Jake Gyllenhaal is one of the busiest actors in Hollywood, so when you get some face time with him — it doesn’t matter who you are — you take it.

PHOTOGRAPH BY GREG WILLIAMS

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SO I GET AN E-MAIL from my editor asking if I’d like to write a feature story about Jake Gyllenhaal. “Has to be done fast,” he wrote, “but I think you can do it.” I appreciated his confidence and contacted the actor’s publicist to see about scheduling a time. I got back an e-mail saying how about Friday, two days away, from 9:40 to 10 a.m., at the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank?

I e-mailed back, saying how about Friday, from 9:40 to noon, and then maybe we could break for lunch together and continue for a few more hours in the afternoon or evening? Apparently she didn’t think much of my suggestion and got in touch with my editor saying I was causing trouble.

“Take the 20 minutes,” my editor said. Reluctantly, I did.

That evening, as I thought about what I would ask him in our short time together, I happened to catch Jake’s older sister, Maggie, on Jimmy Kimmel Live. She recalled the morning she found out she was nominated for an Academy Award for her role in Crazy Heart. She was staying with her brother, and when the phone started ringing at 5 a.m., her husband, actor Peter Sarsgaard, continued to sleep. But Jake woke up and made her some pancakes to celebrate. Maggie talked about what a great cook Jake is (he’s appeared on Food Network’s Molto Mario), so Kimmel asked about the pancakes. Maggie admitted that they weren’t very good.

Here was Maggie Gyllenhaal having her moment on national TV, and she’s talking about her younger brother. Should I ask Jake about her? Was there sibling rivalry? Was this a path I could explore in my 20 minutes? And if I went there, wouldn’t it be logical to ask Jake about his parents — Stephen Gyllenhaal, a film director whose credits include Losing Isaiah and Paris Trout along with numerous television shows, and Naomi Foner, a screenwriter who penned films such as Running on Empty and Bee Season — who recently divorced after nearly 30 years of marriage? But I knew that in 20 short minutes, the chances of Jake opening up on such a sensitive topic were slim to none.

I did have to ask him about his new movie, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, which is the reason we’re even getting 20 minutes to begin with. In the film, based on the popular Prince of Persia video game, Jake plays a street-bum-turned-warrior embarking on a fantasy adventure with Gemma Arterton’s princess. It’s a different kind of role for the 29-year-old actor, one that required a different kind of look to match, so Jake traded his typical clean-cut appearance for shoulder-length hair and a muscle-bound physique. Co-starring Hollywood heavyweights Ben Kingsley and Alfred Molina, the movie was directed by Mike Newell, who helmed Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, who brought us the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy. I’m sure there is hope for a bevy of sequels.

On the day of the interview, I arrived at the Disney building 10 minutes early, and Jake came 10 minutes late. During the 20 minutes I waited, I dealt with two different publicists who went over the guidelines of the interview. Jake was escorted by yet another handler when he finally appeared. Before we sat down, I offhandedly asked him if he lived in the same canyon where I lived, as I’d heard he had. He answered yes.

That innocent query sparked a chain of questions I hadn’t expected to ask. “I live next door to … ,” Jake said, naming a certain famous artist. That triggered talk about that artist and about Andy Warhol and Henry Fonda, and though I was enjoying the conversation, I knew my plan to ask a set number of questions (32 to be exact) was shot. Gone were the questions about his working with Tobey Maguire in Brothers, about whether he ever used cooking to impress a date, about his charity work. Gone, all gone. We had only another 10 minutes, and there were some things I needed to talk to him about. For starters, Jake has rarely talked publicly about Heath Ledger’s death. I wasn’t sure if I’d get anything out of him, but I had to ask.