Jake Gyllenhaal Raises Environmental Awareness By Running Away From Stuff

Actor's latest film mixes earth consciousness with action.

BEVERLY HILLS — Sounding like one of his understated characters in dramas like “The Good Girl” or “Moonlight Mile,” Jake Gyllenhaal summed up his experience making the action movie “The Day After Tomorrow” in one sentence:

“It was less introspective and just a lot of running away from stuff,” the actor said at a recent voter drive (see “Celebs Go To The Post Office To Deliver Pro-Vote Message” ).

To hear Gyllenhaal tell it, the movie, directed by Roland Emmerich (“Independence Day”), sounds a bit hollow. However, while it might not pack the emotional punch of “October Sky” or “Donnie Darko” (the actor’s breakthrough movies), it’s not “Eight Legged Freaks” (Emmerich’s last movie) either.

“I search for movies that are saying something, that have a lesson but are fun to watch,” Gyllenhaal explained. “I love ‘Indiana Jones’ and ‘E.T.,’ and they have lessons in them. I’m not into making movies that are just for pure entertainment. I want to watch something that moves me or gets me going.”

In the case of “The Day After Tomorrow,” which opens May 28, the lesson is one that’s close to Gyllenhaal: caring for the environment.

“Dennis Quaid plays [my] father and … he has to find me in Manhattan and all this crazy sh– happens,” Gyllenhaal explained. “But more than that, he’s trying to warn the government about the environment and what’s happening, but they’re not listening. And tornadoes hit California, and tidal waves sweep over Manhattan, and that’s what happens when the government doesn’t listen.”

To research the role, Gyllenhaal met with scientists to discuss the potential effects of global warming.

“I learned that these things could actually happen,” he said. “I learned that cars and power plants are the biggest things that are destroying the environment. If we could all just drive hybrid cars — I just drove one the other day and it … looks kind of pimpin’ — we could make progress and change a lot in a short amount of time.”

Having learned so much about the environment in preparing for “The Day After Tomorrow,” Gyllenhaal was frustrated to learn that recent polls indicate kids are not concerned with global warming.

“I think that we take it for granted,” he said. “When I grew up we had Earth Day at my school. I feel that I was pretty aware of what was going on. And we had recycling bins. I know that Manhattan has stopped recycling for a while and I know that they plan on bringing it back, but I think that they’re just not aware of it because there are so many things that are being invented right now. Cars having [automatic] air-conditioning when it gets too hot or central heating when it gets too cold. It’s continually destroying things that we don’t recognize. We’re kind of blind to it, but it’s not our fault.”

After “The Day After Tomorrow,” Gyllenhaal will star along with Gwyneth Paltrow and Anthony Hopkins in “Proof” for “Shakespeare in Love” director John Madden. He’s also slated to start shooting “Brokeback Mountain” with Heath Ledger and directed by Ang Lee (“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”).

“A director is very important,” Gyllenhaal said, discussing what he considers when accepting roles. “And also the script and what it’s saying.”