Earlier this year, Jake Gyllenhaal was amongst the many incognito celebrities at Raf Simons' Spring 2018 menswear show, which was held on a steamy summer night at a lantern-lit outdoor market under the bridge in New York's Chinatown. It turns out, that was no accident. Like many of the stars who attended the buzzy show—including A$AP Rocky, Ashton Sanders—Gyllenhaal is a new muse of Calvin Klein's chief creative officer Raf Simons, and is now starring in the campaign for Eternity, one of Calvin Klein's most iconic fragrances.

Gyllenhaal and Simons first met in February, when the fashion designer attended a performance of the actor's Broadway show, Sunday in the Park with George. "Raf said, 'I like you, and I’d like to collaborate with you on this idea,'" Gyllenhaal recalled, sitting at the Beyonce and Jay Z-approved pizzeria Lucali (which had been closed down for the occasion) on an early fall afternoon. As it turns out, that's exactly how Gyllenhaal, too, likes to choose his projects. "I find that I’ve just gotten to a place where I want to work with people I enjoy and respect. It doesn’t matter whether people think they’re the coolest," he explained.

Fortunately, Simons happens to be one of the coolest designers of the past decade. And Gyllenhaal's other collaborators for the campaign—director Cary Fukunaga, and model Liya Kibede—are in high demand, as well. But that's all part of Simons' strategy for re-imagining the brand's blockbuster scent Eternity (from $64, macys.com, which is still the same carefully crafted balance of lavender, citrus, and sandalwood that nose Carlos Benaim created almost 30 years ago. Because, like the pizzas at Lucali, which come without any toppings, why try to improve perfection?

Tell me about the first time you met Raf Simons.

He came to my show. I did this show [Sunday in the Park with George] on Broadway this winter and it meant a lot to me. It was about creation. It was about my kind of expression. And this guy, who’s this fashion designer and head of a major brand, came to see the show, to see what I love doing the most. Raf said, “I like you, and I’d like to collaborate with you on this idea.” Eternity is about connection, family and love. He asked me, “What does that mean to you?” To Calvin Klein, it was about family and about love. I loved that idea. My producing partner, Riva Marker, has a family of her own. She and her wife have the two most beautiful sons. Riva made Beasts of No Nation with Cary Fukunaga, and I had just done this video with Cary that she had also made happen. We decided to bring what we did for Sunday in the Park with George to this video. Raf loved that idea. Then, he suggested Liya Kebede, who I know and I love, and I think is such a wonderful human being and so beautiful. It was very organic.

What do you like about the fragrance?

It's almost 30 years old. It’s badass. Eternity has a legacy of its own for so many people. I was six years old when this fragrance first came out. Now, I’m here talking about it and it’s cool. I remember this scent and at a certain age it has evolved. It’s gone from the nervousness of whether or not you’re going to kiss the girl to, now, the idea of family. It means like you’re growing up into another space.

Who chose the E. E. Cummings poem that you read in the campaign video? What else didn’t make the cut?

It was sort of a mixture of Cary, Riva and me. There were a number of poems in discussion, like Where the Sidewalk Ends. Really, it came about because we had five or six poems and we started reading to, Leila, who plays my daughter in the video. We were just hanging out, and I Carry Your Heart With Me was the one that she connected to.

Watch the video here:

How has having parents in the film industry helped you?

Their successes, and particularly their failures, in certain ways, have allowed me to see where it’s dangerous and to avoid those places. I have had the success that I’ve had as a result of all they did before and the perspective they've given me because they experienced it first. When they say, “Don’t go into that room I’ve been there. We’ve wasted a lot of years over there,” I say, "Okay." Someone said to me once, “If you want to save yourself a lot of time in business, go to someone you respect the most in business, and they’ll save you like a year, at least. Ask their advice.” Oftentimes, I do that with my parents with those questions. They have saved me a lot of potentially wasted time and hurt.

Are you a big foodie?

