to off-load carbs onto them and not onto me but also a way of connecting and communicating.” As he baked, he’d call a person he had in mind and ask if they wanted a loaf. “And then I would drive it over. So that was the pandemic exchange.”
He and Cadieu watched cuts of Maggie’s directorial debut, The Lost Daughter, and gave her notes. This past September, they attended the screening of the movie at the New York Film Festival. It was the first time in their three and a half years together that they appeared side by side on a red carpet. “In a lot of ways, we’re family,” he says of his girlfriend. “I’m in a relationship that is full of love and support. I feel so at ease.”
A month before Gyllenhaal and I meet, Taylor Swift released Red (Taylor’s Version). On it was an extended version of “All Too Well,” which, since it first came out in 2012, has widely been considered to be about her three-month-or-so relationship with the actor. It’s among her most beloved songs. Because the newly recorded version contains lyrics not on the original, and because it was accompanied by a music video directed by Swift, her fan base, massive and loyal, reignited a sort of kremlinology of the romance. Instantly, Gyllenhaal became the Internet’s punching bag. Though the ire was mostly of the celebrity-schadenfreude sort, it’s hard to overstate its volume and pitch. If anyone came to his defense, their message was lost in the overwhelming anti-Jake sentiment that flooded the comments of not just his Instagram account but also Maggie’s and even Jamie Lee Curtis’s. Entertainment media feasted for weeks. Gyllenhaal had never been in the press as much as he was in the weeks after the song’s release. Not even close.
Swift did not comment on her fans’ reactions; while she’s always been open about using her past relationships as lyrical fodder, she’s never named names. Until now, Gyllenhaal hasn’t commented, either; that he turned off his Instagram comments was the only sign this firestorm had affected him at all. “It has nothing to do with me. It’s about her relationship with her fans,” he says when I bring it up. “It is her expression. Artists tap into personal experiences for inspiration, and I don’t begrudge anyone that.” Still, I offer, hasn’t the past month been hard on him? He says it has not. What about turning off his Instagram comments? Doesn’t that suggest the situation has affected his life, even if only as an inconvenience?
Here he starts speaking in broader terms. “At some point, I think it’s important when supporters get unruly that we feel a responsibility to have them be civil and not allow for cyberbullying in one’s name,” he says. He falls silent, then pensive. “That begs for a deeper philosophical question. Not about any individual, per se, but a conversation that allows us to examine how we can—or should, even—take responsibility for what we put into the world, our contributions into the world. How do we provoke a conversation? We see that in politics. There’s anger and divisiveness, and it’s literally life-threatening in the extreme.” I ask if his life has been threatened recently; he says no, that’s not what he’s suggesting. “My question is: Is this our future? Is anger and divisiveness our future? Or can we be empowered and empower others while simultaneously putting empathy and civility into the dominant conversation? That’s the discussion we should be having.” I then ask if he thinks such empowerment is achievable. “I think it is possible, yes. Of course. But I think many things are possible.” He shrugs, his hands raised in the air as if to convey, What more is there to say? Has he listened to the album? “No.”
He politely does not mention my role, simply by posing these questions, in dragging out a story he’d probably rather never hear about again. Instead, he explains that while I keep asking about the noise, he’s focusing on the signal. “I’m not unaware that there’s interest in my life,” he says. What he wants me t o know above all else is this: “My life is wonderful. I have a relationship that is truly wonderful, and I have a family I love so much. And this whole period of time has made me realize that.”
Does he think he’ll channel whatever he’s experienced in the past month into his own art? “I don’t know. I can’t tell you that,” he says. “Ask me in a month. I don’t start work till the end of January.”
As Gyllenhaal hurtles us around the track in the BMW, tailing Chris, the director of fun, he’s not thinking about his character in Guy Ritchie’s The Interpreter, which starts filming in a few weeks in Valencia, Spain, or about his production company’s long to-do list. He’s not thinking about potentially working with Doug Liman on a yet-to-be-confirmed Road House remake (“which I’m psyched about,” he’d said earlier) or about Taylor Swift.
He’s thinking about brakes. Gripping the steering wheel, his hands still locked in at 10 and 2, he’s leaning forward, eyes wide, studying Chris’s every move. “See, he just braked,” he says to himself as much as to me. “I think I’m braking too soft. Watch him. He’s not braking. Now he brakes . . . here.”
This goes on uninterrupted for ten minutes.
“Hard brake. Harder brake. Okay, now I feel like I’m stopping,” he says as he cuts the wheel around a switchback, “but I’m not!” Though the cold conditions prevent him from going full tilt, Gyllenhaal still edges past 130 miles per hour on the back straight. It’s the fastest he’s ever driven. “This is sick,” he says. “Aaaand now it’s snowing.”
I ask if he likes how the car handles. “I cannot discern,” he says with a staccato laugh. Is he comfortable? “The answer to that question is no,” he adds with glee. Did Paul Newman put up with this?
For the last experience of our day, Chris takes us on a lap around the track to give us a taste of drifting—purposely losing tire traction while maintaining control of the car. When we pull into the pit, Gyllenhaal starts applauding.
I’ve never acted opposite him in a scene or pitched a project to his production company. I don’t know firsthand what he’s like while on the job. I’m sure he’s as intense and serious and even wild as he’s so often portrayed. But it seems to me that the common story about Jake Gyllenhaal too easily conflates the man and his work, the actor and his parts. I spend only a day with him; what do I know? I know I see in him warmth and kindness and theatrical goof. And some of the testiness, too. He’s all those things and plenty else, wrapped into one complex package. Just like the rest of us.
During the walk back to my Jeep, I see that his white Stan Smiths are caked in red mud from earlier in the day, when we raced cross karts on the offtrack rally cross course. I recall watching, in shock, as Gyllenhaal sneaked up from behind and lapped me, and how, afterward, he’d been modest but proud. I also recall what he’d said earlier about being unbothered by the lack of awards, or even nominations, he’s received in the years since Brokeback Mountain. “Are there advantages if you get nominated for something or you win? Sure. It’s nice if your movie does really well and someone says, ‘Here’s an award.’” He’d paraphrased a Philip Roth quote to explain his position. “Awards are wonderful for the child inside you, and then, the next day, you have to get back to work.”
He’d added, “It’s a great fucking job.”
He’s exhausted. We both are. Still, he’s a two-hour drive away from all that responsibility. He turns to me. “Shall we sing a song?” he asks—earnestly, I think—his eyes glinting in the fading light of the winter afternoon.