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Jake Gyllenhaal: My London theatre debut changed how I approach acting

Jake Gyllenhaal’s West End debut was “formative” in shaping his approach to acting, the star revealed.

The Oscar nominee’s first theatrical role was in Kenneth Lonergan’s revival of This Is Our Youth at the Garrick Theatre in 2002, and earned him the Evening Standard Theatre Award for outstanding newcomer.

Gyllenhaal, 38, will return to the London stage next year to star in Stephen Sondheim’s Sunday In The Park With George, which follows post-Impressionist painter Georges Seurat as he completes his most famous painting, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.

He and co-star Annaleigh Ashford originally appeared in a concert version of the show in New York in 2016, which they followed with a sell-out Broadway run in 2017.

Comeback: Gyllenhaal with Sunday in the Park with George co-star Annaleigh Ashford (Matthew Murphy)

Speaking to Standard Online ahead of the musical’s West End transfer, Gyllenhaal said that his previous stint in London “changed the whole process of [his] work” and praised the capital’s “supportive” theatre community.

“I had no idea what I was getting into, which was a wonderful thing,” he said. “Naively – I obviously knew the history of London theatre – I jumped into it just as a fool, which I think is sometimes the best way to do it.

“What I found when I performed here 18 years ago was this incredible, supportive community of artists.

Debut: Gyllenhaal in This Is Our Youth with co-star Anna Paquin in 2002 ( Yui Mok/PA Images)

“You really earn your place [here], you work hard to make sure that you can grace the stage here.”

He also hailed West End audiences as “the best listeners,” crediting this to the capital’s “deeply embedded” theatrical history.

“I just feel like they’re the best listeners,” he said. “There’s a history deeply embedded in the culture here of live theatre; there’s more of a history with the audience.

“And so as a result, they’re zoned in pretty immediately and if you’re doing OK, they’ll stick with you, and I love that.

“To me, there’s no theatre like here in London and bringing a show like this to the West End is going to be pretty special.”

Sunday In The Park will mark the West End debut of Tony winner Ashford, who previously starred in Broadway productions of Wicked, Legally Blonde and Kinky Boots.

The actress, 34, said she felt “very honoured and so grateful” to achieve “one of the dreams of [her] life” by performing in London, and joked that she is hoping her three-year-old son will return from his summer in the capital with a British accent.

“The goal of the summer is that he leaves with an accent, because that would just be fun,” she said. “I hope he’s going to be asking about tea time when he goes to [pre-school] in Brooklyn.”

Sunday In The Park With George is at the Savoy Theatre from June 11, 2020. Tickets start from £25.


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