Yes. I don’t discriminate, unfortunately, when it comes to food. I am curious about all different types of expression. People do that in so many different ways and mediums. Food happens to be one of them. But I’m a bit of a purist, not in terms of design, but just simplicity. Don’t mess it up. I end up going back to the grilled cheese sandwich, and I consider that to be great art.

Do you cook?

I do. My family always cooked together. I grew up in California so there was always the opportunity for a different kind of produce year-round. My father and mother always cooked. One of the most consistent things in my life was dinner and that’s stayed consistent in my life now. I was encouraged to see the connection of what food does in family. There is this inherent sense of need and giving. I love the exchange of cooking and eating food. My mom would always say, “food is love.” I don’t always agree, but sometimes it really is.

How do nutrition and fitness come into play in prepping for a role like like your character Jeff Bauman in Stronger?

Looking healthy and being healthy are two different things. I have a lot of things at my disposal to do what I do, meaning, you talk about diet. I don’t just have a diet. I have an extraordinary makeup artist who creates a character with me, who believes that when you walk into an environment a lot of the things like the color and palette of your skin when you’ve gone through something or when you’re on pain meds and when you’re trying to recover. I’m not just starving myself so that I look that way. You have to be kind to yourself, while also pushing limits emotionally and understanding what you do. There is an obsession with what does somebody eats or does. Is it that simple? The truth is it’s not. I don’t really have systems. I have techniques in terms of the creation of a character, which is a totally analytical process.

What do you do?

Everything you get involved in, whether you’ve developed it or whether it comes to you developed and ready-to-go has history and background. There are clues all over the place in the story with which you then can interpret. One of the things that I value so much in my profession, though people may not think so, is my education and my ability to research a ton about whatever it is that I’m about to get into. I find that I have to exhaust the intellect, not to say there’s much of it, but I have to exhaust it in order to dive into the physicality of the role.

Are you into meditation?

I would say my friends giving me shit is the thing that is the best thing that I have over meditating or getting a lot of sleep. Sarcasm and taking [the] piss is the only way to survive. I learned that from Jeff Bauman, actually. That’s the truth.

Do you have any self-care practices?

I mean, I have learned a lot about myself and about the world around me. Sometimes I’ve made stupid choices. I’ve realized that hard work doesn’t have to mean not being kind to yourself. We live in a world where we’re told that somewhere, but being kind is the most important thing. And not only to other people, but to yourself. You must know how to be kind to yourself, before you can be kind to anyone else.

How do you choose projects at this stage in your career?

It’s changed. It’s sort of taken me back to the reason why I began doing it, which is for the community and for the connection with the people that I’m doing it with, more so than the result. I’ve gone through that fear about whether something will be successful [or not] and whatever you consider to be successful, usually it’s financially. We live in a very particular time and it’s a brutal world. And I have great respect for that too, you know. And so, I find that I’ve just gotten to a place where I want to work with people I enjoy and respect. It doesn’t matter whether people think they’re the coolest. They will be the coolest when what we do is true. It’s about trying to get to a place where you’re all on the stage and then you’re all close enough, at a certain point, where you can share and be vulnerable. That’s what we’re looking for when we go to movies. To be entertained, to have fun, a myriad of reasons, but also to be vulnerable. To watch someone be vulnerable and to be moved in whatever way that is.

What other stories that you want to tell?

Oh, my God. What stories need to be told? Well, we’re telling a lot of stories, but I think one of the most important sort of themes of things that do need to get made, and one of the things we focus on in my company is not just stories that are somewhat politically motivated, but more than anything, more stories for women in particular, like, great roles. Having a sister who’s an actor, she is a massive influence on me, and my mother too in the same way. That’s one of our big things is just generating an equal amount of material for both women and men. And it happens to be I am a man and I have a company. My partner is a woman, and so we have an equality of a certain type of material that we want to give in service out to the entire community. We’re very conscious of that.

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