Gyllenhaal was born in Los Angeles, California, the son of film director Stephen Gyllenhaal and film producer and screenwriter Naomi Foner (née Achs). Maggie Gyllenhaal, his older sister and also an actress, appeared with Jake in the movie Donnie Darko. Gyllenhaal's father, who was raised as a Swedenborgian, is of Swedish and English descent, and is a descendant of the Swedish noble Gyllenhaal family. Jake's last native Swedish ancestor was his great-great-grandfather, Anders Leonard Gyllenhaal. Jake Gyllenhaal's mother is from a Jewish family from New York City, and Gyllenhaal has said that he considers himself Jewish. On his 13th birthday, Gyllenhaal performed a "bar mitzvah-like act, without the typical trappings", volunteering at a homeless shelter, because his parents wanted to instill in him a sense of gratitude for his privileged lifestyle. His parents insisted that he have summer jobs to support himself, and he thus worked as a lifeguard and as a busboy at a restaurant operated by a family friend.
As a child, Gyllenhaal was regularly exposed to filmmaking due to his family's deep ties to the industry. He made his acting debut as Billy Crystal's son in the 1991 comedy film City Slickers. His parents did not allow him to appear in the 1992 film The Mighty Ducks because it would have required his leaving home for two months. In subsequent years, his parents allowed him to audition for parts, but regularly forbade him to take them if he were chosen. He was allowed to appear in his father's films several times. Gyllenhaal appeared in the 1993 film A Dangerous Woman (along with sister Maggie); in "Bop Gun" a 1994 episode of Homicide: Life on the Street; and in the 1998 comedy Homegrown. Along with their mother, Jake and Maggie appeared in two episodes of Molto Mario, an Italian cooking show on the Food Network. Prior to his senior year in high school, the only other film not directed by his father, in which Gyllenhaal was allowed to perform, was the 1993 film Josh and S.A.M., a little-known children's adventure.
From Donnie Darko to the London stage
Donnie Darko, Gyllenhaal's second major film, was not a box office success upon its initial 2001 release, but eventually became a cult favorite. The film, directed by Richard Kelly, is set in 1988 and stars Gyllenhaal as a troubled teenager who, after narrowly escaping death, experiences visions of a 6 foot (1.8 m) tall rabbit named Frank who tells him that the world is coming to an end. Gyllenhaal's performance was well received by critics; Gary Mairs of Culture Vulture wrote that "Gyllenhaal manages the difficult trick of seeming both blandly normal and profoundly disturbed, often within the same scene."
After the critical success of
, Gyllenhaal's next role was as Pilot Kelston in 2002's Highway
alongside Jared Leto. His performance was described by one critic as "silly, cliched and straight to video." Gyllenhaal had more success starring opposite Jennifer Aniston
in The Good Girl
, which premiered at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival; he also starred in Lovely & Amazing
with Catherine Keener. In both films he plays an unstable character who begins a reckless affair with an older woman. Gyllenhaal later described these as "teenager in transition" roles.Gyllenhaal later starred in the Touchstone Pictures
romantic comedy Bubble Boy
, which was loosely based on the story of David Vetter. The film portrays the title character's adventures as he pursues the love of his life before she marries the wrong man. The film was panned by critics, with one calling it an "empty-headed, chaotic, utterly tasteless atrocity".
Following Bubble Boy, Gyllenhaal starred opposite Dustin Hoffman, Susan Sarandon and Ellen Pompeo in Moonlight Mile, as a young man coping with the death of his fiancée and the grief of her parents. The story, which received mixed reviews, is loosely based on writer/director Brad Silberling's personal experiences following the murder of girlfriend Rebecca Schaeffer.
Gyllenhaal was almost cast as Spider-Man
for Spider-Man 2
due to director Sam Raimi's concerns about original Spider-Man
star Tobey Maguire'shealth. Maguire recovered, however, and the sequel was shot without Gyllenhaal. (The actors—who later played brothers in Brothers
—resemble each other enough that Gyllenhaal has jokingly complained about cab drivers often calling him "Spider-Man".)
Instead, Gyllenhaal starred in the blockbuster The Day After Tomorrowin 2004, co-starring Dennis Quaid as his father.In his theatrical debut, Gyllenhaal starred on the London stage in Kenneth Lonergan's revival of This is Our Youth. Gyllenhaal said, "Every actor I look up to has done theatre work, so I knew I had to give it a try." The play, which had been a critical sensation on Broadway, ran for eight weeks in London's West End. Gyllenhaal received favorable critical reviews and an Evening Standard Theatre Award in the category "Outstanding Newcomer."
Family and relationships
The son of director Stephen Gyllenhaal and screenwriter Naomi Foner, Gyllenhaal's immediate family includes his sister, actress Maggie, who is married to actor Peter Sarsgaard, Gyllenhaal's co-star in Jarhead and Rendition. In December 2006, Jake and his sister escaped a fire that destroyed Manka's, a famed lodge and restaurant in Inverness, California, at which they were vacationing. Gyllenhaal's niece, Ramona Sarsgaard, was born on October 3, 2006. Jamie Lee Curtis is Gyllenhaal's godmother, and he has repeatedly referred to his godfathers being a gay couple. Gyllenhaal himself is the godfather of Matilda Rose Ledger (born October 28, 2005), daughter of Heath Ledger and Michelle Williams, both of whom co-starred with him in Brokeback Mountain.
Gyllenhaal dated actress Kirsten Dunst for nearly two years, starting in 2002. He later dated his Rendition
co-star Reese Witherspoon from about 2007 to 2009. He dated singer-songwriter Taylor Swift from October 2010 until January 2011. In March 2013, it became public knowledge that he was in a relationship with model Emily DiDonato. Gyllenhaal began dating model Alyssa Miller in July 2013.
Politics and other interests
Gyllenhaal is politically active. He shot a commercial for Rock the Vote, and along with his sister, visited the University of Southern California to encourage students to vote during the 2004
U.S. Election. He also campaigned for Democratic Presidential candidate John Kerry. He has said, however, that "it frustrates me when actors talk politics; I'm political and I make choices in my movies that I think are political. I try and say things with what I do. Rightly or wrongly, young actors have all the power." In an interview for Rendition
, he remarked that "it's a sad time when actors are politicians and politicians are actors."Raised in a family concerned with social issues, in 2003
Gyllenhaal participated in an advertising campaign by the American Civil Liberties Union, an organization his entire family strongly supports. Environmentally conscious, he recycles regularly, and said in an interview that he spends $400 a year to have trees planted in a Mozambique forest, partly to promote the Future Forests program. After filming The Day After Tomorrow
, he flew to the Arctic to promote awareness of climate change.In his spare time, Gyllenhaal enjoys woodworking and cooking. He has said, "I am not a card-carrying Buddhist, but I do try to practice mindfulness" and it is his goal to meditate every day.Gyllenhaal has signed on to help the TV fundraiser Stand Up To Cancer.On December 19, 2011, he was announced as a jury member for the 62nd Berlin International Film Festival that was held in February 2012
Gyllenhaal was named one of People
magazine's "50 Most Beautiful People" in 2006. He was also listed in People's
"Hottest Bachelors of 2006". In response to mainstream press lists like these, thousands of gay and bisexual men were polled for the 2007 and 2008 "AfterElton.com Hot
100 List". Gyllenhaal was ranked at No.1 in both consecutive years. He was ranked at No.2 on the Gay Wired Magazine
poll of male actors who have played gay characters in movies. In April 2012, Shalom Life
ranked him Number 6 on its list of "the 50 most talented, intelligent, funny, and gorgeous Jewish men in the world."