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Jacob Benjamin "Jake" Gyllenhaal ( ; born December 19, 1980) is an American actor. The son of director Stephen Gyllenhaal and screenwriter Naomi Foner, Gyllenhaal began acting at age ten. He has appeared in diverse roles since his first lead role in 1999's October Sky, followed by the 2001 indie cult hit Donnie Darko, in which he played a psychologically troubled teen and onscreen brother to his real-life sister, actress Maggie Gyllenhaal. In the 2004 blockbuster The Day After Tomorrow he portrayed a student caught in a cataclysmic global cooling event, alongside Dennis Quaid as his father. He then played against type as a frustrated Marine in Jarhead (2005). The same year, he won critical acclaim as Jack Twist in the film Brokeback Mountain opposite Heath Ledger.

Gyllenhaal has become an activist, promoting various political and social causes. He appeared in Rock the Vote advertising, campaigned for the Democratic Party in the 2004 election, and promoted environmental causes and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Early life and education

Gyllenhaal was born in Los Angeles, Californiamarker, the son of film director Stephen Gyllenhaal and film producer and screenwriter Naomi Foner (née Achs). Maggie Gyllenhaal, his sister, is also an actress, and played his sister in the movie Donnie Darko. Gyllenhaal's father was raised in the Swedenborgian religion and is a descendant of the Swedish noble Gyllenhaal family. His last native Swedish ancestor was his great-great-grandfather, Anders Leonard Gyllenhaal. Gyllenhaal's mother is from a Jewish family from New York Citymarker. Gyllenhaal's Bar Mitzvah celebration took place at a homeless shelter because his parents wanted to instill in him a sense of gratitude for his privileged lifestyle. Gyllenhaal has said that he considers himself "more Jewish than anything else." Gyllenhaal's parents insisted that he have summer jobs to support himself. He worked as a lifeguard, and as a busboy at a restaurant operated by a family friend.

Acting career

Early career

During childhood, Gyllenhaal had regular exposure to filmmaking due to his family's deep ties to the industry. As an 11-year-old he made his acting debut as Billy Crystal's son in the 1991 comedy film City Slickers. His parents did not allow him to appear in the 1992 film The Mighty Ducks because it would have required him leaving home for two months. In subsequent years, his parents allowed him to audition for parts, but regularly forbade him to take them if he were chosen. He was allowed to appear in his father's films several times. Gyllenhaal appeared in the 1993 film A Dangerous Woman (along with sister Maggie); in "Bop Gun" a 1994 episode of Homicide: Life on the Street; and in the 1998 comedy Homegrown. Along with their mother, Jake and Maggie appeared in two episodes of Molto Mario, an Italian cooking show on the Food Network. Prior to his senior year in high school, the only other film not directed by his father in which Gyllenhaal was allowed to perform was the 1993 film Josh and S.A.M., a little-known children's adventure.

Gyllenhaal graduated from the Harvard-Westlake Schoolmarker in Los Angeles in 1998, then attended Columbia University, where his sister was a senior and from which his mother had graduated, to study Eastern religions and philosophy. Gyllenhaal dropped out after two years to concentrate on acting, but has expressed intentions to eventually finish his degree.Gyllenhaal's first lead role was in October Sky, Joe Johnston's 1999 adaptation of the Homer Hickam autobiography Rocket Boys, in which he portrayed a young man from West Virginiamarker striving to win a science scholarship to avoid becoming a coal miner. The film earned $32 million and was described in the Sacramento News and Review as Gyllenhaal's "breakout performance."

From Donnie Darko to the London stage

Donnie Darko, Gyllenhaal's second major film, was not a box office success upon its initial 2001 release, but eventually became a cult favorite. The film, directed by Richard Kelly, is set in 1988 and stars Gyllenhaal as a troubled teenager who, after narrowly escaping death, experiences visions of a 6 foot (1.8 m) tall rabbit named Frank who tells him that the world is coming to an end. Gyllenhaal's performance was well-received by critics; Gary Mairs of claimed that "Gyllenhaal manages the difficult trick of seeming both blandly normal and profoundly disturbed, often within the same scene."

Gyllenhaal as Donnie Darko
After the critical success of Donnie Darko, Gyllenhaal's next role was as the lead character in 2002's Highway, a film ignored by audiences and critics alike. His performance was described by one critic as "silly, cliched and straight to video." Gyllenhaal had more success starring opposite Jennifer Aniston in The Good Girl, which premiered at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival; he also starred in Lovely & Amazing with Catherine Keener. In both films he plays an unstable character who begins a reckless affair with an older woman. Gyllenhaal later described these as "teenager in transition" roles. Gyllenhaal later starred in the Touchstone Pictures romantic comedy Bubble Boy, which was loosely based on the story of David Vetter. The film portrays the title character's adventures as he pursues the love of his life before she marries the wrong man. The film was panned by critics, with one calling it an "empty-headed, chaotic, utterly tasteless atrocity".

