Jake Gyllenhaal: 'movie music can enhance, alter or destroy a film'

19 July 2015, 16:00

The star of Donnie Darko tells Classic FM about the massive importance of music in movies and the 'honour' of having his most recent film, Southpaw, scored by the late James Horner.

Hollywood star Jake Gyllenhaal grew up in a musical family and has sung since he was a boy. The actor says he sees it as "my priority and my primary motivation at times and, in a lot of ways, inspiration, particularly when I'm working".

"It surrounds my life," the 34-year old actor told Classic FM's Anne-Marie Minhall, pictured, on Charlotte Green's Culture Club (Sunday 19 July). "Many of my friends are musicians, more so than actors, and they are a great influence on my work."

Gyllenhaal sang in a competitive choir throughout high school and into college, and has recently appeared as the nerdy Seymour Krelborn in the musical Little Shop of Horrors in New York.

But it's film scores that have a particular hold on the actor.

"I love movie music very, very much," he said. "I think it can enhance, it can alter it, it can destroy it. I think it has a massive influence." 

But Gyllenhaal believes it's not necessary for the music to work too hard to affect people's feelings.

"I feel like we have really smart audiences and, particularly with score, subtlety is even better," he said. 

The actor listed Carter Burwell's score for the Coen Brothers' 1990 black comedy Miller's Crossing as one of his favourite soundtracks. 

"His music is such an integral part just as, for instance, someone like Roger Deakins - who is the cinematographer for the Coen Brothers - works with them a lot,  and you can feel all of them working together in this way. He is a part of some kind of symphony which is fascinating to watch."

When Gyllenhaal learned that Titanic and Braveheart composer James Horner was writing the music for his latest film, the boxing drama Southpaw, "it was really an honour."

Southpaw turned out to be one of the composer's final completed scores. Horner was tragically killed in a plane crash on 22 June.

"His score for a movie called Searching for Bobby Fisher is probably one of my top five scores in movies," Gyllenhaal said, "a very underrated movie and one of my favourite films, and his score is one of the reasons why it is."  

Gyllenhaal's love of music extends into the way that he acts scenes, which he believes contain their own kind of rhythm and melody.

"If you're working with a musical actor, one who really understands certain rhythms or has a sense of rhythm themselves, or even loves music or sings and plays music themselves, it's a different feeling. You’re exchanging in a different way, much like you probably would as a musician but using a similar instinct." 

In the week that Harper Lee's Go Set a Watchman was published, Gyllenhaal told Anne-Marie Minhall about his love of her classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird. He has even named his two dogs Atticus and Boo Radley after characters from the book.

And he has no fear that the newly published novel will affect the reputation of its universally-loved predecessor.

"I don't think its possible to really destroy anything that is honest and true which is To Kill a Mockingbird originally," he said. 

"I am so excited. I think it will be fascinating to get into the mind of Harper Lee and see at that time when she wrote this book where she was. I think the passage of time will probably have done an amazing thing to these words and I can't wait to read it," he said.

"I am one for artistic expression in whatever way even when I don't like it," Gyllenhaal said. "Everybody should be able to express themselves in whatever form and should be able to be agreed and disagreed with. It's absolutely essential to being alive."