It is one of the highlights of the Dubai International Film Festival. Somewhere towards the end a well-known actor will sit down in front of the general public for an enlightening chat on their career at the Madinat Theatre before heading down the red carpet to watch a movie. Whilst the talk is always jovial and informative, by its very open nature, it is always popular with the superfans.
Wednesday's tete-a-tete with Brokeback Mountain's Jake Gyllenhaal was no exception. There to also accept Variety magazine's International Star of the Year award, the star was grilled for 45 mins by Vice-President, Executive Editor of Variety, Steven Gaydos before opening up the floor to questions.
In previous years screen presences who have conducted similar meetings such as Shah Rukh Khan and Gerard Butler have had love letters sent their way, banners unfurled adorned with heartfelt messages along with plain old declarations of love. Similar sentiment was reserved for Gyllenhaal and once the floodgates opened, there was no closing them.
It began with one man passing on a message of adoration from his 'friend' Tanya, before one woman's only wish in life (after seeing the actor sans shirt in Southpaw) was apparently to have a photo with her idol. It was when she proceeded to head up on stage in the middle of the presentation where Gyllenhaal himself had to intervene, persuade the fan to go back to her seat, and promise to see her after the show. We had homemade birthday cards, scrap books and the requisite endless cheering at anything remotely amusing which was said.
To say the atmosphere was anything but spectacular, however, would be remiss. The 35-year old actor was unequivocally charming and appeared as interested to be there as the crowd was happy to welcome him to Dubai.
Aside from the more 'personal' interactions, which at times did bring the house down, there were a few genuinely interesting insights as a result of Gaydos' informal yet informed line of questioning.
"I take guidance from hip hop," was a particularly fun answer to a question on whether Gyllenhaal felt outside influence pressuring him to take certain movies over the other. "Biggie Smalls' lyrics help me.
"When I was 20 I was perhaps not as assured as I am now, so I would listen to other people. But right now the only pressure I feel is the pressure I put on myself when it comes to parts. I have a very high standard for story.
"People say I take dark directions. They go, 'when are you going to do a rom-com?' A rom-com can be dark too."
Perhaps the overwhelming element the audience took away from the question and answer session was Gyllenhaal's dedication to his craft - to watching it, living it and attempting to complete every role at as a high a standard as possible. Many would believe this commitment could stem from his family's dynasty (director and screenwriter parents, actor sister and brother-in-law), yet he said it is borne from a desire not to be responsible for a movie's failure.
"As long as I finish a film having left everything on the table, then I'm happy. If it flops after that, then I know there is nothing more I could have done."
This lack of pretention also came through in his choice of favourite films. Up there with the work of Ken Loach and Mike Leigh, Gyllenhaal also cites Jerry Maguire and The Goonies as go-to pictures.
When it came to significant works in his canon, Nightcrawler and Southpaw were the movies which he says have stayed with him the most - even if it was put diplomatically.
"I can't say I like one part over the other in anything I've done, but to explore the emotions in those two films and to have that intimacy when playing the characters was an experience."
By David Light
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