Jacob Benjamin Gyllenhaal was born on December 19, 1980 in Los Angeles California. His father is director Stephen Gyllenhaal
, and his mother is producer/screenwriter Naomi Foner. His older sister is noted actress Maggie Gyllenhaal
. His parents raised him and Maggie to be thankful for what they had, even holding his Bar Mitzvah in a homeless shelter so he understood how fortunate he was. Despite their privilege, he and his sister were expected to have summer jobs for their spending money, so he worked as a busboy and lifeguard.
He had Hollywood connections early due to his parents’ professions, and his first screen role was portraying Billy Crystal
’s son in the film, City Slickers
(1991). His parents felt school was a priority, so while he continued to take small roles and work in his parents’ films, he graduated from the Harvard-Westlake School in Los Angeles in 1998. He went to Columbia University where he studied Eastern religions and philosophy, but dropped out after just two years to pursue his acting career. He earned his first lead role in the 1999 film, October Sky
, in which he played a young man hoping to win a science scholarship to escape life in the mines. The part was critically acclaimed, and is said to be Gyllenhaal's breakout performance.
His next big role, playing a troubled teen in the sleeper hit Donnie Darko
, won him a nomination for an Independent Spirit Award for best actor. Gyllenhaal found success once again starring with Jennifer Aniston
in 2002 film, The Good Girl, in which he played a younger man who enters into an affair with an older co-worker. After these critical triumphs, his transition to the big box-office hits soon followed. He starred in the 2004 summer blockbuster The Day After Tomorrow
, then Jarhead
in 2005, and signed on to play a homosexual cowboy who seduces Heath Ledger
’s character in the controversial film, Brokeback Mountain
. The risk paid off, and it earned Gyllenhaal an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
Jake continues to work as a film actor, and also recently appeared as the host of Saturday Night Live
. Romantically, Gyllenhaal has been linked to actress/singer Jenny Lewis
, actresses Kirsten Dunst
, and Reese Witherspoon
. He has two dogs: a German shepherd rescued from a shelter, and a pug/beagle mix (both named after characters in his favorite novel, To Kill a Mockingbird
). Gyllenhall was featured in People
magazine as one of their "50 Most Beautiful People" in 2006.