Jake Gyllenhaal on Mysterio and how Spider-Man: Far From Home goes meta on superhero movies
Warning: This post contains spoilers from Spider-Man: Far From Home. Read at your own risk!
During the first half of Spider-Man: Far From Home, you’d be forgiven for wondering why Marvel even bothered to cast Jake Gyllenhaal as Mysterio. Quentin Beck arrives in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a self-appointed champion, sporting a bulbous helmet and claiming to be from another dimension. He says he’s here to take down a quartet of rampaging, Earth-threatening monsters, and he sports all the trappings we’ve come to expect from our heroes: a cape, a tragic backstory, even a rugged beard.
As heroes go, he seems honorable and charming, if a bit boring; he’s believable enough (and non-threatening enough) to almost immediately earn the trust of Tom Holland’s Peter Parker. Sure, Gyllenhaal looks good in a fishbowl and light-up chest armor, but he generally plays Mysterio with a sort of muted charm and quiet stoicism — a far cry from the bonkers roles he’s become known for in recent years. Although he was at one point famously in the running to replace Tobey Maguire in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy, Gyllenhaal has largely eschewed superhero movies in favor of more eccentric, darkly twisty fare, like Okja, Nightcrawler, and Velvet Buzzsaw. Was this really the role that made him finally want to join the Marvel universe?
Around the hour mark, however, the fishbowl comes off, and Far From Home reveals exactly why Gyllenhaal was the right man for the role. Quentin Beck is no alternate-universe crusader; he’s a conman and tech expert who feels betrayed by the now-deceased Tony Stark. Once Beck manipulates Peter into handing over the keys to an all-powerful Stark technology system, he sheds his hero guise to reveal his true self: a narcissistic, slightly unhinged showman who’s out to prove his own brilliance. And to do so, he’s willing to manipulate the truth however he can.
It was that duality that drew Gyllenhaal to the role.
“I’ve always thought that the most interesting characters — like Iron Man, and like all the characters — always share a darker side or a lighter side, which is what makes Marvel so great,” he tells EW. “I always wanted his intention to be clear, and I don’t think his intention was to want to do anything bad to anyone, really. There was a goal of taking over the mantle because he believes that the person who was making the choices before was doing it irresponsibly.”
Although Mysterio’s action become increasingly villainous the more Spider-Man interferes with his plans, Gyllenhaal insists that Mysterio’s frustration and anger come from a misguided goal of making the world a better place.
“I didn’t really want to do a mustache-twisting character,” Gyllenhaal tells EW. “I really wanted it to be based in [reality], and I think because of the tone of the comedy of the movie, you can easily do that. I just didn’t really have a desire to play a lot of the villains I’ve seen in larger movies. I still think he isn’t that. I still think his intentions are pretty true, and I love that about him.”
Gyllenhaal adds that he and director Jon Watts were particularly interested in exploring Mysterio’s manipulation of the truth. Unlike other Marvel villains, Mysterio is hyper-aware of what a superhero movie “should” look like, and after years of watching Tony Stark save the day, he knows that real wars are won not with fists but in the court of public opinion. After 11 years and 22 MCU movies, audiences have an idea of what a hero “should” be, and Mysterio cherry picks familiar attributes to create his own identity: He’s got Thor’s strength and flight, Doctor Strange’s cape, Tony Stark’s rogue charm, Captain America’s sense of noble sacrifice. He’d look right at home in an Avengers class photo.
In Mysterio’s mind, “good guys” and “bad guys” are all a matter of who can spin the best story — and who can put on the greatest show. It’s a surprisingly self-aware twist for a Marvel movie, and it’s one that Gyllenhaal leaned into.
“The truth is you guys are all watching a movie that isn’t real,” Gyllenhaal says. “These people don’t actually fly around, and that’s his comment. It’s a movie about making a movie, which I think is what Jon’s done so brilliantly. I play director, producer, filmmaker, and special effects. I play all department heads in this movie. I love that about it. It’s a movie about how you make one of these movies, and now people will believe anything that happens in these movies now.”
It’s a theme that’s true to the character’s history: Although the Mysterio of the MCU is a spurned tech geek and former Stark Industries employee, Quentin Beck made his comics debut as a Hollywood stuntman and special effects wizard. The character originally popped up in 1964’s The Amazing Spider-Man #13, first disguising himself as Spider-Man to rob banks and commit crimes before pretending to save the day as a new hero named Mysterio. He wasn’t nearly as high-tech as Gyllenhaal’s version, mostly relying on cheesy, old-school effects like smoke bombs and springy shoes, but his obsession with manipulation and truth still endures.
And, Watts adds, 2019 technology makes Mysterio’s M.O. even more threatening. Sure, the real world may not have Stark-designed drones that can create giant smoke monsters over London, but between virtual reality, photo manipulation, and so-called “fake news,” we’re more easily fooled than ever.
“There is a pretty clear modern-day equivalent with AR and holographic projectors and deep fakes,” Watts says. “We’re within the realm of things like that being possible, and that was something I was very intrigued by.”
The result is a villain who feels more timely than ever — and one that Gyllenhaal hopes will leave a lasting impression on Peter Parker’s psyche.
“There’s a difference between doing good and not doing good. It’s sometimes a very fine line, and it’s our responsibility to be able to determine what that is,” Gyllenhaal says. “Sometimes the people we think are good may not be, and they may look good to us for a very long time. I always thought to myself, this is Peter Parker’s story, but what wisdom does Quentin Beck impart on Peter? He’s not just a guy Peter has to fight. I don’t want to play that. I want to play it [so] that Peter’s left with a lesson. In this case, I think Peter walks away going, ‘Huh. I liked him and he did all this. What’s going on?’ I like that.”