After more than 30 years of marriage, director Stephen Gyllenhaal and screenwriter Naomi Foner finalized their divorce in 2009, and Gyllenhaal says the sudden shift in his personal life caused him to hit pause on the direction in which his career was going.
"It allowed me to be more honest with myself," the 34-year-old actor tells PEOPLE in this week's issue.
The actor respected his parents' courage in making their decision: "There was a sense of two people who said 'What is our truth?' It was painful for a lot of people in our family, but that honesty was inspiring."
Gyllenhaal has since tried to emulate that same sense of honesty in his career.
Taking on a mature role as a grieving father in Southpaw, the actor "went to places emotionally that I don't think he'd ever explored before," director Antoine Fuqua tells PEOPLE of Gyllenhaal's performance.
Gyllenhaal, meanwhile, still turns to his parents as a model for behavior and inspiration. "They're really everything to me."
RELATED VIDEO: Jake Gyllenhaal's Changing Looks
For much more on Jake Gyllenhaal, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands now