This article is from 2006.
Rave reviews for Secretary helped Maggie Gyllenhaal get noticed, though being Jake’s older sister can’t have done any harm. Yet, as Richard Mowe discovers, the actress remains totally and unreservedly her own woman.
Any lurking temptations to being a party girl have been put firmly on the back burner by Maggie Gyllenhaal who, after a run of roles, is devoting her time to being pregnant - and enjoying it.
She and boyfriend Peter Sarsgaard are expecting their first baby in October. The only drawback is that she’s running the gauntlet of the prurient press in New York while trying to live a normal life. She can’t quite understand what all the fuss is about. ‘We try to ignore it, but what can you do? Pregnancy, no matter who you are, appears to be a very compelling affair.’
Gyllenhaal, 28, has been busy, and not just with procreation, meaning her presence is unlikely to disappear from view in the coming months. She voices a babysitter who watches over a trio of mischievous children in the animated Monster House. She plays the wife of one of the two New York Port Authority police officers who were first on the scene in Oliver Stone’s imminent World Trade Centre. And she’s romantically involved with Will Ferrell in Marc Foster’s Stranger Than Fiction.
Yet it’s her work in the low budget Sherrybaby which won her a best actress award (and best film) at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival in the Czech Republic that she says is closest to her heart.
Based on the life of a woman writer/director Laurie Collyer grew up with, Gyllenhaal plays Sherry Swanson, thrown in jail as a junkie at 16, now released and hoping for a second chance. She has to cope with unemployment, parole restrictions and halfway houses and at the same time she wants to reconnect with her daughter. Her brother and his wife, however, have different ideas wishing to raise the child as their own.
'It was very intense and shot in only 25 days,’ says Gyllenhaal. ‘We were shooting 14 hours a day so most of my waking life during that period was playing this woman, going home to eat and sleep and then back to work. I’m in every moment of it. It takes a little while to recover from something like that. It’s hard for me to tell whether the things that I’m feeling are being affected by the work I’m doing all day or whether the work I’m doing all day is being affected by the things I’m feeling.’
The role came to her via her mother the Oscar-nominated scriptwriter Naomi Foner (Running on Empty) who was working at the Sundance Scriptwriters’ Lab at the time Collyer was in attendance to polish it off. Foner, whose Swedish-American husband Stephen Gyllenhaal (Waterland) directed their daughter in her first three film parts, suggested that she send it to her.
Gyllenhaal also wants to work with collaborators who value her input. ‘There are a lot of people who don’t expect a young actress to have an artistic opinion. I mean, what?’ she says in outrage. ‘How can you be good at what you do and not have a powerful artistic opinion that’s going to move you and push you. She cites Holly Hunter, Gena Rowlands and Meryl Streep as prime envelope pushers - all people she grew up around in her family’s creative households in Los Angeles and New York. Working with Julia Roberts on Mona Lisa Smile also helped to formulate her views about stardom. ‘I think that level of fame may come with a hardship. I would like to have some of that power, but to use it well and make movies that are provocative. An agent once told me if I really wanted to get parts I had to wear more make-up and shave under my arms. I haven’t done either, and I am not doing too badly,’ she smiles impishly.
Cineworld, 623 8030, 15 Aug, 7.30pm & Thu 17 Aug, 8pm. £7.95 (£5.20).