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Jake Gyllenhaal talks ''Rendition''

Toronto Film Festival veteran Jake Gyllenhaal sits down with EW.com to talk about ”Rendition,” his provocative new political drama with Reese Witherspoon

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Jake Gyllenhaal: Badi-Ftw / Starface / Retna

In his new film, Rendition, Jake Gyllenhaal plays a CIA analyst who gets pulled into overseeing what is known as an ”extraordinary rendition” — the capture and transportation of a suspected terrorist by the U.S. to a friendly Arab country so he can be interrogated outside the bounds of American law. (The suspect in the film is an Egyptian national married to an American, played by Reese Witherspoon.) It’s quite a dark and mature role for the actor who once played the title role in Bubble Boy. EW.com met up with Gyllenhaal at the Toronto Film Festival on Friday to discuss Rendition and talk about how the actor’s Toronto experience has changed over the years.

So I’ve got to ask the generic opening question — what was the thing that attracted you to Rendition?
I think it was at first something about the character. It’s always something about the character.

He’s very quiet.
Yeah. I think, if I’ve succeeded in the role, I’ve become somewhat invisible. It’s not hard in the cast [of actors] that I’m among [chuckles], but that was my intention, I think. This is a guy who doesn’t really want to be seen, and doesn’t really want to be dealing with his life. So he’s gone off to another place and got involved as a CIA analyst, and then he’s forced to deal with [the husband’s rendition and torture]. But even then, I think it’s sort of begrudging. Even when he does something humanitarian, I think it’s begrudging. I don’t think it’s about right or wrong, or seeing something that he can’t handle. For me, it was never about that. I think it was about seeing something that doesn’t work, saying something, like, ”Okay, I’m watching someone be tortured, but it just doesn’t work, so let’s get him out of here.” It’s just a simple decision. It’s not like, ”Wait a second! This is wrong! What do I do?!

There are a lot of scenes where you’re very still and quiet watching something horrific unfold.
Well, I believe that people who see these things, who are involved in situations like this, don’t have an emotional response. I mean, everyone’s different, obviously; it’s totally relative. But when you see something like this happen, just as a body would go into shock, it happens to him. In all honesty, I would’ve liked to have seen more of him where you see him really struggle with that outside [the interrogation room].

NEXT PAGE: ”When I came [to the Toronto Film Festival in 2005], we had just come from [the Venice Film Festival], for Brokeback Mountain, and we had just such an extraordinary response. I thought I was being punk’d!”

You do have that one scene where you’re on the phone with Meryl Streep, who plays the top CIA official who first orders the husband’s rendition.
[Laughs] It’s my favorite line in the movie: ”This is my first torture.” That may have been why I did the movie, that line.

When you shot that scene, was Streep on the phone with you?
No. I was on the other end of her phone, though. [Laughs] Due diligence, yes.

What are your expectations for Rendition?
A result, you mean? I don’t really think you really look for the result, I think the result is forced on you. I wish that people love the simplicity of this movie, the parable-like quality of this movie. I hope that they see that there’s no simple answer for both sides. Like, people say about Rendition, ”You made a political movie.” And I’m like, well, I didn’t think about that. Like I told you, I wanted to see what it was like when I wasn’t the guy in the truck watching the other guy walk away and being torn up. I wanted to be not torn up. I wanted to see what that would feel like. I didn’t want to be the boy in the bubble. [Giggles] I wanted to see something else.

This is maybe the most grown-up role you’ve ever had to date. Was that also part of your thinking?
It’s nice to deal with issues a little bit ahead of yourself, you know? Things you don’t totally understand. To struggle with those things, yeah, it feels a little bit more mature.

So, how many times have you been to the Toronto Film Festival?
Three.

And what was your first?
Moonlight Mile. 2002.

A lot of your festival experience, I’m sure, is this, sitting in a room talking with people like me all day. But have you noticed any differences between your first time through this one?
I think my first experience was just so thrilling. I hadn’t been to many festivals except Sundance, and this was just a whole international world — and with just such an insanely wonderful cast, Dustin Hoffman and Susan Sarandon and all those people. When I came the next time [in 2005], we had just come from [the Venice Film Festival], for Brokeback Mountain, and we had just such an extraordinary response. I thought I was being punk’d! [Laughs] And with this one, I think you find a calm in it. I know a lot of the journalists, I feel like I’m a little bit more part of the in-crowd, the club of people who know festivals very well and know what happens, and I like that.