In a recent interview with British Esquire, actor Jake Gyllenhaal confessed that he believes “deeply in the unconscious.” He also seems to believe in a kind of transformational osmosis: “You literally accumulate the molecules of the space that you’re in,” he said. “We’re like 90 per cent water, so naturally we are going to be affected by the moon when it’s full: if the sea is, why wouldn’t we be? That seems scientific to me.”
Before you write off Jake as just another wacky celebrity, consider what the interview also revealed: “People who work with Gyllenhaal talk more than anything about his discipline, his commitment, and his need to push the limits and try something new. This is what I’ve heard from four directors, two actors and a playwright. They use words like “serious,” “prepared,” and “intense.” They remark on how ‘he really goes for it’ . . .”
This combination of steely determination, naively moony pronouncements, and good looks makes Mr. Gyllenhaal the perfect candidate for our modern version of entrepreneurial demigod: the celebrity lifestyle guru. Unlike the ramblings of actor Shia LeBeouf, which are too weird to sustain a business enterprise, Gyllenhaal has been bolstering his gravitas in recent roles. His new boxing film, Southpaw, moves away from the more lightweight roles he favored in the past (Prince of Persia, anyone?) and reminds us that he does dramatic seriousness well (remember Brokeback Mountain?).
Gyllenhaal also has an approachable celebrity aura (Jake! He’s just like us!) and has thus far avoided major scandal, both important requirements for the budding celebrity lifestyle brand. We don’t want to see plastered on TMZ.com the mug shot of the actor who just persuaded us to get an expensive detoxifying colonic. The transformation from beefcake to businessman would be a natural fit for Gyllenhaal. His could be the face that launches a thousand curated men’s tote bags.
Lifestyle brands are the apex predators of the celebrity food chain. The Kardashian empire, for example, includes a beauty line, a Kardashian Kollection of clothes at Sears, and a mobile app, among other things. Kim herself has endorsed everything from SillyBandz to at-home laser hair removal gadgets. Some celebrities stick to cheap perfume (Britney Spears) but others peddle high-end merchandise, cookbooks, and (god help us) therapy.
Gwyneth Paltrow’s earnest GOOP, Blake Lively’s fauxhemian Preserve, and Reese Witherspoon’s preppy Draper James lead the high-end celebrity lifestyle brand market. Their websites feature “collaborations” with clothing, jewelry, shoe, and furniture designers. Their earnest tone and extremely high price points make them the target of critics, and for good reason. You can smell the patchouli wafting from the prose on Preserve: “Because people with wisdom have stories to tell, and want them heard,” Lively wrote in her baffling “editor’s letter” explaining the purpose of her brand. Paltrow’s GOOP is frequently the target of critics who note the outrageously high prices of her wares (some recent summer offerings: “tailored shorts” for $450 and “cubic mid-heel sandals” for $895). And writer Timothy Caulfield was so incensed by GOOP’s silly dieting and “detoxification” regimens that he debunked them in a book, Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything?
And yet there is something admirably entrepreneurial about these women’s efforts which we should celebrate, even if their motivation also explains why Gyllenhaal likely won’t need to launch his own GOOP anytime soon: Gwyneth, Blake, and Reese are savvy celebrity businesswomen, shoring up their financial foothold in an industry that, with few exceptions, views women over the age of forty as crones. Arnold Schwarzenegger (age 67) returns to the screen this summer as an action hero in Terminator: Genisys. By contrast, we see no movie re-boot of French Lieutenant’s Woman with Meryl Streep (age 65) reprising her role as the beautiful heroine. Instead, Streep recently played a witch in Into the Woods.
In other words, most actresses in Hollywood would be wise to have a back-up career, and appointing oneself a lifestyle guru seems as good a choice as any. But I for one would still like to see the Jake Gyllenhaals, Channing Tatums, and Dwayne Johnsons of the world embrace their inner entrepreneurs, even if we have to wait until they’ve aged a few decades for them to do so. Why should they let the celebrity ladies have all the fun—and profits?