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‘I’ve always been the curious one,’ actor Jake Gyllenhaal says

Updated June 7, 2024 - 7:05 am

He made his acting debut at age 10 as Billy Crystal’s son in the classic comedy “City Slickers.”

Ask 43-year-old Jake Gyllenhaal what he remembers about that first set and his small role and he laughs.

“I remember the joy of just being near Billy Crystal. I remember the wardrobe I wore. And I’ll never forget Norman, the cow,” he chuckles. “I had a scene in the backseat of a van with the cow peeing on us — welcome to showbiz, kid.”

The welcome mat is still out for Gyllenhaal in Hollywood. His busy year has included bulking up for the remake of the Patrick Swayze classic “Road House,” streaming on Prime. He also stars in “Presumed Innocent,” coming to Apple TV+ on Wednesday.

Gyllenhaal portrays Rusty Sabich, a prosecutor who becomes the prime suspect in the murder of a colleague. (Harrison Ford played the role in the 1990 movie version.) The limited series also stars Ruth Negga and Gyllenhaal’s brother-in-law, Peter Sarsgaard.

The son of director Stephen Gyllenhaal and screenwriter Naomi Foner, he followed his parents and older sister Maggie into the family business with movies including “October Sky,” “Brokeback Mountain,” “Donnie Darko” and “Spider-Man: Far From Home.”

He has also authored a children’s book, “The Secret Society of Aunts and Uncles.”

Gyllenhaal moved from his native Los Angeles to New York to be closer to family, including his nieces, 17-year-old Ramona and 12-year-old Gloria.

His good life tips:

Story comes first

“I’ve grown up loving storytelling. To me the movie only works when the story works,” he says. “More than my performance, it has to be a great story. “Presumed Innocent” checked that box for Gyllenhaal. “It’s a good drama that really keeps you guessing,” he says.

Ask questions

“I’ve always been the curious one,” he says. “That means that I ask a lot of questions. Doesn’t matter the topic. I’m asking questions about the meaning of it all and what exactly happened. You can get a lot of different perspectives that way from people of all ages. … My mother always said to me if you want to learn anything about anything then go to the children’s section of a library and find the book that simplifies it. That’s where you start. She would say, ‘At the heart of any complex idea are the simple beginnings.’ ”

Train your body

Gyllenhaal says that portraying a mixed martial arts fighter in the “Road House” update required nonstop training. “We trained for about an hour to two every day before work,” he says. Being in his 40s called for a different approach. “Ten years ago, I made another fight movie called ‘Southpaw’ with twice-a-day workout sessions. I was in a different place in my 30s. In my 40s, I knew I needed help with nutrition and I had to keep myself safe from injury. You work out in smarter ways. It really helped to work with a great group of people to guide me making sure I was eating clean and I had the flexibility to train.”

Train your mind

Gyllenhaal says that he does his deepest thinking during his daily exercise routine. “It’s just an incredible thing to also use exercise as a meditative thing,” he says. “It’s about the mind, too, and not just pushing yourself physically to the limit.”

Watch out

During the filming of “Road House,” co-star and UFC icon Conor McGregor had a slipup. “By accident, he clocked me in the face,” Gyllenhaal says. “He was so great with me. But one night at 3 in the morning, he was like, ‘Yeah, that left hook looks good, but then when you do it, boom!’ And he hit me by mistake.” No harm. “By mistake, I slammed his face with a car door,” the actor says. “It happens. We were making a movie.”

Treasured time

Gyllenhaal says he never regrets making friends and family a priority. “My family is the most important thing to me,” he shares. “I love being with them. As you get older, I think you have a new perspective on spending time around the dinner table with the people you love the most. That time is precious.”

Special bond

“Being an uncle is something I love,” he says. “I learned from my nieces it’s just about showing up and being there. … It took some time for me to understand what the position of being an uncle requires. It’s really defined by your niece or nephew. It’s mostly about listening. You also don’t know it all — the kids end up teaching you.”

Still, Gyllenhaal says he was nervous about what his nieces would think of “The Secret Society of Aunts and Uncles.” “How much I love my nieces are in the pages of my book,” he says. I care about them so much and said, ‘I hope you guys are cool with it.’ “They said, ‘Oh my God, this is the coolest thing ever.’ ”

Be heard

“If you can’t be there, I’m a big fan of hearing someone’s voice,” Gyllenhaal says. “You just don’t get that on a text. I want to have real contact. Maybe that’s old school, but it works for me.”

Be adventurous

“As a little kid, my father taught me that it pays to look for adventure in life,” he says. “We wouldn’t just look at the ocean, but we would dive right in. It’s all about pushing boundaries and looking at life as a big adventure. You can feel that way at any age.”

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