Real-life brothers-in-law battle in ‘Presumed Innocent’ series

The courtroom scenes allowed various actors to shine, affording each one a chance at a big speech

Jake Gyllenhaal, center, and Bill Camp, right, star in the series “Presumed Innocent.” (Apple TV+ / via AP)

While filming an intense courtroom scene for his new series, Jake Gyllenhaal occasionally caught his “Presumed Innocent” co-star Peter Sarsgaard glaring at him across the room.

“It was just funny,” recalled Gyllenhaal in an interview alongside Sarsgaard, doing a quick impression of Sarsgaard’s stare.


“It’s like, ‘OK, OK,’” joked Gyllenhaal as if to say “tone it down” as Sarsgaard cackled at the commentary.

They rib each other just like family because they are family. Sarsgaard is married to Gyllenhaal’s sister, actor and director Maggie Gyllenhaal.

It’s not Gyllenhaal and Sarsgaard’s first time acting together, either. They also co-starred in 2005’s “Jarhead” and 2007’s “Rendition.” But “Presumed Innocent” is their first series together (and Gyllenhaal’s first TV show ever) and marks the first time they’re playing adversaries.

“Presumed Innocent,” which premiered on Apple TV+ last Wednesday, is based on Scott Turow’s legal thriller novel, adapted into a 1990 film starring Harrison Ford.

Here, Gyllenhaal plays Chicago prosecutor Rusty Sabich, charged with murdering his colleague — an accusation that has fractured the district attorney’s office. Sarsgaard is attorney Tommy Molto, another co-worker intent on proving Sabich’s guilt. Meanwhile, Sabich’s marriage to Barbara (Ruth Negga) falls apart under the weight of accusations and the potential for him to be found guilty.

Early scripts didn’t pit Sabich and Molto against each other quite as antagonistically, but creator and showrunner David E. Kelley took note of Gyllenhaal and Sarsgaard’s chemistry and pivoted.

“It’s a little bit like a football quarterback coming up to the line at some point and looking at what you’ve got in front of you … and seeing where the opportunities lay,” Kelley said.

O-T Fagbenle, who plays attorney Nico Della Guardia, also enjoyed watching the two spar.

“I’m an ignoramus. I only found out on set that they were related,” Fagbenle said. “They got on great, obviously, but they have brotherly kind of, you know, roughhousing. Not physical, but verbal. And so when I saw them, I was just like, ‘Oh, wow, there is such a history between you two.’”

Gyllenhaal agrees that shared history allows them to push each other’s buttons as needed.

“I love him so deeply, which comes with all the complications, too,” Gyllenhaal said. “We’ve been through so much together, so we can bring those things out in the fictional world.”

The brothers-in-law recognized their emotionally charged scenes could be a spectacle, like when Sarsgaard’s character grills Gyllenhaal’s in a cross-examination.

“Everyone is excited for it,” Gyllenhaal said. “Like, ‘What’s Peter going to do today?’”

They also have the comfort and trust to tell each other what to play up, dial back or interpret differently.

“Jake will be like, ‘I see what you meant, but I don’t think that’s reading the way you think,’” said Sarsgaard. “That’s someone who’s listening to you. Even if you have a great director, it doesn’t read like someone who knows you and sees you as an artist. This family has a very special connection that way. We’re very good at witnessing each other.”

Gyllenhaal said that filming a series for the first time “was a fascinating process, one I’ve never had and one you don’t have on a film,” he said. Having new scripts to memorize meant his “acting muscles and tools were being used constantly.”

“You go from scene to scene to scene, and it’s kind of nice once you get into the rhythm,” added Sarsgaard. “I have more trouble with big movies where you have hours between setups to do a closeup, and in a couple more hours, we’re going to do the wide shot; I’ve forgotten everything. I have no idea what’s going on.”

The cast didn’t know whether Gyllenhaal’s character was guilty throughout filming.

“I wanted to know, but it was being written as it went on,” said Gyllenhaal, likening it to how the public waits for a trial verdict.

The courtroom scenes allowed various actors to shine, affording each one a chance at a big speech.

“Everyone had a day where they did it, or a couple of days, where it was your time,” said Sarsgaard. “There’s something as a performer that comes alive when it’s your time, and that’s a nice feeling. It’s kind of a recharge while filming many other things.”

“It’s fun giving each character a moment,” added Kelley, who attended law school “in the early ’80s.” He has put the tuition money to good use over the years, writing several hit legal-centric shows, including “Ally McBeal,” “Boston Legal,” “The Practice” and “The Lincoln Lawyer.”