Monday, November 27, 2006

Jake Gyllenhaal

Brown-haired with fresh-faced good looks, thoughtful young actor Jake Gyllenhaal made an impressive mark with a starring role in the 1999 feel-good favorite "October Sky". While this marked his starring debut, he had appeared in prior films in small supporting roles, debuting in 1991's "City Slickers" with a brief turn that earned acclaim from screen dad Billy Crystal, if not public notice. Forbidden by his parents to take a role in Disney's successful hockey comedy "The Mighty Ducks" (1992) as it was a two-month long location shoot, Gyllenhaal next appeared in the little-seen children's adventure "Josh and S.A.M." (1993), playing a mean stepbrother to the title characters. The son of director Stephen Gyllenhaal and screenwriter Naomi Foner, the actor was also featured in two of his father's films, "A Dangerous Woman" (1993, also scripted by his mom) and "Homegrown" (1998).

The following year Gyllenhaal made his starring debut in "October Sky", a film based on the real life story of NASA engineer Homer Hickham Jr. The young actor played Hickham, a boy interested in rocket science whose brilliant mind and staunch dedication, even in the face of a discouraging father, wrote him a ticket out of his dead-end mining town. Although he had relatively little film experience, his performance in "October Sky" proved Gyllenhaal an actor on the ascent. Featured in nearly every scene, he emerged as a highly watchable screen presence, giving a most compelling and sincere performance. While his unassuming good looks and scholarly lifestyle didn't grab many headlines, his talent and respect for his craft would promise the likable new arrival a bright future in film.

It wasn't long before Gyllenhaal got a chance to shine again, when he starred in the haunting fantasy film "Donnie Darko" in 2001. Also that year, he starred in the offbeat comedy "Bubble Boy" as well as the drama "Highway" with Jared Leto and Selma Blair. In addition, Gyllenhaal starred opposite Jennifer Aniston in "The Good Girl" (2002) as well as having appearing in the Nicole Holofcener directed independent film "Lovely and Amazing."

Gyllenhaal's most high profile role would come in "Moonlight Mile"(2002) where he starred with Dustin Hoffman, Holly Hunter and Susan Sarandon. He played a young man whose fiancé is accidentally killed and who finds himself spending a great deal of time grieving with her family. Gyllenhaal was nearly cast as the superhero Spider-Man for the sequel "Spider-Man 2" (2004) when a dispute between the role's originator, Tobey Maguire, and the studio almost resulted in recasting (Gyllenhaal was also romantically involved with the franchise's female lead, Kirsten Dunst). Instead, he was cast in another big-budget summer film that went head-to-head against the "Spider-Man" sequel: in director Roland Emmerich's disaster film "The Day After Tomorrow" (2004) Gyllenhaal played the son of a climatologist (Dennis Quaid) who is trapped in New York City as a new ice age descends on the planet.

The actor then had his most creatively productive year to date in 2005, appearing in no less than four features. First up was "Proof," director John Madden's film adaptation of David Auburn's Pulitzer Prize winning play, in which the actor played a self-effacing math student who idolizes his brilliant but schizophrenic teacher (Anthony Hopkins) and forms a tenuous bond with his troubled daughter (Gwyneth Paltrow). The film featured Gyllenhaal's most mature work to date, and positioned him well for future roles as a romantic leading man who could hold his own among acting heavyweights. If "Proof" was confirmation of his talent, his next feature that year was a revelation: "Jarhead" (2005) was director Sam Mendes' insightful, psychological adaptation of former U.S. Marine Anthony Swofford's bestselling memoir of his service during the 1990 Gulf War in Iraq, and Gyllenhaal turned in a startlingly deep and effective portrayal a Swoff, a naive, callow youth who enlists in the Marine Corp and is highly trained to be a sniper, but finds himself mired in paranoia, boredom and existential angst when he is stationed in Iraq but not allowed to put his skills to use as nations stood on the brink of war. Gyllenhaal was thoroughly convincing and took his performance to dark, probing places that had not seemed likely earlier in his career, appearing to mature on screen as the film unfolds.

Even better was Gyllenhaal's turn in director Ang Lee's haunting and heartbreaking drama "Brokeback Mountain" (2005), an adaptation and expansion of E. Annie Proulx's renowned story which cast the actor as Jack Twist, who on a 1960s sheep drive across a mountain range enters into a homosexual relationship with his closeted fellow ranch hand Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger), an agonizing romance that continues sporadically over several decades. Gyllenhaal's character is far more open and expressive than his partner, and the actor convincingly portrayed the enduring emotions—as well as aging convincingly—in a performance that showed even more depth and sensitivity than any he'd attempted previously. After a high-profile no-show at the Golden Globes (he was not nominated), Gyllenhaal earned an Oscar nod for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. Meanwhile, Gyllenhaal spent the remainder of 2005 filming “Zodiac,” a crime thriller about the famed serial killer who may have been responsible for 37 murders around San Francisco from 1966 to 1978.


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