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Jake Gyllenhaal Opens Up About How Heath Ledger’s Death Changed His Career

Jake Gyllenhaal recently visited NPR’s “Fresh Air” to discuss his new boxing movie “Southpaw,” but the conversation soon turned to the death of his “Brokeback Mountain” co-star Heath Ledger, prompting the actor to explain how that loss has changed his perspective on Hollywood.

Gyllenhaal and Ledger starred as repressed and long-separated lovers in the 2005 romantic drama. Ledger died in 2008, and after listening to a clip from the film, Gyllenhaal admitted that hearing the scene stirred up some memories of working on the picture.

“It brings me back to thinking about doing that scene with Heath, and the honor it was to work with him, and the beauty of his work. And I miss him as a human being, and I miss working with him. And what an unfortunate thing it is that we won’t be able to see the beauty of his expression,” Gyllenhaal said.

“He was incredibly special, and that doesn’t even come close to encapsulating who he is — who he was,” Gyllenhaal added, revealing that losing such a close friend of a similar age helped shift his priorities.

“I think that’s why I like to go off and I like to try and get into worlds that will wake me up… I’m trying to be present where I am. I’m trying to have relationships that are as real as they possibly can be on a movie set [and] be close to people because I know that it’s precious. And I know that not only can this career end in a very short period of time and this or that can happen, but also that life is precious,” he noted. “And I think losing Heath — and being a part of a family that was something like that movie we all made together — makes you see that, makes you appreciate that and hopefully moves you away from the things that really don’t matter to the things that do.”

Gyllenhaal also recalled the reactions he and Ledger received for being straight actors playing gay roles after they were cast: “It was fascinating, particularly because I don’t think we knew what a success the movie would be, what it would become. It was an intimate and really scary thing for me and Heath, in particular, to dive into. It was uncomfortable for both of us in some of the scenes, and yet we both deeply believed in what the movie was saying.”

Southpaw” hits theaters on July 24.

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