Anyone who’s seen Okja has certainly heard Jake Gyllenhaal’s laugh. You might have wanted earplugs during some of his higher-decibel line deliveries. But the Oscar-nominated actor chuckled in softer (though very good-humored) tones recently when asked by EW about one of the great debates of summer 2017 movie-watching.
That is, whether his wild, dialed-to-11, wheels-off-the-cart performance in the vegan-adventure film by South Korean director Bong Joon-ho is, as Vulture put it, brilliant or awful? Gyllenhaal plays Dr. Johnny, a zoologist and TV show host with sinister motives and that incredible screeching voice, especially when he wails, “Have I ever given you a boring show?”
Boring, definitely not. But the overall quality of Gyllenhaal’s work in the film has divided critics since the movie premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May. (It began streaming on Netflix in late June.) “Antic and abrasive” was the New York Times assessment of his performance. The Atlantic said, “It will undoubtedly not work for everyone, but I confess to being charmed by his mania.” And EW’s Chris Nashawaty opined, “Gyllenhaal [lets] loose — maybe too loose — with a helium-pitched Minnie Mouse voice.”
On Twitter, thousands of users weighed in with their opinion.
“I love that,” Gyllenhaal tells EW of the reactions, in between gulps of laughter. “I just really love that when one thing can vacillate between one end of the spectrum and the other. And that was the point of the character. From the very beginning, Bong said to me, ‘We have to hate you and you have to be bad.’ That was the goal and, well, I’d say we reached it. And so some people really love that and some people just think it’s genuinely bad. That’s fine.”
He added, “That’s the reason why I do my job, for reactions like that. A lot of people have complimented me during my career by saying that my performances are subtle. I’m grateful for that. And now some of those same people are saying, ‘I’m sorry, this just too big and over the top.’ So I can’t seem to satisfy anyone — but that’s where I like to be anyways.”
Gyllenhaal is bound to receive less divisive notices for his next performance, as Boston Marathon bombing survivor and double amputee Jeff Bauman in Stronger, out Sept. 22. (Watch the trailer here.) The actor is already generating Oscar buzz for the role — and amazingly, it’s been 12 years since he was last nominated (for 2005’s Brokeback Mountain). And this past February, Gyllenhaal also conquered Broadway with a sold-out, rapturously reviewed run in the Stephen Sondheim musical Sunday in the Park With George.
That performance was only seen by the lucky audiences members who scored tickets during the show’s eight-week engagement. But one thing we can all say about his work in Okja: That will last forever.