Jacob Benjamin Gyllenhaal was born on December 19, 1980, in Los Angeles, California, to film producer and screenwriter Naomi Foner and film director Stephen Gyllenhaal. Growing up, Gyllenhaal was exposed to filmmaking due to his family’s ties to the industry. He graduated from the Harvard-Westlake School in Los Angeles in 1998 then attended Columbia University, where his sister was a Senior and from which his mother had graduated, to study Eastern Religions and Philosophy. Gyllenhaal dropped out after two years to concentrate on acting but has expressed intentions to finish his degree.
He made his acting debut as Billy Crystal’s son in the 1991 comedy City Slickers. In subsequent years, his parents allowed him to audition for roles but regularly forbade him to take them if he got chosen. He was, however, permitted to appear in his father’s films several times. In 2001, he appeared with his older sister, Maggie Gyllenhaal, in Donnie Darko. Gyllenhaal was almost cast as Spider-Man for 2004’s Spider-Man 2, due to director Sam Raimi’s concerns about original Spider-Man star Tobey Maguire’s health. Maguire recovered, so Gyllenhaal was no longer needed.
In 2010, Gyllenhaal played the lead role in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, an adaptation of a video game of the same name. In 2012, he made his Off-Broadway debut in Nick Payne’s play, If There Is I Haven’t Found It Yet, at the Roundabout Theatre Company’s Laura Pels Theatre. Gyllenhaal debuted on Broadway in Payne’s Constellations at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre. In 2019, he starred in the thriller film Velvet Buzzsaw, in which he played art critic Mort Vandewalt. Also, in 2019, he played comic book villain Mysterio/Quentin Beck in the superhero film Spider-Man: Far From Home, a sequel to Spider-Man: Homecoming, set within the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
In 2021, Gyllenhaal played detective Joe Baylor in the crime thriller, The Guilty. He is set to produce and star in a film adaptation of the musical, Fun Home, based on Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir of the same name.