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Paul Newman Taught Jake Gyllenhaal How Not to Drive

Photo Credit: Brownie Harris / CORBIS / Getty Images
Photo Credit: Brownie Harris / CORBIS / Getty Images

Learning how to drive is always an interesting experience, often made drastically better or worse depending on the person doing the teaching. For actor Jake Gyllenhaal, it was made infinitely more terrifying and fun, as actor and professional race car driver Paul Newman was the one who taught him… Or, at least, he taught him what not to do.

Working in Hollywood runs in the Gyllenhaal family

As well known as Jake Gyllenhaal is, there was a time when his name was more associated with his family, who are heavily involved in the film industry. This meant he got to know many different famous actors and directors. This privileged life was something his parents were aware of and, as such, they wanted to make sure he worked for himself when he was able.

Jake Gyllenhaal wearing a collared shirt and suit jacket
Jake Gyllenhaal at Movieline’s 4th Annual Young Hollywood Awards, 2002. (Photo Credit: Amy Graves / WireImage / Getty Images)

Before his acting career took off, Gyllenhaal actually worked as a lifeguard. While in this position, he once had to pee on a woman’s leg after she was stung by a jellyfish. Now, however, he’s known for starring in such films as Brokeback Mountain (2005), Nightcrawler (2014) and Spider-Man: Far from Home (2019).

Jake Gyllenhaal’s famous family meant celebrity connections

As a child with a family that’s heavily involved in Hollywood, Gyllenhaal grew up around celebrities. His mother, Naomi Foner-Gyllenhaal, is a screenwriter and director, while his father is a director and poet. Even his sister, Maggie, became an actress and filmmaker. Outside of his direct family, his godmother is none other than Jamie Lee Curtis.

Naomi Foner-Gyllenhaal giving Jake Gyllenhaal a side hug
Jake Gyllenhaal and Naomi Foner-Gyllenhaal at the Constellations Broadway opening night after party, 2015. (Photo Credit: Bruce Glikas / FilmMagic / Getty Images)

Another close celebrity connection Gyllenhaal had was to Paul Newman, his godfather. Given their relationship, Newman took it upon himself to teach a then-15-year-old Gyllenhaal how to drive. At the time, Newman and Foner-Gyllenhaal were working on a screenplay together.

Paul Newman takes Jake Gyllenhaal for a lap around the racetrack

Speaking with The Irish Examiner, Gyllenhaal explained how the lesson went. “Paul Newman taught me how to drive,” he said. “When I was 15, my mum was writing a script with him and we went out to the racetrack. He threw me in the passenger seat and started driving. We’re 100 ft from a wall going 60 miles an hour and he hits the brake and turns the wheel – and the car spins three times. Then he turns to me and goes: ‘That was what you won’t do.'”

Paul Newman leaning against a race car
Paul Newman before the start of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, 1979. (Photo Credit: Keystone / Getty Images)

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Although Gyllenhaal once recounted this as the story of how he learned to drive, he later admitted to a reporter in 2006 that it was actually his father who taught him how to properly navigate a vehicle. He also confessed, “I said that once when I was doing press when I was 16 years old and now that’s all people write. Believe me I was in awe when it happened.”

Rosemary Giles

Rosemary Giles is a history content writer with Hive Media. She received both her bachelor of arts degree in history, and her master of arts degree in history from Western University. Her research focused on military, environmental, and Canadian history with a specific focus on the Second World War. As a student, she worked in a variety of research positions, including as an archivist. She also worked as a teaching assistant in the History Department.

Since completing her degrees, she has decided to take a step back from academia to focus her career on writing and sharing history in a more accessible way. With a passion for historical learning and historical education, her writing interests include social history, and war history, especially researching obscure facts about the Second World War. In her spare time, Rosemary enjoys spending time with her partner, her cats, and her horse, or sitting down to read a good book.