The actor renowned for taking on challenging roles in indie projects plays the lead in the new The Guilty
There are people who are destined for specific occupations, in other words, people who are born into a profession. Taking Jake Gyllenhaal’s case, for instance, the actor grew up in a household where the father was a renowned film director Stephen Gyllenhaal and the mother was screenwriter Naomi Foner Gyllenhaal — Jake becoming an actor or filmmaker was inevitable. This is by no means a comparison to the draconian caste system where people have predetermined roles in society, but rather an observation of how Gyllenhaal‘s parents inadvertently influenced his career from a young age. The same could be said about his sister Maggie Gyllenhaal, who is an Academy Award-nominee and a Golden Globe winner.
Despite Jake having appeared in several minor roles, some of which were his father’s films alongside his sister, the 1999 film Rocket Boys was the one that elevated his career. The film was well received and would go on to be a career-defining film for Gyllenhaal. However, it was Donnie Darko that truly showcased his natural ability in the field of acting. The 2001 psychological horror-fantasy film, Donnie Darko, may not have lit the box office on its release, but it was widely praised by critics and would eventually gain cult status over time. Gyllenhaal received immense praise for his performance as a deeply disturbed individual.
Gyllenhaal found it difficult to find the right roles for him in the following years that could further elevate his career. He nearly had a breakthrough in 2004 when he almost replaced Toby Maguire in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 after it was reported that Maguire had health issues. But Maguire recovered in time and Gyllenhaal missed out on an opportunity to become a household name. He did get his breakthrough a year later in 2006, not in a major blockbuster, but in an indie project when he starred alongside Heath Ledger in the film Brokeback Mountain, which won three Academy Awards including Best Director for Ang Lee.
Both actors would soon become two of the most coveted in the industry. Heath Ledger would go on to portray The Joker in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight which earned him an Oscar, after his tragic death in 2008. Gyllenhaal meanwhile appeared in big-budget commercial films such as Source Code and Prince of Persia, and the latter was poorly received by critics and audiences alike. His search for a major blockbuster film appeared to have come to an end when he was heavily rumoured to replace Christian Bale as the next Batman, unfortunately, Ben Affleck would eventually don the famous cape and cowl of the dark knight.
One would speculate that this might have been when Gyllenhaal decided to return to his roots and play characters in excellent non-commercial films. Prior to the 2010s, his most acclaimed roles were in Donnie Darko, Brokeback Mountain, and David Fincher’s Zodiac. But the past decade has witnessed Gyllenhaal becoming one of the most respected and revered actors in the industry after garnering praise for films such as Nightcrawler, Nocturnal Animals, Southpaw, Stronger, The Sister’s Brothers, Wildlife, and Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners alongside Hugh Jackman. He did appear in a major blockbuster in Spider-Man: Far From Home as the nemesis of the web-slinger, Mysterio, in 2019. While Gyllenhaal’s portrayal of the character cannot be faulted, there were plenty of questions about how the supervillain was written for the film.
Gyllenhaal has briefly linked with the Batman role yet again after Ben Affleck stepped down, but Robert Pattinson was ultimately cast as a younger version of Bruce Wayne/Batman. Pattinson also shares similar traits with Gyllenhaal in how he also had to dip his toes in indie films to create a reputation for himself. Both actors had to hone their craft on relatively low-budget films to establish themselves. In fact, Pattinson might have had to work harder to distance himself from being attached to the abysmal Twilight series.
Whether Gyllenhaal does end up headlining a blockbuster remains to be seen, but there could be no doubts that he has carved a niche for himself and any major studio would be queuing up to sign him up on long term projects.