Jake Gyllenhaal: Finding His Way Up ‘Brokeback Mountain’

Hollywood.com: You’ve said that you’ve found yourself longing for the loneliness of the locales of this film. What do you mean by that?
Jake Gyllenhaal: I don’t know. It’s an unconscious thing, I think. I don’t know if it’s a longing for it, it’s just something that I relate to somewhere–something in it. I didn’t realize, either, that it was going to be that lonely until we got out there. Both in Jarhead and Brokeback Mountain, the topography of both the areas is like desert and flatland and then huge mountains. It was nothing but nature around–and your own mind. I don’t know if I really understood that’s what it was going to be. I mean, you read the script and you’re like, “Oh, cool. I get to ride horses.” And then you are alone for three months.

HW: But your character Jack is much less of a loner than Heath’s character, Ennis, much more socially adept.
JG: Yeah, I think there is a part of him that wants to progress and wants to change and wants things to move forward, and he is constantly kind of pushing Ennis to come out of his shell. But it’s that dance between the two of them that I think makes the two of them fall in love. If Ennis were to completely come out of his shell, would the two of them still be in the relationship that they are in throughout the film? I don’t know. It was a struggle to keep that up while you are feeling a little lonely.

HW: You’ve said that making Jarhead changed your perspective on the military. Did Brokeback Mountain change your perspective on anything?
JG: I wanted you to say, “Did it change your perspective on gay cowboys?” [Laughs] It’s very hard to make this experience into a literal one. I think it’s about the struggles of two people dealing with intimacy, ultimately. And at the same time, you don’t have this ideal idea of love. This thing that you see in movies all the time is, “Oh, it’s supposed to happen between these two people.” Particularly a guy and a girl–you are supposed to get the girl, you are supposed to lose the girl, and you are supposed to get the girl again. And when you get the girl again then the whole thing is all good. Then we talk about how sometimes you wake up the next morning, and you are brushing your teeth together, but we don’t ever usually talk about that in movies. And when we do it’s with a guy and a girl but this was like putting it in an environment where we had never seen it before. If I learned anything, I think it’s just when you’re working with Ang Lee there is a real benevolence in everything he does. I remember when I saw Sense and Sensibility–my Mom always says that I walked out saying, “I feel so clean.” And I think you walk out of this film feeling kind of devastated in a lot of ways, but also feeling like a real sense of benevolence. And I think the process of making the film produced that, too. I mean, yes, he manipulated us. Yes, in a way, he very gently abused us, but I walked out of this experience going, “There is a real kind of benevolence.” If Heath [Ledger] and I could do it, then it should be okay for the real people who are really doing this to do it.

HW: When you and Heath acted the intimate scenes, did you discuss it at length beforehand to develop a comfort zone, or did you throw yourself right into it?
JG: Heath did, I think, but not me. We talked about it, we joked about it, we would poke fun while we were doing it. It’s one of those things where you kind of don’t make it into the biggest deal. It would have put too much pressure on a scene if we were like, “What do we have to do? Oh my God, we have to do this!” You know what I mean? I wasn’t up the night before. To me the physical stuff was easy. It’s choreography, it’s a dance. That’s how we did it, just like in an Ang Lee movie. Just like in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon–those fight scenes were like love scenes. Everybody draws a metaphor for those. It seems to be harder for everybody to go, “Oh, the love scenes in this movie are like fight scenes, in a way.” And they are very similar. They do have a choreography to them, they are very aggressive. For us it was like we were doing a dance, we were choreographing a fight scene, and so for me it was just getting the steps right for the camera.

HW: But perhaps it was easier to play the scenes in the back of the car with Anne Hathaway?
JG: Oh. [Laughs] Now it gets more complicated. It was easier for me to–I mean, yeah, she is a very beautiful girl. That’s all I can say. She’s a very, very beautiful girl. She’s very beautiful. [Laughs]

HW: You talk about the dance between the two characters. Was Jack living two separate, isolated lives, or was he comfortable keeping a part of himself hidden away in reserve?
JG: Well I think Jack is a bad dancer, first and foremost. He can’t waltz very well and in the scene where he has to waltz with Anna Faris‘ character I couldn’t ever get it, I don’t know why I was like a fool. I think Ennis is balancing things much more than Jack is. I think the world Jack lives in is kind of an interesting world, with a different type of denial. He and his wife are not necessarily the most communicative people. You don’t really spend a lot of time seeing how much the two of them really love each other as you do with Ennis and Alma. It’s funny–I worked all those scenes with Anne thinking, “She knows.” I never was hiding anything from her as actor. I just thought, “Oh, we both know, I’m going off to fishing she knows what I am going to do.” How could she not? I think Heath’s whole thing was hiding and hiding and hiding and hiding and hiding. I think that’s really what makes the two of us different as personalities, because I’m just not the type of person that really holds in. So I think our personalities definitely played into it, and I do think that he’s dancing but his dance is more of a rain dance than a ballet.

HW: Much of this film is built on our fears of what people might think of us. Is that something that factors into your life?
JG: I think Jack in particular is someone who cares a lot about what other people think of him. I do think that there is a big part of that that I can relate to, but I made this movie almost two years ago now, and I feel like I’ve really changed since then, and am changing. Ang says a really beautiful thing about the film. He says that Brokeback Mountain is a place where the two of them get to go, where nobody is judging them, and nobody is worried about pretending to be something they are not. We all have our Brokeback Mountain, and that if you are in love with somebody now or you are married to somebody now or whatever you are in a relationship of any kind. If you bring them to that place and you are still in love with them, then you are truly in love. We all have that part of us, but ultimately it kind of goes away when you are really intimate with somebody.

HW: You and Heath achieve a palpable on-screen chemistry that even many male and female actors never really achieve together. What was the process you used to get there? Did you approach it similarly to working opposite a female lead?
JG: There are so many complications to this, and describing exactly what it is. For Heath and I, I think, it’s a friendship and a trust that as actors we were going to go someplace that we both were afraid of, and we knew that we were. We just trusted each other somewhere. In that trust there was a chemistry, and there was a real connection in that–I keep describing it like we were on special teams. Heath and I were a team, and then Anne and I were a team, and Michelle [Williams] and Heath were a team, and we all were sent out to run different plays. We just had to trust each other somewhere, so there was this really interesting thing–and I don’t know what it is; for us, probably just being straight–we didn’t have that complication that you usually have when you are working with someone who is like a female. I think he was a great guy and we were just kind of friends from the beginning. We both admired what it took to play both the characters we were playing, and we knew at a certain point we only had each other cause we never knew how people were going to respond to the movie, so we kind of just joined up and said, “F**k ’em–let’s go for it!” And we did, and I think you probably see that and I think that’s a lot of the chemistry. I’ve done scenes with women that I haven’t been necessarily attracted to in movies, and I’ve done scenes with women when I probably shouldn’t have been as attracted to them [Laughs]. I can relate to that, but at a certain point it’s pretty mundane and pretty cold on a set no matter what you are doing or who you are doing it with. But Ang did it in such a tasteful way that it’s kind of hard to look at it. There are probably things that if he asked me to do, I would have probably said no, but it was just done, in my opinion, in a really respectful and very beautiful way.