Movie Stars: Gyllenhaal, Jake–Movie Star in the Making

Jake Gyllenhaal’s Jarhead: A Star is Born

This is clearly a breakthrough year for Jake Gyllenhaal, who appears in three high-profile films: the screen adaptation of the stage play, “Proof,” as Gwyneth Paltrow’s boyfriend and her father’s math student; in Ang Lee’s epic Western “Brokeback Mountain,” and in Same Mendes innovative, surreal-like war film, “Jarhead.”

Of the three films, he’s the most impressive in “Jarhead,” a movie that’s bound to make him a major player and a movie star. Gyllenhaal not only plays the lead, and appears in almost every scene, he’s also getting the kind of star treatment that displays to an advantage his handsome looks and acting skills.

Certain roles in Hollywood’s history have the right ingredients to catapult their players into major stardom, and “Jarhead” seems to be one of them. Though very different, “Jarhead” may do for Gyllenhaal what the right wing and inferior Rambo (a Vietnam war movie) did for Sylvester Stallone 20 years ago, and what “Born on the Fourth of July” did for Tom Cruise in 1989, getting him his first Oscar nomination. Looking back, the Duke (John Wayne) became a box-office star after “The Sands of Iwo Jima,” in 1949, for which he received his first Oscar nomination, though by that time, he had been acting for 20 years.

“Jarhead” is based on the summer of 1990 experience of Anthony Swofford, a 20-year-old, third-generation enlistee, who was sent to the deserts of Saudi Arabia to fight in the first Gulf War. In 2003, Swofford’s memoirs of that time in that space became the best-selling book “Jarhead.” Swofford’s book was on the New York Times best-seller list for nine weeks, and was hailed as a kind of classic, a bracing memoir of the 1991 Persian Gulf War that will go down with the best books ever written about military life.

Jake Gyllenhaal tackles the central role of Tony “Swoff” Swofford, who transforms from third-generation enlistee with half-formed visions of valor into a veteran, the only one who knows the true cost of war. Gyllenhaal heads a brilliant ensemble cast that includes Peter Sarsgaard, Jamie Foxx, and Chris Cooper.

The past five years have represented a progressive movement fro Gyllenhaal, from playing lead roles in indies, such as “Donnie Darko,” for which he was nominated for the Independent Spirit Award, to major roles in Hollywood blockbusters, such as Roland Emmerich’s “The Day After Tomorrow.” A politically timely, artistically brilliant movie, “Jarhead” is a frontrunner in the 2005 Oscar race, one fore which Gyellenhaal my receive his first Best Actor nomination.

The Book

I read the book on a plane and came away really moved by it. It was purely emotional and without any of the clichof other war stories.

The Script

When I got the script, I was told by Sam Mendes that Broyles had served in Vietnam and, to be honest, I had some concerns about that. My concerns were alleviated once I read Broyles’ adaptation of Swofford’s memoirs

Getting the Role

I was instantly eager to take on the challenge of portraying the author, but had to wait a bit. After my fist reading for Mendes, I got the ominous feeling that I didn’t nail the audition. A few months had passed and I heard that Sam was meeting with other actors. I left an impassioned message on Sam’s voicemail-I’ll do whatever you want me to do, but I’m the guy to be in your movie. A month later, Sam informed me that I had the part.

Vietnam Vs. the Gulf War

To me, Vietnam was a different generation, a war that everyone of that generation was involved with, in one way or another. I was 11 when the Gulf War started. There’s a kind of weird distance from it. We don’t have the same experience of it that the Vietnam generation had of that war.

Complete Transformation

In addition to downplaying my chances of securing the role, I underestimated the physical and mental transformation the role would bring about. When the other guys and I first got our jarhead haircuts, I was really into it, and then, as soon as it happened, it was odd to me.

Separate Member of the Group

But I think that feeling was appropriate. I think that Swoff likes to stay apart from the group. He’s an observer as well as a team player and Sam created an atmosphere in which I could observe and be a part of a group simultaneously. I always felt an interesting juxtaposition of feeling like I was an integral part of the platoon while simultaneously feeling apart from it. I think that was Sam’s intention.

Jamie Foxx as the Sergeant

I think it’s very appropriate that Jamie Foxx plays our staff sergeant. Everyone respects him as an actor. He keeps himself apart from the guys; he sits on the side quietly playing chess between scenes. WE all play him and he always wins.

Pecking Order

There’s a pecking order in the Marine Corps, just like there is on a movie set. And it’s just so easy to look to Jamie as our leader. I instinctively and naturally look up to him.