Following Bubble Boy, Gyllenhaal starred opposite Dustin Hoffman, Susan Sarandon and Ellen Pompeo in Moonlight Mile, as a young man coping with the death of his fiancée and the grief of her parents. The story, which received mixed reviews, is loosely based on writer/director Brad Silberling's personal experiences following the murder of girlfriend Rebecca Schaeffer.

Gyllenhaal was almost cast as Spider-Man for Spider-Man 2 due to director Sam Raimi's concerns about original Spider-Man star Tobey Maguire`s health. Maguire recovered, however, and the sequel was shot without Gyllenhaal. Instead, Gyllenhaal starred in the blockbuster The Day After Tomorrow in 2004, co-starring Dennis Quaid as his father.

In his theatrical debut Gyllenhaal starred on the London stage in Kenneth Lonergan's revival of This is Our Youth. Gyllenhaal said, "Every actor I look up to has done theatre work, so I knew I had to give it a try." The play, which had been a critical sensation on Broadwaymarker, ran for eight weeks in London's West Endmarker. Gyllenhaal received favorable critical reviews and an Evening Standard Theatre Award in the category "Outstanding Newcomer."

Brokeback Mountain and after

2005 was a prolific year for Gyllenhaal, who starred in the critically praised films Proof, Jarhead, and Brokeback Mountain. In Proof, featuring Gwyneth Paltrow and Anthony Hopkins, Gyllenhaal played a graduate student in mathematics who tries to convince Paltrow's character to publish a revolutionary proof to a problem puzzling the mathematicians' community. In Jarhead, Gyllenhaal played against his usual "sensitive yet disturbed" type by displaying an aggressive masculinity as a violent U.S. Marine during the first Gulf War. He also auditioned to be Batman for one of the biggest blockbusters Batman Begins and came close to getting the role but Christian Bale was ultimately chosen for it.

In Brokeback Mountain, Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger play young men who meet as sheep herders and embark upon a sexual relationship that begins in the summer of 1963 and continues until the death of Gyllenhaal's character in 1981. The film was often referred to in the media with the shorthand phrase "the gay cowboy movie," though there was differing opinion on the sexual orientation of the characters. The film won the Golden Lion prize at the Venice Film Festival. The film went on to win four Golden Globe Awards, four British Academy of Film and Television Arts Awards, and three Academy Awards. Gyllenhaal was nominated for an Academy Award in the category of Best Supporting Actor for his performance, but lost to George Clooney for Syriana. Gyllenhaal also won the Best Supporting Actor BAFTA for the same role and received a Best Supporting Actor nomination and Best Film Ensemble nomination from the Screen Actors Guild. Also for Brokeback Mountain, he and Ledger won an MTV Movie Award for "Best Kiss" in 2006. Shortly after the 2006 Academy Awards, Gyllenhaal was invited to join the Academy in recognition of his acting career. Most recently, Gyllenhaal was awarded the 2006 Young Artist Award for Artistic Excellence by The Americans for the Arts National Arts Awards for his role.

Gyllenhaal expressed mixed feelings about the experience of being directed by Ang Lee in Brokeback Mountain, but generally had more praise than criticism for Lee's directing style. While complaining of the way Lee tended to disconnect with his actors once filming began, Gyllenhaal praised his encouraging direction of the actors and sensitive approach to the material. At the Directors Guild of America Awards on January 28, 2006, Gyllenhaal also praised Lee for "his humbleness and his respect for everyone around him."

When asked about his kissing scenes with Heath Ledger in Brokeback Mountain, Gyllenhaal said, "As an actor, I think we need to embrace the times we feel most uncomfortable." When asked about the more intimate scenes with Ledger, Gyllenhaal likened them to "doing a sex scene with a woman I'm not particularly attracted to." Following the release of Brokeback Mountain, rumors circulated regarding the actor's sexual orientation. When asked about such gossip during an interview, Gyllenhaal said:

Gyllenhaal narrated the 2005 short animated film The Man Who Walked Between the Towers, based on Mordicai Gerstein's book of the same name about Philippe Petit's famous stunt. In January 2007, as host of Saturday Night Live, he put on a sparkly evening dress and sang "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" from the musical Dreamgirls for his opening monologue, dedicating the song to his "unique fan base... the fans of Brokeback."

In 2007, Gyllenhaal starred in David Fincher's Zodiac, which was based on a true story. He played Robert Graysmith, a San Francisco Chronicle cartoonist and author of two books about the Zodiac serial killer. Gyllenhaal starred opposite Meryl Streep, Alan Arkin, and Reese Witherspoon in the October 2007 release Rendition, a Gavin Hood-directed political thriller about the U.S. policy of extraordinary rendition. His next roles will be in Jim Sheridan's remake of Susanne Bier's 2004 Danish language film Brothers and Doug Liman's as yet untitled film about the race for lunar colonization. He will also shoot 2009's Nailed in South Carolinamarker, opposite Jessica Biel.

Internationally viewed as a sex symbol, Gyllenhaal was named one of People magazine's "50 Most Beautiful People" in 2006. He was also listed in People's "Hottest Bachelors of 2006". In response to mainstream press lists like these, thousands of gay and bisexual men were polled for the 2007 and 2008 " Hot 100 List." Gyllenhaal was ranked at #1 in both consecutive years. He was ranked at #2 on the Gay Wired Magazine poll of male actors who have played gay characters in movies.

