Do people still struggle with your surname?
Oh, definitely, man. Yeah, that’s like my favourite thing ever: the many mispronunciations of the name Gyllenhaal. Gill-en-hale, Gyle-en-hall, Gyle-en-hale. Particularly when somebody does know what you’ve done and they’re like, ‘YOU’RE JAKE GALLILIANHOOL! Yeah? Oh, I love your work!’
Does it bother you?
No, I forgive them. It’s an absurd last name. It’s Swedish.
Your dad’s a director and your mother is a screenwriter. Do you think having a Hollywood family has helped your career?
Um… Do you?
It must have in some ways, surely?
I tell you, being an actor is just full of rejection. Whether or not you have people you know in the business, you still have to prove yourself. No one’s just going to put you in something just because you’re somebody’s kid. I think it’s great for me that I have a sister that does the same thing.
Do you and Maggie have a friendly rivalry?
No, we don’t. I think we used to be a little competitively, stupidly. And then we both realised we could never be up for the same parts so there was no reason for us to. But no, she was just nominated for an Academy Award and being there with her was one of the best days of my life.
So you weren’t like, ‘Uh-oh, it’s 1-1 now’?
Yeah, exactly, I was like, ‘Oh god, I’ve been waiting a while! She’s my big sister, she’s supposed to do everything first.’
Can you handle watching her saucier roles in movies like Secretary?
Yeah, and like Crazy Heart with Jeff Bridges? Yeah. I can’t watch those scenes. It’s very uncomfortable. You know, particularly because she gives a great performance in that movie. The more committed you are to the part, the weirder it is for your family to watch those things.
What might you have been if not an actor?
I love cooking. If I weren’t an actor I think I actually would probably be a cook. And I would like to grow my own food.
What’s your best dish?
If I were to say that I wouldn’t genuinely be a good cook.
You were once a lifeguard. Did you ever save anyone’s life?
No… There were a lot of jellyfish and I did piss on a couple of legs and arms – to equalise the pH.
So that’s the right thing to do if you get stung by a jellyfish. You just…
Piss on yourself. Yes.
You’ve packed on quite a bit of muscle for Prince Of Persia. Could you give us a tip on how to get a great body?
Yeah, first step is to grow your hair really long. Second step is to get some pomade. Third step is never get a 2-in-1 conditioner shampoo, always use shampoo and then conditioner.
Thanks. But we meant ‘a great body’, not ‘great body’…
You can get a nice forearm workout massaging the scalp. First shampoo and then conditioner. That’s where the biceps and the triceps come from.
And is there potentially a real tip you could give us too?
Lance Armstrong said to me, ‘Just break a sweat once a day.’ Break a sweat once a day – and not out of stress – and you’ll stay healthy for the rest of your life. And I think that’s really true. Find something to get your heart-rate up, that’s what I did with this. But it’s good also to get paid to do it! That really helps.
How do you feel about being a pin-up for both male and female fans?
Er, there’s been nothing bad so far… If that’s what it is. No… If that’s what it is, it’s flattering, but… I don’t know.
Do you mind if we debunk a couple of rumours about you?
Sure! Oh gosh…
They say you’re a dab hand at a woodworking too. Is that nonsense?
That is kinda nonsense… I gonna just set the record straight now. I don’t think I’m that good at woodwork. I do like doing woodwork. But I don’t necessarily think I’m good at it. It’s really hard.
What’s the last thing you made?
The last thing I think I made was a big outdoor dining table for my house. I made one for my mom that’s really great, made from salvaged wood.
Do you put your initials in it so she knows it’s from you?
No, no… My genius is anonymity.
I know, it’s beautiful. You may be eating dinner at a table I made and not know it. I could have made this.
And is it true that Paul Newman gave you your first driving lesson?
My dad really gave me my first driving lesson, but I did go out to a track and Paul Newman was there and he showed me some tips for some serious intense driving, like how to pull yourself out of an accident, skid control and stuff like that.
How cool was that?
