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Jacob Benjamin  Gyllenhaal was born in Los Angeles, California. His father is film director Stephen Gyllenhaal, a descendant of a noble Swedish-English clan. His mother, film producer and screenwriter Naomi Foner (née Achs), is from a Jewish family of Samuel Achs and Ruth Silbovich, both originally from Russia.
 
He has an older sister Maggie Gyllenhaal, who is also an actress of note and co-starred with him in many of his movies.  She won a Golden Globe Award and was nominated for two another ones, Oscar and Emmy Award
 
Gyllenhaal made his acting debut in the 1991 comedy film City Slickers. In the following years he would play in half a dozen movies, often together with his sister Maggie - their father was the director of most of the pictures in which Jake was allowed to perform. 
 
Donnie Darko (2001) was Gyllenhaal's second major film, the first one without his father's creative patronage, and a work that was never commercially successful but developed a cult following. A string of a dozen of not-so-popular-and-utterly-forgettable movies followed/
 
Eventually Jake achieved stardom thanks to, surprisingly, Spider-Man 2. He could have been the lead because of striking similarity of his appearance to that of Tobey Maguire, whose health had weakened so much, that the producers were already starting to contemplate a replacement. 
 
The controversial but groundbreaking and extremely successful Brokeback Mountain followed, where he played a gay cowboy opposite the Hollywood's tragic legend, Heath Ledger. For his performance, Jake received ten nominations for most prestigious movie awards, including the Academy Award, and won five of them, including MTV Movie Awards, BAFTA and the Palm Springs International Film Festival award.
 
When asked about the sexual scenes with Heath Ledger, Gyllenhaal said: "As an actor, I think we need to embrace the times we feel most uncomfortable... doing a scene [with Heath] was like doing a sex scene with a woman I'm not particularly attracted to". He denied rumors about his non-traditional sexual orientation.
 
Then came Jarhead, where he played a completely, utterly different role of a violent and masculine, yet sensitive and intelligent Marine sniper fighting in Iraq! 
 
In his personal life, he shows clear preference for stars: he dated actress Kirsten Dunst, then his colleague from the set Reese Witherspoon, then singer-songwriter Taylor Swift, and finally - model Alyssa Miller. And he never seems to be in need to look for women company, being considered one of the most attractive men on the planet: he was entered into both "50 Most Beautiful People" and  "Hottest Bachelors" lists by People in 2006).
 
Sources: 
"Jake Gyllenhaal biography" – Dominic Wills (2006) 
 "Jake's progress" – The Guardian. September 19, 2006.
 "The Gyllenhaal Family Tree Project: Obituary of Anders Leonard Gyllenhaal" – Gyllenhaal.org

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