To say I was amped to meet Jake Gyllenhaal would be an understatement and leave out the fact that I had teary eyes when I FaceTimed my friend to tell her about the interview. Before I signed onto our virtual meeting — he’s in Paris, I’m in Nashville — I had changed my shirt three times and my hands were shaking. In case you were wondering, I went with a silk button-down that’s actually a pajama shirt from Soho Home, though I definitely didn’t tell Jake (can I call him that?), the new face of Prada’s men’s fragrance; he looked dapper as ever wearing a Prada logo plaque polo shirt.
After exchanging pleasantries, we talked about his career as an actor, and the most significant piece of advice he ever received, almost 25 years ago. We also touch on the person, Jake Gyllenhaal, and he speaks affectionately about his two nieces and why he thinks every young person should “read great minds.” He also has an impressive scent memory. If you’re wondering, the smell of pasta pomodoro is home.
Refinery29: I’ve seen so many of your movies — and that anthology speaks for itself — but I also watch your press interviews and you come across as so thoughtful and intentional in the way that you speak about your work. Have you always wanted to act and be in front of the camera?
Jake Gyllenhaal: Thank you, that’s very kind of you. Yeah, playing characters is a joy. The joy is having wonderful writing, and interpreting that writing, taking it to place where, hopefully, you can show the director something beyond what they saw or what they thought about. That’s a very simplistic way to describe what is the joy for me. But also the research in all of it and getting to meet people who have real jobs and having that change your life — that is why I love it. The real truth of it is that I love the story. More than the character, the story is everything for me. I’ve chosen things base on a story over a character because it’s just something I wanted to be a part of.
R29: That makes sense based on the roles you’ve chosen — they’re all such rich stories. Do you enjoy the press part of the job, too? You seem very comfortable, but I imagine that’s a bit of a mind shift from acting as someone else versus being just Jake.
JG: I enjoy the conversations and the interactions. I’m a big fan of banter. I think it’s nice meeting new people, talking about things you’ve created, hearing their ideas and their interpretations of the story that you’re telling. I really enjoy that. I means there’s all the technical stuff — like people behind this set — so it’s not necessarily a normal conversation, but it’s nice.
R29: Do you have certain practices that keep you grounded when you’re nervous about an appearance? Or have you been doing it for so long that you don’t really feel the nerves anymore?
JG: The situation I’m in, I’ve been so grateful and lucky to be doing this for a while, that to me, this is my work, too. Like you, this is your work, this is my work, too. I do believe in being centered — trying to be. I think that for all of us, that can be easier at some times and difficult at some times. It’s always important to enjoy spending time with oneself so that no matter where you are, you feel strong.
R29: What are some of the challenges that face young actors or young people who get fame or attention early in life? What was that like for you?
JG: I think it’s about craft. If you’re an artist, if you’re a performer, understand that it’s a craft. There are so many people who come before you [who] have so much wisdom and when you have the opportunity to work with them, take in a much as you can. Don’t listen to the noise.
Constantly being curious, too. One of the best pieces I ever got as an actor was from Chris Cooper in the first significant role I ever had, this film called October Sky. We were in the middle of this scene that I was really looking forward to — it was really dramatic and I got to fight with my dad [Cooper, in the film] — it was real acting, acting. I came into it thinking I knew what it was about and after the second take he just stopped me me and said, ‘You’re not listening. You need to listen; you’ll find something there.’ I just started to listen to what he was saying in the scene, it was just that simple. All of a sudden, the things he was saying started to hit me in a way that I knew what to say, and it came out of me that way. It was a huge lesson to me, about taking away everything else and really listening to the person in front of you and then responding accordingly. With acting, that’s the craft. I encourage people who are in that space, who are getting attention or whatever, to stick to that.
R29: That’s wise advice. Also, October Sky is a throwback for me. It’s one of my brother’s favorite movies of all time, so I love that the role was so meaningful to you.
JG: It’s such a great film.
R29: We’re obviously here to talk about your work with Prada. Can you tell me about this scent and what it evokes for you?
