Lonely, hungry, cranky, and freaky-thin. That was Jake Gyllenhaal during production on his nerve-rattling new drama, Nightcrawler, which hits theaters Oct. 31.

Portraying Lou Bloom—an unscrupulous paparazzo who trawls nocturnal Los Angeles in search of roadside carnage for the insatiable “If it bleeds, it leads” maw of local broadcast news—the actor decided to adopt the “hungry and searching” manner of a coyote. “I made a lot of choices physically,” he says.

That meant subsisting on kale salad and chewing gum for the role, shedding nearly 30 pounds from his already wiry frame and worrying his mom in the process. Moreover, the 33-year old actor put his social life on hold for the $7 million film’s month-long shoot. And—as detailed in a profile of him appearing in this week’s issue of Entertainment Weekly—Gyllenhaal would run 15 miles nightly from his Hollywood Hills home to the Nightcrawler set, en route to some of the best reviews of his career.

“The running thing, you’re pretty hungry because you’re not eating a lot of food,” Gyllenhaal says. “You’re lonely because you’re not meeting your friends for dinner. People go, ‘Hey you want to meet for dinner after work?’ I go, ‘Well, I’m shooting all night.’ ‘Alright, you want to meet for lunch?’ I’m like, ‘I can’t!’ So I’m gonna go run.”

During those runs, crisscrossing some of Los Angeles’ wildest terrain, the Oscar nominee would often find himself face to face with real coyotes.

“The sun was setting and these animals would come out,” he continues. “I’d have these strange fantasies after mile 10 of, like, being one with all the animals. They are hungry and they are out to get what they are going to get. That was Lou.”

Few things vex the Celebrity Industrial Complex quite like a Hollywood hunk who trades multiplex stardom for art. Bafflement initially greeted Matthew McConaughey’s decision to trade himbo roles in paycheck movies for micro-budget indie fare (the upside: a 2014 “McConaissance” and Best Actor Oscar), while James Franco’s pursuit of multiple post-graduate degrees and Shia LaBeouf’s head-in-a-bag performance art project were met, respectively, with gleeful derision and undisguised scorn.

For his part, Gyllenhaal veered away from mainstream movie stardom somewhere around 2010, after the critical and box-office failure of his big-budget 3-D video-game adaptation Prince of Persia: Sands of Time. In that film’s wake, he began delivering intensely specific, idiosyncratic performances in a string of indie films, including 2012’s cop procedural End of Watch and last year’s mind-bending dual-character study Enemy.

“Sometimes people ask me, ‘Oh, you’re making these smaller movies now.’ No, I just want to go at character a different way,” Gyllenhaal says. “Not in an annoying way. You can really live and love and make the audience have fun watching.”

He adds: “I look at past work I’ve done and go, ‘I wish I could redo that again. Tear it up and sew it up.”

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