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Jake Gyllenhaal Has Always Been a Theater Kid

Gordon Cox
·3-min read

Jake Gyllenhaal is nominated for three Tony Awards, one as an actor in the play “Sea Wall/A Life” and two as a producer (with his company Nine Stories) of “Sea Wall/A Life” and “Slave Play.” Currently in production on Michael Bay’s action thriller “Ambulance,” he talked with Variety about why he wants to make theater an even bigger part of his life and work.

“Sea Wall/A Life” played on Broadway in the summer of 2019, which feels like an actual lifetime ago. What do you remember about the Broadway run?

Thinking about it makes me miss Broadway so intensely. It really became an example for me of why I make art, which is the interaction with an audience, particularly a live audience. The show was two monologues but we thought of it as a dialogue with the audience, and whoever wanted to speak to us afterwards, in talkbacks or backstage or at the stage door, got to tell us their story. That exchange feels so deeply lacking in my life right now. It makes my heart ache for it. Every night we would be bowled over and surprised by a story that someone would tell us.

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What did “Sea Wall/A Life” give you a chance to do that you hadn’t yet done in theater?

I loved that this huge, sacred space of a Broadway stage was taken up by this small story. Up until that point I’d never done a new play — I’d only done revivals — so that was my first experience of helping to shape a character with a writer. I’d also never played a part that was based on something real. That held with it a responsibility.

You’ve been returning to the theater every couple of years. What brings you back?

One is the ability to shake people the way I’m shook by stories in the theater. I walk out and I leave different than I came in. I long for the provocation that theater can be, that a great idea can bring. I’ve been changed and challenged by that. There’s a reflection and a discussion and a dialogue that happens in theater that you don’t get anywhere else, really.

As you start to produce more theater, what are your goals?

When you see something or read something extraordinary, it’s almost like a contact high. If I see something incredible like “Slave Play” that moves me and shatters the assumptions or presumptions that I have, I want to try to help in any way that I can to bring that same feeling to other people. At Nine Stories, my producing partner Riva Marker and I want to try to take stories that people wouldn’t normally see in the Broadway space and bring them there. Our intentions are to be building a real theater wing of Nine Stories. We’re building it right now. We hope to have film influence the theater section and vice versa.

The 2019-2020 season brought you your first Tony nominations. How’s that feel?

It may not seem like it, but I’m a theater kid and I always have been, so it’s truly an honor. And to see “Slave Play” be recognized the way it was — it was pretty wonderful to know that we were involved in something like that. It was a very cool thing in an unlikely year.

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