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Love and Other Drugs clip
Love and Other Drugs clip: Clip from the film Love and Other Drugs, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway.
A revealing interview with Hollywood's most eligible bachelor who says, "Love can be amazing and a little panicking."
Love and Other Drugs: Gyllenhaal's new movie with Anne Hathaway opens Wednesday. / David James

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Jake Gyllenhaal has many loves. Shaving is not one of them.

When the Oscar-nominated movie star arrives on his black, fixed-gear bicycle this warm fall day at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, he looks like any other New Yorker preparing his face for a long winter. His beard has been trimmed since the bushy look that launched a flurry of blog posts a couple of weeks earlier. It makes him look a little older than his 29 years and allows him to go mostly incognito out here in the open. Still, his boyish grin and saucer-size blue eyes, refreshingly unmasked this bright day by the sunglasses celebrities so often favor when in public, are unmistakable.

But back to the beard.

"I just feel like if you can grow it, you should," Gyllenhaal reasons, strolling through the bucolic park, not far from his actress sister Maggie Gyllenhaal's house, where he's crashing while in town. "It's a real barometer as to when you're going to go gray. You can really tell if you're getting close, or inching toward it." (So far, so good on that front.)

With the dreaded facial hair question out of the way, he's game to talk about — well, almost — anything: romance, his famous family and, of course, his new movie, Love and Other Drugs. It opens Wednesday.

The dramedy pairs the actor again with Anne Hathaway, his co-star in Brokeback Mountain, which garnered Gyllenhaal, then 24, his first Oscar nomination. This time, he plays a womanizing Viagra rep who falls in love with a young woman (Hathaway) who has early-onset Parkinson's disease. Gyllenhaal's smooth-talking salesman character, Jamie Randall, is a far cry from the sensitive gay cowboy he played in the acclaimed Brokeback and from the super-buff warrior prince of his last movie, Prince of Persia. In Love, he shows a surprising flair for comedy.

In real life, humor —at times on the raunchy side — is part of the actor's substantial allure, says co-star Hathaway. "His humor has the ability to repulse and charm simultaneously," says the actress, adding: "For a young male celebrity who's one of the most beautiful men on the planet, no caveats, he's super-duper grounded. He's a terrible texter, though. Awful."

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His skills in modern communication notwithstanding, one scene between Hathaway and Gyllenhaal is particularly memorable: Jamie is finally ready to say "I love you" but looks as if he's having a heart attack trying to get the words out. Gyllenhaal mined his own relationship experience to perfect the reaction. When he has been in love, he says, "there's a real loss of control. In a weird way, it can mimic a panic attack. There is a similarity not necessarily to maybe my first experience, but definitely to some of the people I've loved.

"The reality of love is it can be amazing and a little panicking, too."

As one of Tinseltown's most eligible bachelors, Gyllenhaal continues to live his love life in the public eye. In October, he was spotted with 20-year-old country star Taylor Swift. He was a tabloid regular when he dated A-list actresses Reese Witherspoon for a little over a year and, before that, Kirsten Dunst. He clearly enjoys the freedom of being a single star in Hollywood but insists that, no matter whom he has dated, famous or not, they've always led normal lives.

"In a couple where two people are well-known, it's inevitable that it draws more attention," he says. "When you love somebody, no matter who they are, everybody deals with all different things regardless."

The actor is less philosophical when asked what he learned from his broken hearts and trying times in relationships. The biggest lesson: "Mostly just to shut up," he says, flashing a smile. "There's a lot of love in the silences or in listening. That's the best I can do for right now."

As for the future, swinging single is not exactly on the agenda.

"Children are really where it's at," says Gyllenhaal, who turns 30 next month, on Dec. 19. "That's what I feel turning 30, more than I ever did."

To celebrate the occasion, Gyllenhaal says, he wants to take the plunge —literally. "I'd love to go swimming with the walruses and the whales in the freezing cold water," he says. "Seems like it could be a rite of passage."

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Until then, he's enjoying time spent with his own clan: film producer father Stephen, screenwriter mother Naomi, and, here in Brooklyn, older sister Maggie, brother-in-law Peter Sarsgaard and their 4-year-old daughter, Ramona. "It's incredible to see the traits she has," he says of his niece. "She mimics things that my sister or my brother-in-law do, and it makes me laugh. I just adore her."

The actor's thoughts then turn to his own parents and their breakup in 2009.

"My family's been through some stuff over the past little while, and it's just brought us all really close," he says.

"People find their way toward loving like water. Sometimes two rocks are set up in the wrong way and the water has to part and go, and I've seen that happen recently. As my family's broken apart into different pieces, I can also see that there's more love as a result."

Then, breaking from the serious mood, he jokes, "We should have been in the Japanese Garden for this conversation!"

Before hopping back on his bike, he ponders his life one more time, and he realizes how good it is for him right now, despite the heartbreaks.

"It's Wednesday, the middle of the day, we're sitting in the botanical gardens, I rode up here on my bike. Life ain't so bad."

Cover and cover story photos by Nino Muñoz, Stockland Martel for USA WEEKEND

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