“A year ago, Entertainment Weekly spoke to a lot of people for a piece about Heath Ledger. The screenwriter, producer and cinematographer of Brokeback Mountain all talked. You were conspicuously absent. Are you uncomfortable remembering him in public?”
“Yes,” he said, pausing. “Brokeback was painful. Any time you go into pain, I don’t think you necessarily want to go back. But the results of that film, and how the public responded to it so hugely, were worth it. Walking through any kind of pain is usually worth it. As close as we all became making that movie, for all those other people, it didn’t extend much farther than [the movie itself], so that experience of work could be easily talked about for publications. The experience Heath and I had was also shared publicly with all the press and publicity we did. But what we shared as friends, though I respect the interest that so many people have in the mourning and grieving process and how it feels to other people, I feel like — and I don’t mean this in an unkind way — but I don’t think it’s anybody’s business but his and mine. So in that sense, to really respect him — and also the way he felt about his life and his private life and what he cared about, because he was a deeply caring and loving human being — every time anybody asks me any question about him, it would be like he was sitting next to me, and I know he would roll his eyes, because that’s the way he was. It was between us.”
If we didn’t talk about anything else, I knew I had something of consequence. And I was confident that what Jake had just said was as far and as deep and as sincere as he could go with this — you could feel the anguish in his words. So I moved on. I knew that Jake named his production company after the J.D. Salinger book Nine Stories, and with Salinger’s death earlier this year, I asked him when he first read Catcher in the Rye.
“When I was 13,” he said. “My sister gave it to me. I subsequently became Salinger-obsessed. I had never been engaged in reading before. It was primarily the style and the pace of it, and the simplicity of his writing. Of his Nine Stories, my favorite is ‘Teddy.’ It’s an amazing story. Searching for Bobby Fischer is one of my favorite movies. There are themes running through both. Children are very often asked to do more than they should be asked to do at a very young age.”
“Let’s talk about that, only with your own family,” I said. “Your parents are creative people; there must have been a lot of emotion and passion growing up.”
“I saw a lot of conflicts, definitely. I witnessed that. Conflict, competition, people pushing each other — it’s all healthy. Jealousy is healthy; envy is dangerous. My sister and I, strangely and beautifully, have worked really, really hard at getting rid of whatever the junk is.”
“Was it always a given that you would enter into the film business, or did you think about other outlets?”
“In high school I watched my sister on stage in South Pacific and knew I wanted to do that. It looked like so much fun. But there are still times to this day where I feel like there are other things in my heart that I’d like to do.”
“My heart has told me to go and take care of other people more so than always focusing on movies. I’d also like to direct movies. I don’t want to be presumptuous at my age, but I feel I’m getting enough information that as I get older and get enough confidence that I can not only be a part of storytelling but that I can also be a storyteller. That’s what we all love: the story.”
“Your sister had a good story to tell about you making her lousy pancakes on the morning she heard she was nominated for an Oscar for Crazy Heart.”
“You heard that?!” Jake exclaimed with his first big laugh of the morning. “They were the worst pancakes I ever made. It was weird. She was staying at my house, and the phone rang at 5 a.m. There are two things it can be at that time: an emergency, or, if you’re in the movie business, you’ve been nominated for some kind of award. I, of course, thought it was an emergency and totally got freaked out. She comes out of her room and I hear her gasp, and I thought, ‘Oh, God, something really bad has happened.’ I came out to the hallway and asked her what was going on. She said, ‘I was nominated!’ And we ran to each other and hugged each other.”
At this point, his publicists entered the room. Knowing my sands of time were up, I threw in a question about Prince of Persia.