Interview By: J.P. Mangalindan
These days, the question on everyone’s mind for Jake Gyllenhaal is: What’s it like making out with another man?
Gyllenhaal’s aquamarine eyes evince a knowing glint; he erupts with laughter.
“It’s funny that so many people want to know that and really, it’s mostly the men who ask that question.”
Brokeback Mountain, the 24-year-old actor’s most recent film, is in many ways a Hollywood milestone. Based on the short story by Annie Proulx, Ang Lee‘s film hinges on the forbidden love between two men in the Midwest during the 1960s. Ennis del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal), meet during the summer of 1963, two high school dropouts both trying to make a few extra bucks sheep wrangling in the mountains of Wyoming. One bone-chilling night, Ennis and Jack share a tent together and end up sharing much more in an eye-opening love scene. The unspoken tryst between the two marks the beginning of a complex bond, a relationship that spans decades and perishes with heartbreaking finality.
The story won The New Yorker a National Magazine award, but cinematically, staggered in the depths of developmental hell for several years. Directors contemplated the project, but actors were afraid partaking in the film would stigmatize their reputations. When Ang Lee signed, the director’s sangfroid and reputation for genius brought the once-floundering project the injection of credibility it desperately needed. Gyllenhaal, now a marquee name, signed on to play Jack; Aussie actor Heath Ledger was cast as Ennis.
“When I read the script for the first time, I thought Ang would want to cast me as Ennis and Heath would be cast as Jack just because you’re used to seeing Heath be so outgoing, being a kind of active presence,” Gyllenhaal recalls. “Somewhere in my mind, naively, I thought that. And when we were cast opposite of what I thought, I
While Ledger has received the spotlight with his mostly silent, moving turn, Gyllenhaal’s performance is no less effective. If their relationship were heterosexual, Jack, the pursuer, would be the male in the relationship and Ennis the female. Gyllenhaal portrays a decidedly homosexual character less tortured by the nature of their complicated relationship, a challenge his co-star believes should not be overlooked.
“He had the harder character in that aspect because he had to appear schooled and very comfortable and confident whereas I â€” and that’s where Ang feels he captured something and did â€” didn’t have to hide any little anxiety or nerves. I was a virgin to the situation, as Ennis was,” Ledger says. “I used it. I was like, “Why hide it when this is what it should be?”
So back to the man-on-man action. Was he nervous about doing those intimate scenes?
“There was definitely some joking between the two of us,” he admits. “There were jokes about it but also a real seriousness about it. I can say that I don’t really remember it that well, which could be considered as though it’s not that interesting to me or it was a type of trauma, but I don’t consider it either of those things. We knew it was part of servicing the story. Different times, people have said to me, ‘We hear you didn’t get naked for this or we hear you didn’t do this thing or the love scenes really aren’t that explicit’ and I think the film’s pretty much proved them wrong. I’m not afraid to do any of those things.”
Preparation, as the actor thankfully notes, was short.
“We didn’t really rehearse it at all. Ang did a really, really great thing: we had decided there would be no playback so we wouldn’t be able to see what we had done and
Ang Lee’s film premiered in Toronto to critical acclaim and the glowing reviews keep on coming: Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers called Brokeback an unmissable, unforgettable film which hits you “like a shot in the heart.” The New Yorker, where Proulx’s story originated, was no less positive in its worship of Lee’s masterful interpretation and the actor’s performances.
Though Gyllenhaal admits making out with another man was an “exfoliating” experience â€” “one I will do to service a movie, but definitely not one I’ll do in my real life” â€” he’s proud of what Brokeback‘s cast and crew has achieved.
“I’ll be happy if people went into theaters thinking one thing and walking out thinking differently about it, that they go, ‘Oh, wow. Intimacy is a hard thing for all of us, no matter what the political things going on around it are.’ For everybody, loving and being with somebody is filled with just as much anger and resentment and jealousy as much as it is love and happiness and compassion, a sort of deeper understanding because Ang Lee has walked them through that.”