Want To Know What Jake Gyllenhaal Is Really Like? Watch 'Nightcrawler,' He Says

And other tidbits from the actor's South by Southwest panel.

Jake Gyllenhaal is a master of measured interview responses. I experienced it on the phone with him last year and again at South by Southwest on Saturday, where "All the Real Girls" and "Pineapple Express" director David Gordon Green interviewed Gyllenhaal in a room so full that stragglers watched the hourlong event on TV screens outside. 

Promoting "Demolition," the Jean-Marc Vallée-directed drama about an investment banker processing his wife's sudden death, Gyllenhaal waxed poetic about the "craft" of acting and a lifetime of Hollywood experiences. Here are a few brief takeaways. 

1. When he was 5, Gyllenhaal observed rehearsals for the crime drama "Running on Empty," written by his mother, Naomi Foner. It was there that little Jake developed a "huge crush" on Martha Plimpton, who was 18 when the film opened in 1988.

2. Gyllenhaal seems like one of the few bankable A-listers who hasn't appeared in a superhero movie. It's not by design, though -- the actor loves the genre because it's often based on mythology. He was "really inspired" by "Thor."

3. He calls "Donnie Darko" one of the "proudest accomplishments" of his career, largely because his character's nebulous paranoia reflects the subjective, mind-bending reality that troubles us all. "If you ever actually want to know what's going on in people's minds, go see that movie," he said.

4. One of his favorite screen performances is 8-year-old Max Pomeranc's turn as chess prodigy Josh Waitzkin in "Searching for Bobby Fischer." Gyllenhaal's favorite scene partners are kids because their uncalculated choices teach him how to master the moment. He cited Oona Laurence, his co-star in last year's "Southpaw," and Judah Lewis, his co-star in next month's "Demolition," as two of the most uninhibited performers he's worked with.

5. Gyllenhaal disagrees with the reception of his "Nightcrawler" character, a small-time thief who finds work -- and an obsession -- selling crime footage to TV news stations. Gyllenhaal understands "unfathomable" behavior because that is, after all, a natural part of the human condition. “Everyone was like, 'He’s so unhinged," Gyllenhaal said of the character. "And I thought, ‘That’s the closest to me that you’ll get.’”

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Jake Gyllenhaal