Five things we learned about Jake Gyllenhaal at SXSW

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Austin filmmaker David Gordon Green and actor Jake Gyllenhaal spoke at South by Southwest Film on Saturday.

Jake Gyllenhaal is a master of playing unbalanced characters.

At least, that’s what a woman in the audience – who identified herself as a psychologist – said at his South by Southwest panel on Saturday.

Gyllenhaal has made a name for himself with complicated characters in “Donnie Darko,” “Brokeback Mountain,” “Nightcrawler,” “Southpaw” and more. He spoke in a conversation with Austin filmmaker David Gordon Green about his career, superhero movies and his latest film, “Demolition,” which will screen tonight at 9:30 at the Paramount. Here are a few highlights of the discussion.

1. No surprise; Gyllenhaal is drawn to those difficult characters. “I find characters that I think are struggling with things,” he said. “I believe I can understand why people do what they do even when it’s unfathomable, when it’s bad or even when it’s the deepest type of loving, most compassionate thing. I want to understand. I don’t want to sit there and watch and judge, separate myself from a situation.”

2. Gyllenhaal loves “Donnie Darko” as much as film fans do. “It’s one of my proudest accomplishments of my career. It’s a movie that exists right where I love to be. It’s the movie that brings up to consciousness what I try to create underneath the character all the time, which is that sort of unconscious world. If you ever want to know what is actually going on in my mind, just go see that movie.”

3. Gyllenhaal really likes Thor – or really liked trolling the audience Saturday. When a questioner remarked that he was glad “Demolition” wasn’t yet another superhero movie, the actor said, “Superhero movies have inspired me. I remember when I saw ‘Thor,’ I was really inspired. I really was. … There’s a reason for myth. They are so moving and so important. … Sometimes I’m in a scene playing what some might interpret as a sociopath, and I’m being motivated by Thor.”

4. Unlike the old Hollywood saw about how you should never work with animals or children, Gyllenhaal says he finds inspiration in young actors. “I am so much more a child then they are. … They to me are everything. One of my favorite performances ever is in ‘Searching for Bobby Fischer,’ the little kid in that movie. There is this freedom, and his heart is on his sleeve, and there’s this sensitivity that is sort of unmatched in most of the adult performances I’ve seen. So in working with a kid in particular, I just usually give in and say, ‘I’ll follow you.'”

5. At a conference where the lines between Interactive and Film often blur, it was inevitable that there would be a question about technology and filmmaking, and the future of such things as virtual reality. Both Green and Gyllenhaal weighed in.
Green: “I’m technically three or four years behind whatever is cool and smart. … It’s interesting to see young artists take new technologies, new canvases, take new ways to express themselves, tell stories, and there is the romantic side of me that just loves the way that movies were when I was 11.”

Gyllenhaal: “If it’s helping the narrative, and it really does, and it’s not just about spectacle – because narrative is (expletive) spectacle. It is. I don’t know why we get off that point a lot. But tension in narrative is everything. You can spend as much money as you want on a movie making something a spectacle … But you can also really do it with narrative.”


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