Jake Gyllenhaal is a serious actor. From Donnie Darko to Brokeback Mountain, he has built a reputation for taking on complex characters and making them real.
In his new film Stronger, he undertakes a new challenge, playing a Boston Marathon bombing survivor who lost both his legs.
The experience, he told Sky News, made him think about how “seriously” he takes himself.
“I think when playing a real person, and particularly playing Jeff in this case… I take myself very seriously as an actor,” he said.
“Maybe too seriously, and essentially what I realised when meeting him was what a pretender I am – and I think I was faced with my own fraudulence.”
During filming, Gyllenhaal and his real-life counterpart Jeff Bauman bonded, and the actor found that, when meeting someone so real, he had to rethink his “sense of honesty”.
“When you’re working with someone who is alive, and who is checking you and has a good metre for falseness – that’s my way of not using a bad word! – you’re faced with I think your own sense of honesty,” he told us.
“I always think I consider myself someone who tries to be truthful and honest, and really Jeff showed me that I was performing more than I thought.”
The film follows Bauman’s emotional and physical struggles after the attack.
Gyllenhaal not only stars in the film, but it is also his company’s first production and, after being so involved in the project, he found it hard to let go.
“I think that characters stay with me and this one in particular, I don’t think will ever really go, and those feelings always stay and it took me a while to have just the initial pieces of it fall away,” he said.
“It wasn’t just because it was a sometimes painful process, it was also because I love the character and it’s hard to let things go,” he added.
“Playing Jeff changed me, so it will always be a part of me.”
When it was announced Gyllenhaal would be playing Bauman, there was some criticism from charities and organisations which felt the role should have gone to an actor with disabilities.
But while the actor is sympathetic, he says he didn’t hesitate in taking the part.
“I feel like people with disability should be given more opportunities everywhere, though at the same time I feel like I think it’s pretty extraordinary that a movie like this was made,” he said.
“I hope the positive qualities of this movie, which are about healing and inspiration and moving from a seemingly impossible place to living again, is what comes through more than anything,” he added.
“So I understand, and yet I encourage people to look at the positive.”
With a part that he feels so passionate about in a film that he backed by producing, we asked Gyllenhaal if he was nervous about it coming out.
“Yes and no – I think all you can do in all of your work is you leave everything out on the field, you do what you can, you put your heart and soul in to it, you try and work hard and then whatever happens, happens,” he told us.
“And that’s something I’ve learned throughout the years of doing this job – it’s constantly surprising and it’s totally inconsistent, all a bit of a gamble, and I just want to be able to keep doing it is really the truth.”
Stronger is out in cinemas in the UK on 8 December.