Here’s How Jake Gyllenhaal Ended Up Reciting Poetry to a Child

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Photo: Samantha Deitch/BFA.com/Samantha Deitch/BFA.com

“Hot dad” the internet screamed yesterday with the release of Jake Gyllenhaal’s Calvin Klein Eternity ad, which depicts him, Liya Kebede, and 4-year-old actress Leila as a happy, little family. “That’s redundant, I feel like all dads should feel that way,” Gyllenhaal said, when asked at a press round table about the reaction. More undeniable is that this new iteration of the Eternity concept is unusual, in an industry where many perfume ads feature beach writhing and longing glances in floral fields, and are so over-the-top they become parodied on SNL. Aware of this, Gyllenhaal told the Cut about how he wanted his ad, directed by Cary Fukunaga, to be different and he stressed, “simple,” and why a particular e.e. cummings poem became significant. Read his thoughts below and click through the slideshow for photos of him, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Mario Sorrenti for last night’s dinner celebrating the ad’s release.

“It’s born out of the idea that Calvin [Klein] had come up with Eternity during a period in his life when he was about to have a family and was leaving behind some of his old identity. The idea of family struck me because I thought, Oh wow, there’s an amazing opportunity to deflect away from the way people look at fragrance. In the mix of the ideas was a love story idea. And then, we talked about, What if we added a child in the mix. Cary [Fukunaga] came on. I remember [Leila], out of all the kids who came in, she came right in and got up on my lap. She went to my beard and went, [mimicking] ‘Cut, cut, cut.’ And I thought, she’s the one.

Then we thought, let’s put everyone into a room and pick a couple of things and activities, [film it], and see what comes of it. We were just looking for something about behavior and connection. The child will inherently call bullshit on anything that doesn’t feel real.

First, we thought we would start with asking kid questions, so we Googled lots of questions kids ask like, ‘Why is the sky blue? Where did I come from?’ We were ready to do that. We picked 6 to 7 different poems, like several e.e. cummings poems, Walt Whitman and Shel Silverstein. We had a painting we were going to do.

We started the questions and it was weird. I would whisper questions in her ear and she was like, Why, what? It didn’t feel real. That didn’t really work. We painted too, that was also weird. At one point, I was like, Just draw a line! And she did, but it was not really fun. At one point, she said out loud, ‘I’m really bored.’

We started reading some Silverstein poems and she got kind of tired while reading certain ones. Then the e.e. cummings poem came up. Maybe it was the word play, the nonsensical quality, or the word love, she immediately woke up and was completely present. She would smile when I read it. I kept reading it over and over again.

The whole process in making this film has been like that. It’s not like some plan. This was not our intention. The idea was free and like, Let’s try and spend some time together and see what happens. Love is simplicity, that is what this is, that feels honest to me. We worked really hard to communicate something that felt as real as it could be for a fragrance campaign, and the simplicity is what I am most proud of. Love is about the little tiny moments, as opposed to the big ones.

Here’s Why Jake Gyllenhaal Recited Poetry to a Child