Jake Gyllenhaal opens up about his feelings on ex-girlfriend Reese Witherspoon to PEOPLE and Entertainment Weekly editorial director Jess Cagle
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Jake Gyllenhaal and Reese Witherspoon never appeared onscreen together in the 2007 film Rendition, but they met on the set of that political thriller and later began dating, a relationship that lasted until their split in 2009. So what’s the first thing that comes to Gyllenhaal’s mind when he thinks of Witherspoon now?

“She is, as I would say about most of the women who I’m close friends with or had relationships in my life, one of the smartest, strongest people I’ve ever met,” Gyllenhaal, 35, told PEOPLE and Entertainment Weekly editorial director Jess Cagle during the latest episode of The Jess Cagle Interview.

Watch more of The Jess Cagle Interview with Jake Gyllenhaal this week on PEOPLE.com

Witherspoon is one of a number of high-profile actresses Gyllenhaal can cite as friends and former colleagues, including Jennifer Aniston, Rachel McAdams, Naomi Watts (who costars in Gyllenhaal’s latest film, Demolition), and Anne Hathaway. The actor has appeared with Hathaway in two films, his 2005 breakout Brokeback Mountain, for which Gyllenhaal scored his only Oscar nomination, and 2010’s Love and Other Drugs.

“A massive talent, and a really brilliant and sometimes confusing human,” Gyllenhaal said when asked how he thinks of Hathaway. “She’s one of the most adventurous people I’ve ever met … When I first met her, and even now, even knowing her for a long time, Anne is somebody who would just not really want to get into the party – she is the life of the party and the person who will jump off the cliff first. She really is! I love contradictions in people, she happens to be that. I think she’s probably one of the most talented actresses of our generation.”

Read more on Jake Gyllenhaal in the new issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday

See Gyllenhaal discuss Witherspoon, Hathaway, Aniston (“I will say, I had a crush on her for years”), and more aspects of his career in the full Jess Cagle Interview below.

Gyllenhaal will next be seen in Demolition, from director Jean-Marc Vall e (Wild), out in theaters on Friday.