Jake Gyllenhaal on Truth and Simplicity

Jake Gyllenhaal on Truth and Simplicity

I grabbed some pizza with Jake Gyllenhaal at the infamous Lucali’s in Brooklyn to philosophize about the craft of simplicity, Love, the ’90s, VCR’s, Movies and Eternity Eau de Parfum by Calvin Klein.

I grabbed some pizza with Jake Gyllenhaal at the infamous Lucali’s in Brooklyn to philosophize about the craft of simplicity, Love, the ’90s, VCR’s, Movies and Eternity Eau de Parfum by Calvin Klein.

Text: Stella Pak

Jake Gyllenhaal likes to keep things simple. As simple as starring as the good guy’s bad guy, Mysterio, in this summer’s blockbuster hit, Spiderman: Far From Home, shift gears and hop on a Broadway stage, for A Life, Sea Wall—while overseeing films under his co-owned production company, Nine Stories. Simple summer. How was yours?

Never one to be typecast, it’s hard to predict the roles he’ll choose in front of a camera, behind the camera or just diving straight in with the audience. Jake’s developed a sharp craft that cuts through the complexities of acting and gets to the core of any subject as he has with Calvin Klein’s Eternity fragrance campaign. It’s the absence of the literal, visual and sonic cues that lets love breathe as he recites a poem by E.E Cummings with Liya Kebede.

We chat through these ideas over Lucali’s Pizza in Brooklyn. Simple but only the best.

STELLA PAK: CK was huge in the ‘90s. Were you a CK kinda guy as a teen?

JAKE GYLLENHAAL: Of course I was! I did a little sampling off of magazines for a long time. You buy a magazine and they’d have like, CK One or Eternity, Drakkar Noir. I did a little bit of that. Everyone thought I could buy all these things. But I’d take all these magazines and rub them all over my neck. And then wet them and put it on my neck.

SP: You were doubling it up!

JG: Oh yeah. My grandfather was a child of the depression so he was always talking about saving.

SP: Resourceful. How is the Eternity Eau de Parfum different from the Eau De Toilette?

JG: It is different in scent obviously. It retains some of the familiar smells. Kind of like... a woodsy smell. It’s a bit more... I like to say Yuzu. But other people say crisp apple. There’s more freshness to it. It’s designed specifically for a man. But I think that it could be for anyone.

SP: There’s a nice to sharpness. It cuts through.

JG: I think it still retains strong femininity but it’s inherently masculine.

SP: Was is it weird to imagine yourself placed in these iconic Calvin Klein ads and billboards when you grew up looking at it as a kid?

JG: I would be. I would find it weird but I don’t. We try to tell a story and that was the fun of it. For me, it felt like an artistic venture that’s in a certain period of time. A story in 15 seconds. But this piece feels less like a lot of the commercials that are made. And it was made from a particular intention. So, no. it’s not weird. As long as my intention feels honest to myself, then it doesn’t feel weird. I only feel weird when I feel like, “Oh that’s bullshit”.

SP: The Eternity video has an interesting narrative arc to bring to the table for a fragrance commercial. It’s not just about being sexy.

JG: Initially when they came to me, we were talking about it and they said, “Hey, we’re thinking of Liya (Kebede) as the female face of this, maybe we do something that’s a love story. And then we talked a little more and why it was made, and how Calvin had done it when he was starting his family. That’s how it all came about. He was about to get married, and he came up with this idea and that’s how it was born. I thought, “Oh, iIt’s about getting married.” There are so many commercials with people running around with their dresses flowing and they meet in the middle and they kiss in this perfect garden full of roses. I thought, ‘What happens after that? What happens after that idea?’ It would be really interesting if it was about having a family and a child and not have it be just about sex, but what great sex between two people who love each other can make. They can make something really beautiful together—they can make a child. So that idea really turned me on, so to speak. So I just restarted working with that idea and we started working on this concept.

SP: Simplify Love?

JG: What I love about Calvin Klein is that… simplicity is a very hard thing to excel at and they do it. Because of that, a lot of artists gravitate towards them because it’s about equality between the personality and the clothing or the personality and the fragrance— and they come together. They intertwine. And they do it in the simplest ways. I love that idea. Taking a very complicated idea at the beginning of a family and all of the connections and hopes. I love the idea that you don’t see the couple together all the time, but you see that what they’re made from. It implies a lot of different things. It says, ‘“Are they together? Are they in the same place? How much do they love each other?’ They clearly do. Love is very complicated. I love all those things. To me, all those ideas are in it.

SP: What about memories?

JG: Scent has always been something that brings up memories for me. Like, I mean you talk about the ‘90s. Eternity reminds me of high school. That feeling of something as protection, like armor, is something I feel like yourself but you’re a part of something. You’re also trying to impress [someone]. All those feelings. The feelings of your heart fluttering when you saw the girl you had a crush on for the first time. All those things. It was a real nostalgia for me. And it felt right.

SP: A modern expression of romance?

JG: It’s just romance.

SP: Plays, Indies, and blockbusters. How do you choose your roles? Is it about where you are in your life? 

