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Jake Gyllenhaal steps away from the sensitive, moody roles he’s been known for into the aggressive, intense life of a Marine on the eve of combat in “Jarhead,” based on the Persian Gulf War memoirs of Anthony Swofford.

“I’ve known Jake for a long time,” says producer Douglas Wick, “and I knew he could step up and become Swofford. But when I saw his performance, I was astounded. The audience knows him more from teen performances and yet now he’s completely credible as a guy you believe in combat and yet someone who also has an extremely rich inner life.”

To prepare for the role, Gyllenhaal attended boot camp in the California desert. “He molded himself to Swofford’s physicality,” says Wick. “He became a Marine.”

“Jake prepared more than I did,” says co-star and pal Peter Sarsgaard. “He was already in pretty good shape but started working out harder.”

Mirroring Swofford’s experience, Sarsgaard says what he and Gyllenhaal weren’t prepared for was the boredom of shooting a big-budget film in the desert. “The Blue Angels practiced, flying over our heads, doing crazy maneuvers all the time. We got a little sick of them. Everything that seemed novel in the beginning got old quickly and there was nothing to do.”

Gyllenhaal and director Sam Mendes worked very closely, says Sarsgaard. “They were really in a world of their own, the two of them. Sam, a lot of the time, directs movies where you have a strong feeling for the lead character and he has a strong feeling about Swofford and that’s why he dragged Jake through the mud before he cast him. It went on for quite a while. I think he had his man in the end.”

“He had a long creative process working with Sam in understanding the character and his journey and understanding his breakdown and his loneliness,” say Wick. “What you see is Jake making those all his own, bringing some personal sense to it.”

Wick explains that Gyllenhaal was already deep in preparation for the character when he met Swofford in person. “He had to bridge the gap between the inner Swofford and now the one he’s meeting. They got along great and he spent a lot of time talking to him.”

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