Jake Gyllenhaal

He's been dubbed the crown prince of Tinseltown, and Jake Gyllenhaal certainly has the sort of showbiz pedigree that might even have Drew Barrymore or Sofia Coppola gnashing their teeth with envy. His godmother is Jamie Lee Curtis, Paul Newman gave him driving lessons and Dustin Hoffman was his acting mentor.

He was born in 1980, six days before Christmas, to director Stephen Gyllenhaal and screenwriter Naomi Foner. Their Los Angeles home was, unsurprisingly, a hothouse of precocious creativity. Sister Maggie, who is three years his elder, directed the junior thesp in a household production of Cats and went on to become a respected actress in her own right.

By the age of 11 Jake had left behind the Gyllenhaal clan theatre for a real-life film set, playing Billy Crystal's son in City Slickers. Despite his father's admonition not to plump for films over college, the talented youngster popped up again in the 1999 flick October Sky, a crowd-pleasing tale about a young boy obsessed with rocket science.

Eventually he made it to Colombia University where he studied Eastern Religions under Uma Thurman's father Robert - an acknowledged expert in the area - but dropped out after two years to join the audition circuit. To Jake's frustration he narrowly missed out on Ewan McGregor's part in the 2001 musical Moulin Rouge. "It was so close. I sang and everything," recalls the actor. "It was between me, Heath Ledger and Ewan."

Any disappointment he felt was soon tempered by winning a string of juicy roles, most notably in indie cult hit Donnie Darko opposite his sister and The Day After Tomorrow, a blockbuster which impressed studio bosses with ticket sales of $542 million.

In 2004 he found himself in a small riverside trailer camp in the wilds of Alberta, Canada, shooting Brokeback Mountain, Ang Lee's story of homosexual cowboy romance, with Australian hunk Heath Ledger and Michelle Williams. The trio of actors came away with some firm friendships and, in the case of the Aussie star and Montana-born Michelle, a lasting love which shortly after produced Jake's godchild, the couple's daughter Matilda.

It helped that both the lead actors approached the potential minefield of gay love scenes with sanguine humour. "I fooled around with Heath and Michelle got pregnant," quipped Jake.

The young actor's rapport with Heath shone through helping the film net a haul of awards including four Golden Globes, four BAFTAs and three Oscars. Jake also received an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actor.

Once named one of People magazine's hottest bachelors he's inevitably notched up some talked-about romances, having been linked to Natalie Portman and Spiderman actress Kirsten Dunst, whom he dated for two years. Although he split with Kirsten in 2004, they still share custody of two dogs, Atticus and Boo Radley, who are named after characters in their favourite book To Kill A Mockingbird.

Despite the wave of attention that has been steadily coming his way, the actor has kept his eyes wide open to the fickleness of the movie business, explaining it like this: "First it's 'Who is Jake Gyllenhaal?', then it's 'Get me Jake Gyllenhaal', then 'Get me someone who looks like Jake Gyllenhaal', and then 'Who is Jake Gyllenhaal?'... Right now, I'm between 'Who is Jake Gyllenhaal?' and 'Get me Jake Gyllenhaal'."
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