JG: I guess it is where I am in my life in certain cases. In the case of the play that I have going into Broadway this summer, it’s the piece that I’ve begged the author to do for five years. It wasn’t really a piece when I begged him to do it. He had given it to me as a piece of writing. It was written for himself while we were doing another show. We’ve done 3 shows together. This is our third one. And I fell in love with it. I asked him “Can I perform for this?” He kept saying, “It’s not enough. It’s not a show. And so that took a long time for that state to be born into something. And it’s still progressing into something new all the time. Now we’re moving to Broadway, so it’s a different thing. And then, sometimes it’s just where I am with my life. Sometimes, something resonates with me. And then I also have a production company. We’re also developing lots of things outside of things that I’m not in. We made four movies this year.

SP: You have A Life and then there’s Sea Wall. You’re performing monologues. How do you intend to keep going with that day after day after day?

JG: We’ve already performed it like 100 times. We did it at the Public Theater this winter. Because of the response we got from people we didn’t expect – the stories that came from the people from the stories we tell, which are about fatherhood, being a father, being a son, becoming a parent, losing a parent, the mess and the comedy of life. People’s stories that they brought back to us, hit us so hard in such a beautiful way, that we’re like, “Oh Shit. We gotta keep doing this.”

This feels special in a different way than I’ve experienced in a theater. And so to me, it’s an emotional journey. The audience invigorates me. It doesn’t exhaust me. The terror that I felt when we first began, like oh my god, You’re really walking out into a cliff when you do a monologue in front of a huge group of people. It became something else as we did it. It became this incredible exchange and just being human with everybody together. When you come to the show, it’s a community. It’s like a community in the way that theater always falsely puts up that wall. Even if they’re speaking, there’s a sense of performance. We’re all together. In a way that I’ve never had that feeling in anything, I’ve ever done.

SP: I’m interested in the format because I have my own assumptions.

JG: Oh. A monologue is the most potentially indulgent thing an actor could do. The thing about actors and monologues is that, “Oh, God.” I roll my eyes even saying it. It’s not that. It’s not how we do it. It’s actually something else. It’s not some journey to see how versatile we can be. It’s just the best way to describe it is that they’re such incredible pieces of writing. And some audience members don’t click in. But most of the time, when the audience clicks in, there’s a silence that is deafening and their imagination takes off. I just go with wherever the audience wants to go.

SP: So you ride with it. 

JG: I roll with them in a way that I can’t put into words. They tell me where they want to go and we go. It’s not anything about the performance that I’m doing. It’s the writing, connecting with everybody’s story about the people they love.

SP: What is it like with Tom (Sturridge)? For now, we’ll call it a monologue. Are you performing together or separate?

JG: We are on stage at times together. We are a team. I’m on stage when he’s doing his pieces. He’s on stage when I’m doing mine. We support each other and we know each other all the time. We’re there, helping each other through different moments. It’s never felt like two separate things to me ever. We’re together. We’re in it.

SP: I’m ready to throw away all assumptions.

JG: The great thing about our director, Carrie Cracknell is that she’d call bullshit on us constantly. “You’re performing, you’re performing, you’re performing. I don’t want that. I don’t want performance, I don’t want performance. I don’t want performance. Speak to me. Speak to me. Speak to me.” And we still do perform. We’re still full of shit at times. That’s inevitable. But – it’s what we try and stop. The point is to stop that idea of performance and make it about us when we’re together. And not in a Cirque de Soleil kind of way where I’ll pull you up on the stage.

SP: Haha. Maybe we’re going a little off track. But you mentioned your production company earlier. If there’s a lens that would help curate your films or production, what would that be?

JG: The lens is, helping the filmmakers that I love to continue to make films through the connections that I have. But particularly, my partner and I, when we first set out, creating equality between male and female filmmakers. That we’re making films about women. That we’re making films about men. Films about men made by women, films about women made by women, films about women made by men. That there becomes an equality in the space that has not been there before. I think it’s because I was brought up by a woman who is a filmmaker, she’s my north star in a lot of ways. That’s just how I learned about filmmakers – from my mother and father. But my mother is a writer and pretty intense... and my sister as well. So that’s just something that we wanted to do. I also think that... we both love... (my partner’s name is Riva Marker) we both love the movies of the ’90s. Keeping to that time. They were big but they were character-driven in a way.

SP: Like what movie?

JG: One of the first movies... we were like Goonies kids, we like Babysitter’s Club. We have Dirty Dancing. We have Rad.

SP: Can I tell you... I was in my mom’s basement the other day, I discovered all these 90’s VHS tapes and thought, “Where am I gonna find a VCR player?” 

JG: I’m sure you can.

SP: I love watching it on film. 

JG: Not through like a filter on Instagram?

SP: Haha. But when you watch movies in HD, it takes away that filter of magic.

JG: Yeah! You can have settings on your TV. There’s a new setting on digital TV’s that make everything look like a soap opera.

SP: That’s what I need. I need the visual drama amplified with an analog filter.

JG: You need to do that. Because I’ve seen beautiful movies and have been like, “Oh my God. This is not good.”

SP: Has this been color balanced?

JG: Actually, I get very obsessed with that. That really messes me up. The blur to the digital.

SP: I know... so I’m on the prowl for a VCR player. Maybe I’ll find it on eBay. 

JG: Yes. I’m sure you will. Or Craigslist.

SP: Or by a dumpster.

JG: Yes. Probably. Most likely. By a white leather couch.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Calvin Klein Men's Eternity Eau de Parfum, 3.3-oz. is available now at Macy's. Purchase here.

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