Jake Gyllenhaal on Remaking ‘Road House,’ Robert Downey Jr.’s Oscar Win, and Conor McGregor Clocking Him in the Face

Acclaimed actor also opens up about auditioning for “Batman Begins” and "Moulin Rouge"

March 21, 2024

Some Hollywood heartthrobs just show up and say their lines, but Jake Gyllenhaal doesn’t see the fun in that. The Oscar-nominated movie star returned to the Stern Show on Wednesday to chat with Howard about everything from his childhood and love life to his eagerly anticipated remake of “Road House” and upcoming Broadway revival of Shakespeare’s “Othello,” co-starring Denzel Washington. Gyllenhaal spoke at length about his lifelong passion for acting and his tendency to physically transform himself for a role, which he said can be a double-edged sword, as was the case while shooting his 2015 boxing flick “Southpaw.”

He explained to Howard how he’d spent so much time becoming a boxer that he’d lost sight of what he needed to do as an actor. It was his acting coach, Penny Allen, who identified his problem. “She said, ‘My dear, you’ve lost your imagination,’” Jake recalled.

“Obviously [if] you’re playing a boxer, you want to get in shape, you want to put your body through that—I like that stuff—but in the end the fun of acting is … just playing. Have fun,” Gyllenhaal continued, adding, “I think I’ve gotten to a place where, if you can learn something, and it brings you joy, and it can be joyful to the people around you, then let’s do that.”

Photo: Getty Images for SiriusXM

That’s not to say Jake has stopped sculpting his body to match the part. The 43-year-old thespian spent nearly a year training hard and eating right to play a believable MMA fighter turned bouncer in Doug Liman’s “Road House” remake, which co-stars Daniela Melchior and musician Post Malone as well as real-life U.F.C. champion Conor McGregor.

“I think he’s just so charismatic,” Jake said of Conor, who serves as one of the film’s villains.

“He would scare the fuck out of me—even acting,” Howard said.

Jake admitted he did catch nerves before shooting their first fight scene. “In that moment, I was like, ‘Holy shit, I’m about to get head-butted by Conor McGregor—what’s gonna happen?’” he recalled thinking.

The fights are just well-choreographed movie magic, of course, but Jake did share one anecdote in which McGregor accidentally punched him while they were rehearsing off camera.. “It was like three in the morning and … he just clocked me, right in the face,” Gyllenhaal recalled. “I wish it was on film, but it wasn’t.”

“Jake, there’s no such thing as a mistake,” Howard laughed.

Crazy for Swayze

It’s fitting Jake is starring in the latest imagining of “Road House” because he is as big a fan as one can be of the original film and its late star, Patrick Swayze. He told Howard his fandom also extends to Swayze and Keanu Reeves’ epic 1991 surf thriller, “Point Break.” “I’ve seen it over a hundred times,” he said. “I mean the skydiving and surfing and Swayze’s just so cool … it comes on, I will always watch [it].”

When Gyllenhaal worked with Swayze on 2001’s “Donnie Darko,” he was not disappointed. “It’s fucking Patrick Swayze!” he said with a laugh. “He was so, so nice. He was so kind … At that point in his career, too, he had perspective on everything. He was happy to be there.”

He was also an accidental spokesperson for scooters. “[Patrick] had this scooter that he would scooter to and from set to base camp and I was like, ‘That’s such a cool idea, I gotta get a scooter,” Jake admitted before adding, “He made a scooter cool.”

Losing Out on ‘Batman Begins’ and ‘Moulin Rouge’

Whether he’s wowing moviegoers in action-packed blockbusters like “The Day After Tomorrow” and “Spider-Man: Far From Home” or showing off his dramatic chops in indie classics like Ang Lee’s “Brokeback Mountain” and Denis Villeneuve’s “Prisoners,” Gyllenhaal can seemingly do it all. But not even he can land every part he auditions for. Chatting with Howard on Wednesday, the actor recalled losing out to Christian Bale to play the Dark Knight himself in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy.

“It was like a screen test,” he told Howard of the final round of auditions. “You put the [Batman] costume on.”

In 2001, when he was still just an up-and-coming actor, Jake nearly landed the lead role in Baz Luhrmann’s “Moulin Rouge.” “It was like me, Heath [Ledger], and Ewan McGregor. It got that far. It’s where I first heard of Heath,” he recalled of his eventual “Brokeback Mountain” co-star. “They’d shuffle us in and out of rooms,” he added, saying the part ultimately went to McGregor. “That’s how it goes.”

Howard wondered what it felt like to lose out on such a big role.

“What I felt was disappointed when I didn’t get it,” Jake admitted. “[But] in the end you … learn to go, ‘There’s another one. I can try and go in and audition for another one. I’ll get something else.’ That’s the thing. You keep that attitude.”

In both cases, Jake said the director called him personally to break the bad news. “When you get that far there’s a real legitimacy,” he said. “It’s not like they’re [just] going, ‘Oh thanks so much,’ you know? They’re going, ‘I saw these aspects of you that I really wanted in the role and [that] I think are wonderful, but in the end I ended up moving [another] way.”

“If you start to pick away at that, it just doesn’t work. It’s not healthy. So, I just go … let’s try and keep going,” Jake concluded. “At the time, I remember thinking … I just got a call personally from Christopher Nolan. That’s pretty cool. I’ve gotten pretty far.”

The Brilliance of Oscar-Winner Robert Downey Jr.

When repeat Stern Show guest Robert Downey Jr. won his first Oscar earlier this month for his supporting role in “Oppenheimer,” Gyllenhaal was ecstatic for the actor. The two worked together in 2007’s “Zodiac,” when Downey was working on his comeback after a long struggle with addiction. “I love Downey,” Jake told Howard before noting the challenges his co-star was facing at the time. “I was with him when he was driving himself to work when he had to insure himself.”

But even then, Gyllenhaal was blown away by Downey’s gifts. “He is an extraordinary actor … When you talk about somebody when you watch them work where you’re just in awe – he’s one of those,” Jake said before recounting how his co-star taught him how to learn lines more efficiently. “He memorized things in a way where you memorize them so fast you don’t think about them … your conscious brain is not connected to the words you’re saying … then you slow it down.”

“That’s his magic. His mind works so quickly,” Jake continued. “I always said working with Robert was like working in 10-D … It’s extraordinary.”

“Road House” debuts Thursday, March 21 on Prime Video.

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