Jake Gyllenhaal Went With His Gut For ‘Prisoners’

The Oscar nominee does his best to explain his recent run of great roles to MTV News.

Jake Gyllenhaal is a relatively young actor whose character has yet to fit into any predetermined mold. He earned critical acclaim with films like “Donnie Darko” and “October Sky,” earned an Oscar nomination for “Brokeback Mountain,” and he dabbled in misguided tentpoles with “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.”

But in the last few years, Gyllenhaal has made a business of starring in mid-sized, well-received projects like “Source Code,” “End of Watch,” and this week’s “Prisoners.” In the new thriller from director Denis Villeneuve, Gyllenhaal plays an ace detective haunted by his only unsolved case, the disappearance of two young girls.

It was the recent string of strong films that MTV News’ Josh Horowitz want to know more about when he sat down with Gyllenhaal at the Toronto International Film Festival, but even to the man himself, the reason is elusive.

“It is a mystery in a way. I’ve had this privilege of being able to act since I was very young. I had this long career. I’m at the age where I think most of my contemporaries are beginning their career,” he said. “I think of it in the same way. I think of it as a beginning too, understanding who you are as a man, understanding who you are as an artist or whatever you do in your life.”

Part of achieving that understanding was learning to go with his gut when it came to picking roles. “At a certain time in your life you start to say, ‘Yeah, that moves me. I’m into that.’ You trust your instinct,” he said. “I think all of those instincts become honed. There are a lot of things I’m not afraid of anymore. There are a lot of things that I continue to be [afraid of] and I’m trying to look at.”

An example of that is “Prisoners.” Gyllenhaal’s character, Detective Loki, obviously shares a profession with the character he played in “End of Watch,” a similarity that scares away most actors, who are often afraid of repeating themselves. For Gyllenhaal, it just meant that he had to explore the role further. What ultimately helped him make up his mind was a conversation with Villeneuve, who had just directed him in another TIFF film, “Enemy.”

“[Villeneuve] offered me this film saying, ‘I know this about you. I know you can do this.’ I went, ‘I’m going to trust this man and this relationship,’ ” Gyllenhaal recalled. “And this character is so different from the other. Just because he’s a cop doesn’t mean anything.”

“Prisoners” opens in theaters on Friday.

Writer/editor for MTV. If it involves cowboys, spies, or hitmen, I'm there. All three would be ideal.