What makes Jake Gyllenhaal so loved? Is it his sensitivity, his melting blue eyes, or the qualities that made him so empathetic in films like Brokeback Mountain, Zodiac, or Brothers? All of the above. But, brace yourself: there is actually even more to adore. At age 29 (he hasn’t even hit 30 yet!), the actor has managed to reinvent himself in the eyes of Hollywood, which, as one would suspect, is no easy feat (Remember Jim Carrey in The number 23?). Staring as a street-urchin-turned-royal-son in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, he can now consider himself a member of the action hero brat pack alongside the likes of Matt Damon and Robert Downey Jr. Although, with this newly acquired status comes hard work. Gyllenhaal – who is often paparazzi-pic’d cycling the roads in LA – was not adverse to it. “I did have a theatre full of women chanting: ‘Take off your shirt!’ and that was definitely flattering,” he laments dryly. “ I would just respond back: “Wait five minutes into the movie and I will!”

Getting the part was one thing; starting to look it was another. Gyllenhaal was on a relentless training course that spanned 6 months. Combining running with high-intensity circuit training and horseback riding, the actor morphed into a Prince worth reckoning. And, who is a wannabe action hero if he doesn’t defy gravity? Gyllenhaal performed many of his own stunts – without wires. This feat even surprised the actor himself. “When I think now about what I did then [shooting wrapped a year and a half ago], I can’t believe I did those 35-foot jumps from buildings,” he says. “It took a lot of mental concentration to get through that, I really surprised myself.”

If this film doesn’t skyrocket Gyllenhaal into box market heaven, his series of upcoming projects most certainly will. Set to appear as the football great Joe Namath in an as-yet untitled biopic, a transfigured soldier in the science fiction drama Source Code, a Viagra salesman in Love and Other Drugs and a clueless Senator in Nailed, this still 20-something actor is poised to become as popular as some of Tinseltown’s other A-listers without having to star in a dowdy rom com, or have a bizarre couch moment on Oprah.

Busy agenda indeed, but Gyllenhaal’s pursuits go beyond the glitz and glam of the big screen into the lives of needy people. He is a campaigner for the American Civil Liberties Union, is known to be environmentally active (he plants trees in Mozambique each year promoting climate change awareness), and most recently, he has joined an American campaign called “New Eyes for the Needy” which provides prescription glasses for those who can’t afford them. To us regular folk, this schedule would seem too demanding. To an aspiring action hero? All in a days work.

Read more:
ELLE Interview: Jay Baruchel
Wild thing: Leona Lewis
ELLE Interview: Chris Noth