Jake Gyllenhaal Remembers Heath Ledger: “I Miss Him as a Human Being”

25 Jul 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Despite cliches, boxing drama ‘Southpaw’ packs an emotional punch.

LOS ANGELES – Jake Gyllenhaal has had a penchant for the dark side in recent years, playing tormented and sometimes sociopath characters on the fringe, but the actor found himself playing the “most adult and most evolved” role to date as a professional boxer. When the trailer for Southpaw was released, action movie fans and fight aficionados were pumped to see Jake Gyllenhaal step into the ring as they hoped the Oscar-nominated actor would add a level of prestige to the boxing drama genre.Actor Jake Gyllenhaal says words cannot express how “incredibly special” Heath Ledger was to him, and revealed his passing made him question all of his life choices.

In “Southpaw,” out in US theaters on Friday, Gyllenhaal plays Billy Hope, a New York orphan who becomes a rags-to-riches boxing success, then spirals back into poverty and is unable to care for his young daughter after the sudden death of his wife Maureen (Rachel McAdams). After more than 30 years of marriage, director Stephen Gyllenhaal and screenwriter Naomi Foner finalized their divorce in 2009, and Gyllenhaal says the sudden shift in his personal life caused him to hit pause on the direction in which his career was going. While Gyllenhaal’s performance packs an emotional punch, overall, Southpaw relies too heavily on played-out boxing cliches trotted out countless times before on the silver screen. The creations of the director, Antoine Fuqua, and the screenwriter, Kurt Sutter, seem to have been freeze-dried, cut into card-sized tiles, and laid out sequentially—sustaining only the shallowest definition of character, connected only by the thinnest string of motive, and hermetically isolated from the practicalities among which the action ostensibly takes place.

During a radio interview with NPR for new film Southpaw, Jake said: “It brings me back to thinking about doing that scene with Heath and the honour it was to work with him, and the beauty of his work. “I miss him as a human being, and I miss working with him. Directed by Antoine Fuqua, “Southpaw” follows Billy as he mentally falls apart and struggles to pull himself out of a severe slump as his pre-teen daughter (played by Oona Laurence) disconnects with him. Lackluster rivalries and generic training montages aside, Gyllenhaal shines as fictional light-heavyweight champion Billy Hope—despite all of the film’s flaws. Billy Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal), who grew up in a Hell’s Kitchen orphanage, is the undefeated light-heavyweight champion, but he brings a bitter art to the sweet science: his method is to absorb a vast amount of punishment from his opponent until, seized with rage, he fights back with an irresistibly violent fury.

He was incredibly special, and that doesn’t even come close to encapsulating who he is — who he was.” Jake also revealed Ledger’s death, which was reportedly caused from an accidental overdose of prescription drugs, made him re-assess his life decisions. “I think that’s why I like to go off and I like to try and get into worlds that will wake me up… I’m trying to be present where I am. As you’d expect, it wasn’t easy — but a series of interviews have offered some insights for any masochists looking to replicate Gyllenhaal’s eight months of training: People has an exhaustive rundown of Gyllenhaal’s six-hour-a-day workout routine, which was developed by trainer Terry Claybon.

Billy’s trusted circle quickly dissipates as his world crumbles, his manager Jordan (50 Cent) jumping ship early when Billy refuses to fight in a match. Gyllenhaal’s primary concern was ensuring that he came across like a real boxer, so his workout routine was similar to the kind of training practiced by actual professional fighters. To play Billy, Gyllenhaal honed his physicality into that of a boxer’s, which he called “hard physical work,” and attributed the challenge to mental training as well. The beloved brawler must battle back from the brink of total self-destruction in order to rebuild his life, career, and more importantly, his relationship with his child.

And I think losing Heath — and being a part of a family that was something like that movie we all made together — makes you see that, makes you appreciate that and hopefully moves you away from the things that really don’t matter to the things that do.” Last year, Gyllenhaal won praise for playing a ruthlessly ambitious crime-scene reporter in “Nightcrawler,” a role that he starved himself for to capture a character on edge. Gyllenhaal earned a ton of praise for his physical transformation into the punch-drunk pugilist, but his best moments actually happen outside of the ring. These early expositional sequences are among the movie’s few attractions; they hint at the behind-the-scenes dramas of the sport, involving media executives, middlemen, family, doctors, and the many other interested parties depending on the agonies in the ring.

Gyllenhaal’s diet consisted of carbs in the morning and protein in the evening. “I said, ‘Jake, you have to train like a fighter,'” said Antoine Fuqua, the director of Southpaw. “I can’t have you faking it. Instead, Billy gets into a scuffle with a potential challenger in a hotel ballroom, a gun is fired, Maureen is killed, and Billy is left to raise their young daughter, Leila (Oona Laurence), alone. While movies like The Fighter and Raging Bull were better at showing the ups and downs of being a boxer, Southpaw hits hardest when it focuses on the psychological toll of being in the fight game. You can feel the loneliness and despair eminate from Gyllenhaal’s character, a true-to-life representation of the utter isolation fighters sometimes feel. To do so, he turns to the trainer Tick Wills (Forest Whitaker), a former fighter who now runs a rumpled street-side gym that’s also a second home to troubled boys from the neighborhood.

It’s no spoiler to say that the movie’s other virtue is found—briefly—in these later scenes, when Tick retrains Billy and teaches him skills that the dethroned champion lacks. For all the story’s classic elements, its core throwback is to the sense of oversupervised overproduction, the sort of rigid controls seen in studio filmmaking from the nineteen-thirties. But back then, that control was exercised by producers who, in many cases, were creators in their own right, people whose business sense arose from their story sense—which arose, in turn, from an authentic popular touch, a fundamental intuition for the great average, for the big emotional targets in their customers’ hearts. Their sense for that sweet spot elevated the work of the industry’s vast run of skilled professionals and frustrated its handful of original artists, who chafed under studio control and thrived in a later day of independent production.

The producers of “Southpaw” haven’t created a film of people for people; they’ve populated the movie with humanoids, mere semblances of people who are endowed with the imitation of life by the thankless exertions of the extraordinary actors who embody them—and whose faces and voices might as well be applied digitally. The modicum of pleasure delivered by “Southpaw” arrives thanks to its cast, who struggle bravely and energetically with the hopelessly bland text and the invisible, impersonal direction. Gyllenhaal slurs and shambles, steams and rampages, swirling with generic energy that, in the absence of cues from the script, he seems to have wrenched from the depths of his training. In this context-free context, their able and thoughtful efforts seem less like performances than like stunts; the frenetic and spectacular display of actorly work conveys such detached virtuosity that it undercuts, from the start, the very human touch that it signifies, and for which it substitutes.

I recently described “Terminator Genisys” as a “simulacrum of a movie”; the same applies here, and there may be a connection between the two, in the creation of movies for an international market. That’s not a new phenomenon, but it’s a recent one, and it accounts, in part, for the plethora of superhero movies and comic-book-based movies that studios produce—stories that don’t depend on a sense of place, on characters bearing particular local traits, or, for that matter, on characters who bear much resemblance to people anywhere. But because such movies are largely about the technological transformation of humans, the process and the subtext fold back into the subject and become both reflexive and symbolic. It’s a midrange drama made in a movie economy that has trouble sustaining the format; it’s a delocalized, international-style midrange drama, and, as such, it’s a contradiction in terms. There is almost no process in the film, as if displaying the detailed workings of courts and businesses, of transactions and interrogations, threatened to reveal state secrets; there’s no depth of character in the film, as if the wild vectors of the inner life, the diverse impulses and loose ends of which a personality is made, might undermine the plot’s robotic inevitability.

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