Jake Gyllenhaal for “Bubble Boy”

Jake Gyllenhaal may have found stardom and acclaim with October Sky, but he found juggling acting and university to tough to handle. Now he’s even managed to spark controversy of sorts as the star of the romantic farce, Bubble Boy. Gyllenhaal talked to Paul Fischer in Los Angeles.

Jake Gyllenhaal – who won rave reviews as the would-be Rocketeer in October Sky – has managed to appear in a film which is sparking unexpected controversy. In his latest film, Bubble Boy, opening this week, Jake plays Jimmy Livingston, a young man born without immunities and raised in a manufactured world provided by his well-intentioned but misguided mother (Swoosie Kurtz). When the girl he loves (Marley Shelton) dumps him and rushes off to Niagara Falls with her new fiancĂ©, he builds himself a bubble suit to help him travel fast and sets out on a cross-country trek to find her and win her back. Along the way he has many absurd and comedic adventures.

While the filmmakers are quick to define Bubble Boy as a road movie, advocates of diseases with immune deficiencies have gone out of their way to attack the film. Gyllenhaal remains unphased by the fuss. “I think when you see the movie, you discover that the bubble boy is a hero, and anyone who crosses his path or the brunt of any jokes on HIM, ends up with some pretty bad Karma. So that, on top of the fact that it’s a pretty equally offending movie of EVERY and ANY group out there, so you just have to go with it, which I understand will offend many people, but hopefully a lot more will laugh. Most importantly, if people SEE this movie they’ll hopefully discover that supposed controversy was much ado about nothing.”

Though Gyllenhaal plays a character with immune deficiencies, the actor didn’t feel it necessary to do any research on such diseases or real-life .bubble boys’ “because the movie itself is kind of this metaphor; the disease is really secondary.”

It seems an unusual step for the 20-year old star of October Sky to step into the oddball shoes of Jimmy Livingston, the self-titled bubble boy. “When I first read the script I thought it was really funny, but at the same time, I thought it could go either way; either absurdly forgettable or it could say something political, interesting and a little subversive. I think walking in to meet the director and producer, we all agreed that it should be saying something subversive, ALONG with something humorous. In order to do that, I think they needed someone who could also have a dramatic take on it, as well as a comedic one.”

In addition, Gyllenhaal points out, he considers himself similar to the character. “I think I can respond to his sense of innocence and guile ness in a way that you have when you’re a young kid, where you grow up in your own kind of proverbial bubble. Then you grow up and meet all these people, at which point you realise that there are some people who aren’t what you expected; sometimes the good guys are bad and the bad guys are good. We all discover that as we grow up. I was coming to terms with that when they cast me, so I really related to it.”

Making Bubble Boy meant hours encased in the special bubble suit in which Jake spends much of the film. Though tough at times, he admits that it was also partly enlightening, “because it was unique to have tranquillity around me. I couldn’t hear anything outside of the suit, really, so at times it was nice to have some peace and quiet.”

As the offspring of producer/writer Naomi Foner and director Stephen Gyllenhaal, it is not surprising that young Jake has been acting since childhood. Raised in Los Angeles, Gyllenhaal acted in school plays and made his winsome screen debut when he was in fifth grade, playing Billy Crystal’s son in the blockbuster summer comedy City Slickers (1991). Keeping it in the family, while acting with some of the industry’s most notable talents, Gyllenhaal subsequently appeared in his parents’ adaptation of the novel A Dangerous Woman (1993) with Debra Winger, and played Robin Williams’ son in a 1994 episode of TV’s Homicide that was directed by his father.

Poised to make the transition from child to adult actor, Gyllenhaal earned rave reviews heralding him as a star-in-the-making for his emotionally sincere performance as real life rocket builder Homer Hickam in the warmly received drama October Sky (1999). Though he opted to stay in school and attend college at Columbia University, Gyllenhaal continued his creative pursuits, playing in a rock band and starring as the oddball title character alongside Drew Barrymore in the Barrymore-produced Sundance Film Festival entrant Donnie Darko (2001). However, he says, acting has taken over his academic impulses, and college life is currently on hold. “I’m on a leave of absence”, he explains. “I wish to think that it was Columbia that pushed me to do what I wanted to do. I just came to a point where I said: I want to be creative and start working again.”

Gyllenhaal has remained busy. Beyond Bubble Boy and the wildly unique Donnie Darko, Gyllenhaal will also be seen doing some explicit love scenes with Jennifer Anniston in The Good Girl, which revolves around a young married woman whose mundane life takes a turn for the worse when she strikes up a passionate and illicit affair with an oddball discount-store stock boy who thinks he’s Holden Caulfied. Directed by Chuck and Buck’s Miguel Arteta, Jake says “that audiences will be blown away by Jennifer. She really goes further as an actor than she ever has, and it was a blast to do this.” Jennifer or Columbia? One can see how this bubble boy had to make the tough decisions.