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Jake Gyllenhaal, from Swatch to Cartier
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Jake Gyllenhaal, from Swatch to Cartier

Friday, 30 November 2018
By Frank Rousseau
Frank Rousseau

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7 min read

He’s a risk-taker who never shirks a challenge, which is why Cartier chose Jake Gyllenhaal to front the campaign for its iconic Santos watch. We caught up with an actor who is also an adventurer and handy with a wood plane..

In Jacques Audiard's western The Sisters Brothers, you play John Morris, an educated detective who sounds more like a professor than your average cowboy.

He is very much the intellectual! I can’t imagine you would have run into many of his type down at the saloon or riding the plains [laughs]. John Morris is pretentious. He’s educated, for sure, but he has a stratospheric ego to match. To say he sticks out like a sore thumb is an understatement. When Jacques gave me the part, he immediately made it clear this wasn’t about imitating a nineteenth-century intellectual, so we took some expressions from that time and brought them up to date. Also, we had to find the right tone and the right words that would make the other characters laugh whenever John said something. This guy really is one of a kind. Jacques is French, as you know, and the crew he put together for the film were also French, so basically everyone was speaking French on the set. Every time I tried to get my tongue around a few French words, I came out sounding like John Morris himself!

Jake Gyllenhaal
Jake Gyllenhaal
And the most unpronounceable word was...

How about PER-PET-CHEW-IT-AY [perpétuité]. Sorry, it still sounds terrible! The more I said it, the worse it sounded! There were others, of course, but I’ve forgotten what they were. Which is probably for the best, otherwise I’d just keep on mangling them.

How is Jacques Audiard different from the American directors you've worked with?

It’s a question of time, or rather the notion of time. When you’re filming with Americans, there’s a “time is money” mentality. The production guys are constantly checking their watches, wanting to speed things up. Jacques, on the other hand, leaves space to think, meditate even. Sometimes I’d sit for hours on a rock, or under a tree, or with my feet in a river, waiting for Jacques to give me the go-ahead for my next scene. We shot part of the movie in Spain, and to be honest it felt more like a holiday than working. What I like about Audiard is that he lets the dough rise. He doesn’t start kneading right away. At the same time, I don’t think opposing European filmmakers and American filmmakers is in any way constructive. These are two different approaches but ultimately with the same ambition: to tell a story that the audience will enjoy.

Jake Gyllenhaal
Jake Gyllenhaal
Speaking of time, can you tell us a little more about your collaboration with Cartier?

Cartier got in touch and asked me to be the face of the iconic Santos watch. Usually I think twice about promoting a brand, but Cartier is different. Why? Because it’s an amazing company with an amazing history. To be honest, at first I didn’t really see why they were asking me, but as we filmed the campaign, it became clear. Louis Cartier imagined the Santos watch in 1904 for his friend, the Brazilian Alberto Santos-Dumont, an aviation pioneer who wanted a wristwatch he could consult while flying. The thing I like about this reimagined version is the interchangeability. You can swap straps as and when you like. When you think about it, being an actor is quite similar. You can change appearances whenever you want. I’m also very meticulous, very precise in what I do. So in a way, the Santos is a bridge between this pilot’s very determined, methodical, rational nature and my rigorous creative side. Honesty is another thing we share. That, and the desire to venture off the beaten track and push beyond our limits. Then there’s the fact that the Santos is a very beautiful watch.

So you and the Santos have a lot in common?

Precisely. I have high expectations of myself, and I want the same thing from a watch. The ability to change straps makes perfect sense. Doing the same thing over and over isn’t fulfilling. I hate repetitive tasks, routine. I like to be able to reinvent myself.

You already showed you were something of an adventurer in Men vs. Wild...

There’s an experience I won’t forget in a hurry. Bear Grylls invited me to be on the show at a time when I had the paparazzi pretty much camping out on my doorstep. I really needed to get away, and the idea of trekking across Iceland seemed like a great opportunity to recharge my batteries. Mainly, though, it was a chance to put some distance between myself and these people who were violating my privacy. I mean, I couldn’t see them following me all the way to Iceland [laughs]. Once we got there, the first thing that hit me was the beauty of the landscape. That and the biting cold. The weather was fairly clement at first, but conditions quickly deteriorated. Bear and I really suffered. One day, the wind was so strong that a jumbo jet was literally blown sideways at the airport, and there we were at 6,925 feet altitude. It’s one of the most memorable experiences I’ve ever had, and one of the most thrilling too. At one point, I had to crawl across a deep ravine, using my arms to pull myself along a rope. The production team stuck a Go-Pro on me to film as I inched my way across. I was shaking in my boots, and while I was doing my best to drag myself across this huge drop, I could hear Bear shouting, “Go on Jake, keep going, and don’t look down!” Easier said than done, I can tell you!

Jake Gyllenhaal
Jake Gyllenhaal
How would you define luxury?

Luxury, for me, is Cartier and Calvin Klein’s Eternity fragrance. Oh, and I have this obsession with pillows. Honestly, I don’t think pillows get enough credit. I have six pillows on my bed. They’re great for unwinding.

Do you remember your first watch?

My first ever watch was a Swatch my sister gave me. I must have been five or six years old. It got confiscated pretty quickly! [laughs]. I don’t know what happened to it, but if my memory serves me well, it was orange and pink. Maggie, my sister, bought if from a Swatch shop on Times Square. I remember the shop was packed with customers and I couldn’t make up my mind which of the dozens of styles I wanted. Later, my grandfather gave me a Swiss army watch. I’d just got my high school diploma and he wanted to mark the occasion by having it engraved. Just for me. That’s the moment I chose to tell him I wanted to become an actor. He turned to me with this disappointed look on his face and said, “How about getting a real job instead”. He still gave me the watch. It was incredibly tough, I wore if for years. Otherwise, if anyone has any clues as to where my Swatch is, let me know. I mean, come on guys, it was my first watch!

If Hollywood hadn't got hold of you, what would you be doing today?

If I hadn’t become an actor, I’d probably be a landscape gardener, or a cook, or a carpenter. I love cooking and I also make tables.

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