On the Town with Shinan: Jake Gyllenhaal, an American actor in Canada

By Shinan Govani

Photo: © Getty Images

Watching Jake Gyllenhaal sally into town this week for the Canadian premiere of ‘Southpaw,’ a couple of things crossed my mind.

For one, this a man looks good in Salvatore Ferragamo. Arriving in Toronto in yet another spiffy suit – a double-breasted number this time – he seemed to still be crushing on the Italian brand that he sported again and again and again while running around Cannes in May when he was on the jury of that very notable film fest. Carrying off the double-breasted style rather nicely, combined with the splendidly slicked-back hair and and extra bulk he’s been carrying around of late, his style was in the vein of an old-school Italian mogul like Gianni Agnelli. It worked.

Number two, Gyllenhaal seemed to come along in person – almost as a rebuke! – just as the conversation seemed to be heating up this week about a much-dissected article in The Atlantic called "The Decline of the American Actor." Reflecting on the ongoing trend of foreign actors, mostly British and Irish, walking off with a disproportionate number of creamy roles in both TV and film, the article has spawned other likewise criticisms, such as a recent analysis by Michael Douglas. “In the U.S.,” he told The Independent, “we have this relatively asexual or unisex area with sensitive young men." Going on, Douglas said U.S. actors are too obsessed with social media, which causes them to focus more on their public image than on honing their craft.

“Clearly,” Mr. Wall Street added, “it breaks down on two fronts. In Britain, they take their training seriously, while in the States, we’re going through a sort of social-media image-conscious thing rather than formal training.”

Mr. Gyllenhaal, I note, does not tweet. And another thing he’s not doing these days: playing around! After his shape-shifting and darkness-plumbing role in Nightcrawler – for which he really should have received an Oscar nom! – he’s doing it all over again with an anything-but-easy part in the new boxing film Southpaw. “Transformative” is one of the words being tossed around his role – proof, again, that Maggie’s brother has, indeed, moved planets away from 2010, when he was stuck doing genre fare like The Prince of Persia.

Michael Fassbender takes on the role of Steve Jobs later this year. Photo: © Getty Images

Gyllenhaal-ism aside, the conversation about foreign dudes v. American blokes is all too real, and an interesting debate. And one that will rise, yet again, when an American hero like Steve Jobs is essayed by an Irish-German actor – Michael Fassbender – in the new biopic hitting theatres this Fall. This will be in tandem with an actual Etonian like Tom Hiddleston taking on country singer Hank Williams in another movie, and Bedforshire’s Ben Whishaw playing Herman Melville, revered American author of Moby-Dick. Moreover, it follows in the steps of other American icons being played by Brits, specifically, of late – i.e. Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) and Martin Luther King (David Oyelowo). Consider, too, the conga line of superheroes: British-raised Andrew Garfield as Spider-Man, Welshman Christian Bale as Batman, and foreigner Henry Cavill as Superman. In terms of slingers, specifically, news also just came recently that another Brit, Tom Holland, will be taking over Spiderman’s suit in yet another reboot.

In TV land – where, arguably, more of the acting action is these days – the evidence is even more compelling. Dominic West in The Wire, and now The Affair. Damian Lewis in Homeland. Matthew Rhys in The Americans. Alan Cumming on The Good Wife. Hugh Laurie in House and Veep. Martin Sheen in Masters of Sex. And on and on it goes.

“The Brits have now become so good at imitating Americans that there’s hardly an American role you can’t imagine them in,” writes the author of the piece in The Alantic. There’s a lot more to his argument, so I suggest you reading the piece yourself! In the meantime, alas, there’s always Jake.

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