Is there anything Jake Gyllenhaal hasn’t done? He’s played rocket scientist to nighttime news stringer to Marvel supervillain; he’s been nominated for an Oscar and showed off his musical theater prowess; he’s appeared in a Beyoncé and Jay-Z music video; and he once exited a late-night talk show set so gracefully, it turned into a meme. And despite the year’s ever-changing release schedule due to the pandemic, the actor managed to squeeze a few more feats into 2021.
The latest was starring in Antoine Fuqua’s The Guilty, which began streaming on Netflix earlier this month. A thriller set in isolation, it centers on Joe Baylor (Gyllenhaal), a police detective-turned-911 dispatcher who tries to save a caller over the phone. Based on the 2018 Danish film of the same name, the film mostly features Gyllenhaal solo with a chorus of callers portrayed as voices offscreen. It’s risky, but it worked: The Guilty landed in Netflix’s Top 10 ranking and, in a new report, Nielsen confirmed it was the most-watched film across all streaming platforms the week of its release, with more than 469 million minutes watched.
Months before that, Gyllenhaal was tapped by Prada to be the face of its new fragrance, Luna Rossa Ocean, a fresh yet sensual scent that infuses notes of bergamot, vetiver essence, and iris. He even lent his talents to the campaign video helmed by director Johan Renck (Chernobyl), where he captains a sailboat through a storm—soaked, but with style.
Here, ELLE.com caught up with Gyllenhaal to talk about filming The Guilty, his approach to self-care, and his evolution since Donnie Darko.
What is it about the Prada Luna Rossa Ocean fragrance that attracted you?
I love that it represents discipline and freedom simultaneously. One cannot do anything groundbreaking without an equal share of both.
What are some of your go-to everyday products?
Toothpaste, toothbrush, soap, and water! Ha.
The campaign for the scent says it’s for a “modern adventurer.” What was the latest adventure you’ve taken?
I recently spent a week on the open ocean, fishing. One day we happened to meet some unexpectedly gnarly weather and were caught out in it for the day. Took a long time to get home. When we did, we were cold and soaked to the bone, but I haven’t had that much fun in a long time. We caught a few fish too!
You star in The Guilty, which arrived on Netflix earlier this month. How did you prepare for this very intense role? Did you shadow any real life 911 dispatchers for research?
I spent a good deal of time researching for The Guilty. I acquired the rights for the original film, so I spent time during the development of the screenplay adaptation researching 911 dispatchers and particularly the stress and strain the job and the incidents they help with put on them as human beings. They help people dealing with some of the most traumatic and dramatic experiences of their lives and oftentimes never get to hear what happens to the person who calls in. That is very hard for the mind and heart to reconcile. I was so interested in the job and its effect on the incredible people who do it.
What was it about the original film that drew you to the project?
When I saw the original film The Guilty, I was inspired. I saw the potential for an American adaptation immediately. I felt it in my bones. It was deeply important to me to tell a story about how my country deals with mental illness and show how these systemic problems lead two people (in very different positions) toward some sort of healing, and redemption.
You’re solo for most of the performance in that film, and I read that you didn’t get to see your director, Antoine Fuqua, in person due to COVID social distancing protocols. How did you handle the isolation during the shoot?
The character I play is in an isolated state from the beginning of the film and struggles to connect to people in his life so, in a way, it was helpful to be distanced from pretty much everyone I was working with. It brought up a lot of very interesting feelings, as one of the things I adore about acting is that it gives me an opportunity to explore states of mind and feelings I wouldn’t normally get the opportunity to in everyday life.
You’ll also be starring in Michael Bay’s Ambulance with Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, and the glimpses we’ve seen so far look explosive. What can we expect?
I had a wonderful time working with Michael and the whole cast. You can expect a wonderfully entertaining, tense, roller coaster ride with some crazy chases. Most of all it is a surprisingly emotional film. I think it’s one of Michael Bay’s best. I am really excited for people to see the film. It’s a film you HAVE to see on the big screen, in a movie theater. It was made for the cinematic experience.
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You have many more projects in the works, including the Oblivion Song adaptation and Francis and The Godfather. How do you wind down from a big day on set? What does your self-care routine look like?
I love to cook and eat. Oftentimes, I am in the middle of a work day and I start thinking about something I want to cook or a restaurant I want to try and it always gives me a burst of energy and excitement to get through the rest of the work day. Self-care for me is about connecting daily with the people I love in my life, and staying in touch.
I saw you ran into a Mysterio fan in Venice. How does it feel to continue to receive the love from Marvel fans, even two years after Spider-Man: Far from Home?
The Marvel Universe is vast and there is so much adoration for the characters in it. I love the Marvel fans! When you play a Marvel character, it comes with an already rich history and responsibility, so I was just pleased that all the fans liked my interpretation of Mysterio. He was a fun one to play.
Donnie Darko turned 20 this year, which you’ve touted as one of your most iconic roles. How do you think you’ve evolved as an actor since then?
Oh, I think it’s hard to express how much I’ve evolved as an actor. I’ve had such wonderful luck, great opportunities, and have worked with some of the most talented people in the film industry. I think the thing that stays constant is my deep love of performing in front of an audience on a stage. There is nothing like live theater, and I don’t think that will ever go away.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
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