Well, he was just the guy who made salad dressings to me. But if he hadn’t been this extraordinary actor, this huge movie star, he still would have been this incredible person. Do you know what I mean? He always exuded that. As a kid, I could feel that. But I don’t think I did know how amazing he was until later on. And he became a real guide.
How close did you come to playing Spider-Man in Spider-Man 2?
It was pretty close. It definitely was. But that’s the way casting goes most of the time. You get close to something and then you don’t get it. Or it’s between you and someone else and then you don’t get it.
Were you gutted to miss out?
Um, no, actually. I was just so flattered that somebody even thought of me. I know that sounds kinda cheesy or clichéd but I really feel that way. Like, I know what you’re saying, like Paul Newman taught me to drive and all this stuff, but it’s still the coolest thing in the world. I still can’t believe that this is what I get to do for my job.
What about Batman Begins, you auditioned for that too, right?
I tested for that movie.
How well did that go?
Obviously not well enough… End of discussion!
Were they surprised that you went for it?
That was the beginning of me going after things that I think that people didn’t assume that I could play. Something like testing for the role of Batman, nobody wanted to see me for that.
So was it a close-run thing?
I got pretty close. I just pushed and pushed and pushed and tried as hard as I could to get it, because I thought, ‘Maybe I could do it.’ That was me saying, ‘I’m going to do things that people don’t expect. The Batman thing was definitely the beginning of that.
Are there any other big movies you missed out on?
These are horrible stories! So many, man. I’ve been acting for 15 years, since I was pretty young, so there have been tons of different things. My flummoxed audition for Dude, Where’s My Car?
You really auditioned for that?
Oh man, I gave such a good audition. Such a bummer. It was so good.
Be serious, because we’re going to print this.
I’m serious! Totally serious. I came in and they were like, ‘We don’t want it to be like Bill And Ted’s Excellent Adventure, we want it to be different.’ I was like, ‘I got it. I got it.’ I’d worked on it. I knew exactly what I was going to do. And I was like [put on dorky accent], ‘Dude, where’s my car?’ That was the character. That was who I was going to be. And they were like, ‘That’s great, um, can we try it again, without the accent?’ And I was like, ‘That’s all I’ve got… That was what I’ve got for it.’ That was a movie I would have loved to do.
Donnie Darko was your big breakout. Can you explain it to us?
What do you want to know?
Well, it’s one of the most brain-boggling films ever. Can you reveal what it’s actually about?
Yes. I mean, I can tell you what it’s about to me. To me, it’s just about a young boy trying to find himself and discovering that the world is a much more dangerous place than he thought. And that in every day and every hour and every week and every year, we have different deaths and we have different rebirths.
Do you believe that?
I do. I feel it. Don’t you? Aren’t there things where you’re like. ‘Oh, I’ve let go of that part of myself and I’m somebody new’? You know, like different incarnations all the time.
Some people say Donnie actually dies right at the beginning of the film when the plane engine drops on the house. Do you buy that?
Of course. Totally. I would buy into that as much as that it didn’t happen.
Did they approach you for the sequel, S Darko?
No, not at all. Something about Samantha Darko?
That’s right. Have you seen it?
No. I really know very little about it.
Have you been following the UK elections? Do Americans care?
Of course they do. I mean, I can’t speak for all Americans, but, yeah, I think it’s a very important election and it looks like people want some big change.
How about the World Cup? Will you be cheering on Team USA?
Well, I would like to say this one thing. I have liked saying that I am proud to be cheering for the Americans and not have people roll their eyes. For the first time in a very long time, I can hold my head up high. I’m excited for the Americans. I they could do some damage.
England play USA in first game. You’ll definitely be watching it?
Yes, I’m going to watch it. I’m thinking I may go to South Africa. Maybe.
Your next movie is called Nailed. Other than the fact it’s about a woman with a nail stuck in her head, can you tell us why we should watch it?
Yeah, there’s a pretty raucous sex scene with me and Jessica Biel. It’s so brilliantly shot, crazy camera moves and a lot of choreography on our parts. That was all from the mind of David O Russell. I think it took maybe 40 tries to get right.
Not a bad day in the office…
Say no more.