JG: Well, I like the bergamot and the pink pepper, [laughs]; I’m learning about all of that. For me, the idea of the fragrance is what I love the most. They came to me and they said, there’s this thing with Prada. First of all, I love Prada because of the idea of the technological meeting sort of the abstract and the artistic. There’s always something in their work that’s functional, but also really artistic and abstract; I love that. When they came with the perfume and the campaign was all about being out, being open, being adventurous, taking risks, and being courageous. It was going to be on this boat, and it was going to be athletic and physical; I love all of that, too. It seemed to match all of the things that I aspire to and that I also love to do. That’s the fragrance. It’s also about Mother Nature and respecting the power of that and at the same time harnessing adventure and exploration and new places. It evokes all those things and I adore those ideas.
R29: The campaign looks like it was physically challenging to shoot. I love that you’re speaking to the ethos of the fragrance, but I’m going to push you a little more on the notes: Are you a scent person? What do you like to smell like?
JG: I am a scent person. Admittedly, I love incense. I’m a fan of more subtle scents. I really believe that scents can change the mood and clear spaces. I have some beautiful Japanese incenses that I love because they’re really comforting. I also really love the smell of food and I really love cooking. That’s a huge part of scent for me. Someone once asked me what I think home smells like and I’m like, well, pasta pomodoro smells like home to me. Some people might say other things, but for me, ah, it’s tomato pasta.
R29: Scent is such a powerful memory indicator. I’m curious, have you ever worn a specific scent — a cologne or deodorant — to get into a character?
JG: I haven’t ever done that. But sometimes you draw upon memory when you’re working and you have scents you remember. I remember this arbor, a place where things grew, and there was a honeysuckle plant that grew when I was a kid and I remember the smell of that and also the taste of that, because you could pull the stem and taste it. I remember that very intensely. I draw on those moments. My dad when he used to shave, he had the foam, and I would watch him shave and then when he wasn’t there, I would smell the thing that he would use to shave with — the brush.
R29: That’s a really sweet memory. Speaking of self care and manscaping, I have a friend who would kill me if I didn’t ask you this: What do you use in your hair?
JG: Hmm..stuff, sometimes. For lack of this being an ad for something, usually just soap and water.
R29: Do you have a skin-care routine? You don’t have to mention a brand, but do you use moisturizer?
JG: I think it’s really important to take care of oneself. But for me, it’s really soap and water. And sure, I’ll use moisturizer. Don’t want itchy skin.
R29: Totally. So, what is life like for you right now? In the past few years, we’ve gone through such a specific time and we’re just now starting to travel again and we’re going back to work. Do you look at life and work differently than you did prior to the pandemic?
JG: Absolutely. I think that there’s been a pretty massive perspective shift. The world is in a totally different place. For me, personally, the importance of my family and my friends is everything to me. I am so grateful for my work and so grateful for my job and the ability to do it. But I’m so grateful, beyond what I can even express, for the love of my family and friends and the time with them. Not to say that I didn’t appreciate that before, but I think it just put everything into perspective. I also realized that when I was able to be with my friends, how wonderful they are. They’re just great. I really love my friends. I picked really well. So now it’s much more time with them, supporting them, and listening to them.
R29: Relationships are so important, right?
JG: Listening and being there for people is everything. I have nieces and so it’s being there for them and listening to them, to be that presence in their life. It’s supporting the people that I love and just being with them.
R29: How old are your nieces?
JG: Ten and almost sixteen.
R29: Fun ages and so pivotal.
JG: Yeah, it’s amazing. My sister [Maggie Gyllenhaal] and brother-in-law have raised such incredible humans. They have great parents. I don’t know how they do it, either, because they’re both very intense working professionals. I’m amazed at anyone who can do that.
R29: Me too. Other than spending time with your family, both biological and chosen, what else is exciting you right now?
JG: I’ve taken a little bit of a break. Right now, reading has been really exciting to me. I know that sounds like not very exciting, but I haven’t had the space to read things because I’ve been working, but now I have the time to sit and that’s been exciting to me. There’s nothing like reading a great mind, there’s nothing like it. That would probably be my advice for all young people: Read great minds. Read the literature and ideas of people who come before us and who are brilliant because they’ll give you perspective.
R29: I love that advice — and reading is exciting to me so next time I have to get your book recs. But I know we’re out of time, so thank you for being so generous with your thoughts and ideas.
JG: Thank you, I wish you all the best. Enjoy Nashville.
Like what you see? How about some more R29 goodness, right here?