On the show Entourage, Gyllenhaal, though not featured on screen, was the replacement for Vincent Chase in Aquaman 2 after Chase was fired. This was likely a reference to Spider-Man 2, when Gyllenhaal almost replaced Tobey Maguire.

On May 20, 2008 it was announced that Gyllenhaal will play the lead role in the movie adaptation of the video game Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, produced by Jerry Bruckheimer. Production has started and the film has a current release date of May 28, 2010.

Personal life


The son of director Stephen Gyllenhaal and screenwriter Naomi Foner, Gyllenhaal's immediate family includes his sister, actress Maggie, who is married to actor Peter Sarsgaard, Gyllenhaal's co-star in Jarhead and Rendition. In December, 2006, Jake and his sister escaped a fire that destroyed Manka's, a famed lodge and restaurant in Inverness, Californiamarker, at which they were vacationing. Gyllenhaal's niece, Ramona Sarsgaard, was born on October 3, 2006. Jamie Lee Curtis is Gyllenhaal's godmother, and he has repeatedly referred to his godfathers being a gay couple. Gyllenhaal himself is the godfather of Matilda Rose Ledger (born October 28, 2005), daughter of Heath Ledger and Michelle Williams, both of whom co-starred with him in Brokeback Mountain. His uncle, Anders Gyllenhaal, is the executive editor of The Miami Herald. His late uncle is filmmaker Robert Achs.

Gyllenhaal dated his Rendition co-star, Reese Witherspoon. Witherspoon confirmed the relationship, about which the media had speculated since early 2007, in an interview for the November 2008 issue of Vogue. The couple was reported to have split in November 2009, but the report was jointly denied by Witherspoon and Gyllenhaal's publicists, who declared that "they are still together."

Politics and other interests

Gyllenhaal is politically active. He shot a commercial for Rock the Vote, and along with his sister Maggie Gyllenhaal, visited the University of Southern Californiamarker to encourage students to vote during the 2004 U.S. Election. He also campaigned for Democratic Presidential candidate John Kerry. He has said, however, that "it frustrates me when actors talk politics; I'm political and I make choices in my movies that I think are political. I try and say things with what I do. Rightly or wrongly, young actors have all the power." In an interview for Rendition, he stated his view that "it's a sad time when actors are politicians and politicians are actors".

Raised in a family concerned with social issues, Gyllenhaal has campaigned on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), an organization which his entire family strongly supports. Environmentally conscious, he recycles regularly, and said in an interview that he spends $400 a year to have trees planted in a Mozambiquemarker forest, partly to promote the Future Forests program. After filming The Day After Tomorrow, he flew to the Arctic to promote awareness of climate change.

In his spare time, Gyllenhaal enjoys woodworking and cooking. He has said, "I am not a card-carrying Buddhist, but I do try to practice mindfulness" and it is his goal to meditate every day.


Year Film Role Notes
1991 City Slickers Danny Robbins
1993 Josh and S.A.M. Leon
A Dangerous Woman Edward as Jacob Gyllenhaal
1998 Homegrown Jake/Blue Kahan
1999 October Sky Homer Hickam Jr.
2001 Donnie Darko Donald J. "Donnie" Darko
Bubble Boy Jimmy Livingston
Lovely & Amazing Jordan
2002 Highway Pilot Kelson
Moonlight Mile Joe Nast
The Good Girl Thomas 'Holden' Worther
2003 Abby Singer Himself (Cameo)
2004 The Day After Tomorrow Sam Hall
2005 Brokeback Mountain Jack Twist
Jarhead Anthony Swofford ("Swoff")
Proof Harold 'Hal' Dobbs
2007 Zodiac Robert Graysmith
Rendition Douglas Freeman
2009 Brothers Tommy Cahill
Nailed Howard Birdwell
2010 Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time Prince Dastan
Damn Yankees Joe Hardy
Love and Other Drugs


Year Group Award Result Film
2002 Young Hollywood Awards Breakthrough Performance - Male Won
Independent Spirit Awards Best Male Lead Nominated Donnie Darko
2003 Chlotrudis Awards Best Actor Won
DVD Exclusive Awards DVD Premiere Award, Best Actor Nominated Highway
Teen Choice Awards Choice Movie Breakout Star - Male Nominated The Good Girl
2005 National Board of Review Best Supporting Actor Won Brokeback Mountain
2006 MTV Movie Awards Best Performance Won
Best Kiss Won
Screen Actors Guild Awards Best Supporting Actor Nominated
Best Ensemble Nominated
Critics' Choice Award Best Supporting Actor Nominated
BAFTA Awards Best Supporting Actor Won
Palm Springs International Film Festival Achievement-Actor Award Won
Academy Awards Best Supporting Actor Nominated
Satellite Awards Outstanding Supporting Actor Nominated
Outstanding Lead Actor Nominated Jarhead
National Arts Awards Young Artist Award for Artistic Excellence Won
2008 Teen Choice Awards Choice Movie Actor: Drama Nominated Rendition


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