Skip to main content

In April 2022, Jake Gyllenhaal revealed that his part in the psychological thriller, Donnie Darko, was the first role he landed without an audition. He said that immediately after reading the script he was sent, he closed it and thought to himself, “I don’t know if I want to meet with this person.” Why was Gyllenhaal hesitant about taking on the role of the title character? Here’s what we know.

Jake Gyllenhaal smiling
Jake Gyllenhaal | Robyn Beck/Getty Images

Gyllenhaal overcame his hesitancy in a hurry

Based on the script, and before he met Donnie Darko writer-director Richard Kelly in person, Gyllenhaal wondered if the filmmaker would be some sort of weirdo hiding in a corner wearing a dark cloak. Shortly thereafter, the pair met face-to-face, and, much to Gyllenhaal’s relief, Kelly turned out to be “a totally unassuming, really lovely, very kind, just regular guy.”

When they first met, Kelly and Gyllenhaal listened to some music that was proposed for the movie, and a friendship was born. The day after meeting “regular guy” Kelly in person, Gyllenhaal was offered the role of Donnie Darko, and he accepted.

The movie itself is still very weird, however

In retrospect, Gyllenhaal considers Donnie Darko to be “one of the most powerful” movie-making experiences he ever had. That’s not all he’s said about the darkly compelling film. We’ll get to that, but first let’s explore what the 2001 movie was about.

After a single viewing, many people are baffled. Some say that several viewings are required to remotely understand what’s going on. Even revered movie reviewer, Roger Ebert, said that even if he could tell folks what Donnie Darko was about, he was not confident that his explanation would be correct.

In addition to a six-foot-tall demonic talking rabbit named Frank that only the angst-ridden, sleepwalking Darko can see, the film features floating wormholes, quantum physics, end-of-the-world prophecy, time-tripping, and circa 1998 social commentary.

All Horror reviewed Donnie Darko as “a quirky but powerful movie that sits with you for days.” Extolling it as a “psychedelic mind-bender” replete with colorful characters, numerous plot twists, and a superb soundtrack, the review advises movie watchers to enjoy the original release in lieu of the director’s cut due to the latter’s superfluous additions that slow things down and detract from the psychological impact of the bizarre, thought-provoking film.

Rotten Tomatoes called Donnie Darko daring, original, and “packed with jarring ideas and intelligence” while awarding the movie an 86 percent Tomato-meter score and an 80 percent audience score. The New York Times said that writer-director Kelly lacked the assurance to pull off the convoluted plot and that his “compulsion to solder melancholy to weightlessness” turned Donnie Darko into a “wobbly cannonball of a movie” with a “corkscrew of a narrative.”

What Gyllenhaal has to say about “Donnie Darko”


‘Donnie Darko’ Was Seth Rogen’s First Movie, but He Knew Jake Gyllenhaal Would be the Breakout Star

“There’s nothing out there like it. Nothing.” That’s how Gyllenhaal described the atypical teen drama, Donnie Darko to Entertainment Tonight 15 years after its theatrical debut. He called it “an interesting story about growing up” that explored the confusion and psychological strangeness of adolescence. More recently, Gyllenhaal reconfirmed his belief that Donnie Darko is a movie that stands up to the test of time.

Looking back at the Donnie Darko cast, which included Patrick Swayze, Jena Malone, Drew Barrymore, Katherine Ross, Holmes Osborne, and his own sister, Maggie Gyllenhaal, the six-foot-tall actor said that what they’ve gone on to do and create was “incredible.”

The things that Gyllenhaal went on to do after Donnie Darko are equally noteworthy. In subsequent years, the smooth-voiced actor delivered stellar turns in a number of critically-acclaimed films, including Brokeback Mountain, The Day After Tomorrow, and Spiderman: Far From Home.