Jake Gyllenhaal is sitting beside me on a couch in a plush Manhattan hotel suite, trying to define eternity. That’s both in the existential sense, and in the sense of the iconic Calvin Klein fragrance, whose new campaign Gyllenhaal fronts alongside model Liya Kebede. The black-and-white commercial, directed by Cary Fukunaga and produced by Gyllenhaal’s production company Nine Stories, stars Gyllenhaal and Kebede as doting parents reading an E. E. Cummings poem to their daughter. It is precisely as adorable as that description suggests, and represents a more intimate, natural expression of love than you might expect from a fragrance commercial.
When Calvin Klein creative director Raf Simons first approached Gyllenhaal, he was wary. “I’m skeptical of these things, I have been for many years,” he admits. “But in the meeting with Raf, I realized that all the stigma I had about the idea of a fragrance campaign didn’t really matter, because it was about expression.” Gyllenhaal slips into a comedic Belgian accent as he describes his subsequent artistic brainstorm with Simons: “Raf being Raf, he was like ‘My idea of eternity is like, it’s a pile of garbage, and you’re walking over it, but it is also… clouds.’”
Related article: Jake Gyllenhaal Is A Hot Dad In Calvin Klein’s New Campaign
Ultimately, they settled on the idea of family, “because Calvin came up with this fragrance when he was about to have a family, and thinking ‘this is big, this is changing who I am, and this is forever’. And I thought, what a cool idea. Because so many of these fragrances are about selling a certain type of sexuality, and a certain falseness, which was exactly what Raf did not want to do.” He and Nine Stories co-founder Riva Marker had worked with Fukanaga before, and the team came naturally together to create “this expression of love in a family, that feels as honest as you can be in a fragrance campaign.”
Below, Gyllenhaal talks about his goals as a producer, getting notes from his sister, and why he’s going to stop taking himself so seriously.
Leila, the four-year-old actress who plays Gyllenhaal and Kebede’s daughter, ended up being a pretty key creative influence.
“We started reading Leila the poems, and with some of them you could tell her focus would wane—and if you’re looking for a barometer for bullshit, ask a kid. So all of a sudden this E. E. Cummings poem, she perked up and started focusing and was really into it. I think maybe the playfulness of the words, the repetition and the nonsensical sense that the poem has, she found playful. At a certain point Liya was asking if she was okay and she was like, ‘I’m just bored.’ We centered it around a child who’s gonna be a barometer for honesty and that’s why it feels good to watch.”
Gender equality is a key part of Gyllenhaal and Marker’s mission with Nine Stories.
“We wanted to make films for women and by women—probably 50 percent of our slate is that—because it’s a company run by a man and a woman, and I would say really honestly run by a woman! We’re headed into making a movie which I don’t think I can talk about too much, but basically it’s entirely made by women, and right now I’m the only man involved. I think there’s a massive paradigm shift [in Hollywood], and it has been way too long coming. And we want to make socially-conscious, important films, but also just entertainment. Riva and I connected so deeply because of very populist films that we grew up on—Willow, The Goonies, Gremlins, my sister forced me to watch Girls Just Want to Have Fun—and really want to make movies like that. We’re very ambitious; we have probably over 30 projects in development in TV, movies and the theater.”
Gyllenhaal’s sister Maggie also got into the producing game recently with her HBO show The Deuce, and the siblings occasionally compare notes.
“My sister has developed a few things before, and I think for her it was incredibly important to be a part of the filmmaking team on that. She’s talked about it a lot but as a woman, particularly playing the part that she plays, I think it was smart and necessary that she be a part of the storytelling. We definitely talk about it, and I think with the success of that show hopefully she’ll be doing more [producing], but I can’t speak for her—she’d kill me. She’s been producing me as a younger brother for a long time– I’ve been getting notes since I was born, basically!”
Nine Stories’ first narrative feature Stronger, starring Gyllenhaal as Jeff Bauman, a man who lost his legs in the Boston marathon bombing, was a game-changer.
“That movie changed my life, not only because I was producing and acting, so it was a fully immersive adventure, but it gave me perspective on what I do. Jeff Bauman, who I play in the movie, just kind of pointed out the absurdity of what I do, but also the importance of [it]. I will never take it as seriously again, or take myself as seriously again, but I will also never take for granted how powerful storytelling is. It was this strange balance where the movie kind of woke me up and showed me that I’m ridiculous, and also encouraged me to keep doing this.”
Related article: The Best New Fragrance Releases For Fall 2017
Gyllenhaal knows movie theaters are in trouble, and wants to make movies that encourage audiences to seek out the theatrical experience.
“I think independent films have a responsibility to maintain real spectacle, because it’s our job in independent film to keep theaters alive. You have Netflix now which I think is an incredible organization—they get their flack, which I think is important for a young company—and they’re doing great work, allowing filmmakers to make movies on budgets that they couldn’t if they had a purely theatrical release, and people are seeing them. But I guess I feel there’s a responsibility to keep theaters alive, and that doesn’t mean pandering, but it means understanding that structure and tension and those old-school things that make people come out to the movies.”
From: Harper’s BAZAAR US