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Love, Drugs & Jake Gyllenhaal

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When Jake Gyllenhaal called me a few weeks ago to talk about his new movie, Love & Other Drugs, I knew we'd have a fun conversation, but I had no idea the actor (who turns 30 next month) would speak so frankly about his steamy scenes with costar Anne Hathaway and his overwhelming admiration for director Ed Zwick -- or reveal to me that playing a cocksure Viagra salesman wasn't much of a stretch for him.

In Drugs, Gyllenhaal's Jamie Randall fits right in with the power players in the macho world of big pharma (and is portrayed with a charm, gusto and sensitivity I'd never before seen from Gyllenhaal). Anne Hathaway's tough, nuanced Maggie Murdock, on the other hand, is -- while expertly acted -- the only female character in the film smart enough to beat Randall at his own game; most of the rest of the chicks in this flick are relegated to sexualized subordinates (I guess a movie about Viagra would reduce women to that, although Judy Greer is super cute as the eager-beaver receptionist who beds Randall). Has our sales-driven, post-feminist, prescription drug-dependent world really come to this? Hello, America! There's no question Love & Other Drugs wants to be a new kind of comdrama elixir, but what this sexy story serves up best is plentiful food for thought about the role of pharmaceuticals in our messy, modern lives.

Below, excerpts from my interview with Jake Gyllenhaal (read the full-length feature in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, including my interview with Love & Other Drugs director Ed Zwick, here).

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Jamie (Jake Gyllenhaal, left) and Bruce (Oliver Platt) celebrate the launch of a new wonder drug called Viagra. Photo credit: David James. ©2010 Twentieth Century Fox and Regency Enterprises. Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox Films.

Love & Other Drugs is almost like two movies in one - a very distinct dichotomy between the silly and the serious. Do you agree?

Jake Gyllenhaal: I think filmmakers in particular feel like they have to carve some perfect sculpture with their movie and everything has to stay within one tone - as if life is like one tone all the time. People have to classify a movie, like, "It's a drama, it's a comedy, it's a romantic comedy." The truth is (I'll speak for myself here), the day is filled with a million emotions probably very similar to the things that happen in this movie. You believe Oliver Platt [who plays my boss] when he's funny and you're moved by him, too. The nature of the actors in this movie, you know, we all love to walk that line. I think that's really where great movies exist.

So what kind of movie is Love & Other Drugs?

We don't like to call this film a romantic comedy, we're calling it an emotional comedy, which I think is more appropriate. You have to be invested. How many bullshit love stories are there out there? There are real stakes in this one. In order for the humor to land, in order for people to care about the love story, the stakes have to be raised. I think people are tired of romantic comedies. Because we love the genre, we wanted to give it more respect than people have in the last little while.

You play Jamie Randall, who sells Viagra for Pfizer. Could you buy into the mythology of being the typical pharmaceutical sales rep?

I definitely could buy into that. Part of my job is a little bit of that. I've gotta be a salesman. There's a nature to the act -- there's a real performance -- and there's a real performance to sales, so I think as an actor, it's natural. I think the only other role I could play really well would be a politician (laughs); there's an element of sales to that, too. What I loved about [playing Jamie] is I don't think this guy knows what's at stake. I don't think he knows what he's selling completely. I think that's part of the pharmaceutical world. I would say about half the people I talked to [while doing research for the character] were aware of the effect of what they were doing. It isn't just about driving sales, it's about people's health, too. What I love about Jamie is his sense of performance, and I don't mean performance in the Viagra sense (laughs). A real sense of being able to walk into a room and have so much confidence that people would trust whatever he said. That was really wonderful to play, because I haven't played anything like that before.

What was it like working with Anne Hathaway again? You two did Brokeback Mountain together, too.

I don't mean to sound like an old veteran because I'm without a doubt not one. But I've been doing this for 15 years now. Working with Anne, we did Brokeback and we did this -- it was magical. I hate to sound like an actor when I say that, but Ed and Anne and I had an incredible experience on this movie. In an odd way, it's the first movie I've made where I'm desperate for an audience to see it, because all we did was think about how much we care about our audience and how much we respect them. But I also know what an experience it was for me as an actor and I don't really mind what they think, which is a first for me. And I feel totally comfortable with Anne. She's ballsy, she's just a ballsy actor. For a woman her age to be that way with the scrutiny that she's under as an actress, is badass. You don't find that. She's pretty amazing.

Anne portrays Maggie, a young woman with early onset Parksinson's disease. There's one sex scene in the film in particular where Anne's hand is trembling... That seemed to have "Oscar" written all over it.

I don't know about that, but I don't think Anne or Ed or I can make a movie without going there. Anne met all these people with Parkinson's, and there was no shot in the movie that we could even get near what that's like [to have Parkinson's]. But Ed can kind of push that emotional thing sometimes. It's definitely an emotional moment.

Do you wanna give any other shoutouts to the cast?

Josh Gad [who plays Jamie's brother] is the engine in this film. Josh Gad will be and is becoming a force to be reckoned with. He brought all the humor and energy to the movie, and was a huge influence on me, and an inspiration in terms of comedy. He's a great actor. Working with Oliver Platt and Hank Azaria, they're comedic geniuses but also really great actors.

What was it like to work with real Parkinson's patients in the film?

That was a hard day. It was moving in so many ways, but also really funny. Two of the women who helped Anne were at the [LA premiere] the other night and they're wonderful women, so funny and lighthearted. And with the passing of Jill Clayburgh [who played my mother in the film], I was just thinking, some people live healthy long lives and don't really ever live. And some people's lives are shorter and they live it to the fullest extent possible, in sickness and in health. Those are the people I admire and would love to mimic my life after. You can be some slick ol' pharmaceutical salesman who's #2 in the country and financially stable and got it all together, or, you know, you can have love. Which would you pick?

Love and Other Drugs opens in theaters November 24.


Love & Other Drugs Trailer