Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Jake Gyllenhaal Moves on to a New Stage ; Film Actor Seeks out Theater Roles as He Tries to Reorient His Career

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Jake Gyllenhaal Moves on to a New Stage ; Film Actor Seeks out Theater Roles as He Tries to Reorient His Career

Article excerpt

The film actor is seeking out theater roles as he tries to reorient his career.

Jake Gyllenhaal made a deal with himself 10 years ago: For every three movies he made, he would perform in a play.

It was a deal he didn't keep.

He was 21 back then, on a high from his London stage debut as a sensitive slacker in Kenneth Lonergan's "This Is Our Youth," the sort of hangdog character that had turned him into an indie darling in movies like "Donnie Darko" and "Lovely & Amazing." But going off to do plays isn't part of the Hollywood fast track for young actors still proving themselves at the box office. So Mr. Gyllenhaal tested for the Spider-Man and Batman franchises and other roles that might transform him into an action hero or leading man.

What happened? The critically derided disaster movie "The Day After Tomorrow" happened. The much-mocked "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time" happened. Acclaimed films happened, too, like "Brokeback Mountain" and "Zodiac." But Mr. Gyllenhaal was uneasy.

"I wasn't really listening to myself about the kinds of projects I wanted to do," he said in an interview, reflecting on the past decade. "I had to figure out what kind of an actor I wanted to be and feel confident going for that."

He has now come to a few conclusions, and they were evident last month at a table reading for his first outing in New York theater, "If There Is I Haven't Found It Yet," a dark comedy about an overweight British teenager and her troubled family. The project itself was telling: The play, which began performances on Friday from Roundabout Theater Company, is an Off Broadway ensemble work by a little-known writer, rather than a famous Broadway drama by a prizewinner like Arthur Miller -- the vehicles of choice for Hollywood stars these days.

Hunched over a script beside his cast mates and director, Mr. Gyllenhaal rolled through questions on his mind about a scene in which his character -- Uncle Terry, brokenhearted and charmingly roguish -- reveals a few of his many problems.

"When was the last time I talked to Rachel?" Mr. Gyllenhaal asked, referring to Terry's former girlfriend. "Did I see Rachel at the funeral, or after?" And then: "I must've done something that made her say, 'I'm tired of this guy.' What was it?"

Those questions, and the many that followed, were the sort that classically trained actors ask as they probe layers of their characters to puzzle out intentions, tones and emotional shades for imbuing a performance. Mr. Gyllenhaal studied at Columbia University for two years before dropping out to become a movie star, and some of the directors of his movies, like Ang Lee of "Brokeback Mountain," have described him as a freestyle actor more than a methodical one.

Mr. Gyllenhaal, who was nominated for a supporting actor Oscar for "Brokeback," said he still reveled in experimenting with his take on characters from scene to scene and performance to performance. But acting rigor is increasingly his goal, and perhaps the respect that comes with it.

"Early in your career," he said, "it's hard to know everything for yourself, and asking questions isn't always a welcome thing in Hollywood, where everyone seems like they know what they're doing.

"Around the time I hit 30, I asked myself if I was respecting acting as a craft," he continued, "and if I was doing the right projects that deserved my attention and where I'm learning in a way that you might not feel at 15. So now it's like I look at acting more as building little delicate cricket cages, with care and more thought."

In the past 18 months Mr. Gyllenhaal parted ways with his longtime manager, signed with a new agency and began devoting more time to selecting and preparing for projects.

He recently wrapped a role as a history teacher in another coming film, "An Enemy," for which he e-mailed frequently with one of his old Columbia professors about the art of delivering classroom lectures. …

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