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Jake Gyllenhaal goes from cowboy to soldier

In wake of ‘Brokeback’ hype, actor hopes viewers find ‘Jarhead’ on DVD
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/ Source: The Associated Press

Jake Gyllenhaal should have no fears of typecasting.

Soon after finishing the gay cowboy romance "Brokeback Mountain," Gyllenhaal launched into the role of a testosterone-fueled young soldier thirsty for Gulf War action in "Jarhead."

"Jarhead" will be released on DVD next week, right after the Academy Awards — where "Brokeback" is a favorite and the 25-year-old Gyllenhaal is up for best supporting actor for his portrayal of a lovestruck sheepherder.

It's a thrill for Gyllenhaal, who started his movie career at age 11, playing Billy Crystal's son in "City Slickers." Eight years later he was an aspiring teenage rocket scientist in "October Sky," and he broke out in 2002 as Jennifer Aniston's love interest in "The Good Girl."

But the blue-eyed actor says his roles in "Jarhead" and "Brokeback" are among the most meaningful he's played. Though he only had three months to go from gay cowboy to Marine recruit, he says the disparate characters are more similar than they seem.

AP: What was the transition like between these characters?

Gyllenhaal: There are a lot of physical differences and a lot of differences in terms of intention, but ultimately both of them come from parts of me. In that way, they're the same, kind of. They both come from my heart and it's the same derivation. There's definitely a rage that (Jarhead's) Tony Swofford, the character of Swofford, had that the character of Jack Twist doesn't. He's much more open and engaged, much less cynical.

AP: You went from horseback riding to boot camp. Talk about the physical differences.

Gyllenhaal: ("Brokeback" director Ang Lee) put a set of weights outside my trailer because he wanted me to kind of bulk up for that part. I tried my best but I didn't do it as well as maybe he wanted. But then for "Jarhead," it was sort of mandatory. So I spent those three months reading, and I started working out like really heavily.

AP: What appealed to you about these two roles?

Gyllenhaal: With "Jarhead," it was just kind of like a perfect match. When you get to be a certain age and you're learning how to be a man, there are probably physical, hormonal things and just, I don't know, spiritual things that happen. The feeling of wanting to punch your fist through a wall and not understanding what that is. It's just inherent in growing up. But that's a real, legitimate feeling, and those feelings and that part just coincided perfectly. And there is a resistance in both of the characters. They're not allowed to be their full selves, and I think that I was really drawn to that.

AP: It seemed like "Jarhead" was destined to be a blockbuster, but "Brokeback" is the one that captured audiences. Did the reception of the two films surprise you?

Gyllenhaal: With "Brokeback," you're dealing with a genuine love story. I think that's what people have responded to. That's what's so amazing, is that people can watch it as that, even with the quote-unquote political subtext. And with "Jarhead," it's overtly political. People took into that film, unfortunately I think, they took their own opinions and issues. I love that there are people who loved it and hated it. Both of the movies had that same response. There are some people who have said thank you for making this movie, I've been waiting for it my whole life, and others who have said it's all right.

AP: Were you disappointed with how "Jarhead" fared at the box office?

Gyllenhaal: We live in a world where you need initial response, a big jolt. People want to know something was historic immediately for some reason. I've witnessed, with a lot of movies I've been in, a slow crawl and an appreciation as people have had time with it. Even a movie like 'Donnie Darko' or something, it's insane how people have responded to that film. Initially, someone could have said are you upset with how it went, and maybe at that time I may have (said) yeah, maybe I am. But I'm not. At all. It's found itself. I'm so proud of it. My mentality has changed.

AP: So you're willing to give the audience time to come around to "Jarhead"?

Gyllenhaal: Yes. And I think they will.