Actress Maggie Gyllenhaal's got a quiet grace about her. She's not a tabloid fixture, or even a blockbuster staple (though she proved her box-office cred in The Dark Knight), but time and again she shows up in little-indies-that-could like Secretary and SherryBaby. She strikes us as an actress for acting's sake, a lover of her craft. Gyllenhaal's latest film, Crazy Heart, is another critical darling, and—no big surprise—her turn as a young mother and journalist opposite Jeff Bridges has industry insiders buzzing. Just before the film hit theaters, we chatted with Gyllenhaal about her character, her daughter and Crazy Heart's crazy journey.
Rachel Bertsche: I haven't had a chance to see the film yet, but all the early buzz has me anxious for it to come out in Chicago. It's gotten such great reception with just a limited theatrical release! Can you tell me a little bit about your character, Jean?
Maggie Gyllenhaal: I play a woman with a 4-year-old who she's been raising by herself. She's starting to really pull it together. I think she was in a pretty bad relationship before, and she's kind of a green journalist, and she goes to interview Bad Blake (played by Jeff Bridges), who's kind of a rundown country-western star, and they fall in love. It's ill-fated and an unlikely connection, although I think it is a real and a deep connection that they make—even though he's 30 years older than her and a serious drunk.
RB: You play a single mother, as you said, and in real life you have a 3-year-old of your own. Now that you're a mom, does it change the way you play Jean or how you understand your character?
MG: Yeah, definitely. I mean it changes everything about me. But, actually—I don't want to give away anything since you haven't seen it—but there are some tough things that happen in the movie that have to do with my kid, and most journalists have been asking me if those are the things that are easiest for me to understand since I have had a child. But I've realized it's actually the sort of tiny things. There's a part of the movie where he writes a song on my bed and I get really upset; it sort of seems like for no reason. But the reason is, even though it's not explicit really, is that I've really just fallen totally in love with him and he's really not right for me and I'm scared. You know, I think to have that happen with a 60-year-old who's a drunk when you have a child at stake is a whole different level, and that's something I don't think you can understand if you don't have a child. Not really.
You know, I've played lots of mothers before. When I made SherryBaby, for example, I wasn't a mother. But in a way, she wasn't really a mother. She was someone who'd been in prison for most of her life, so she never had to take a bag of Cheerios and put it in her bag or do those kinds of basic things that you know how to do when you're a mom and that you do without thinking. But Jean, this woman is someone who had to really work to take of herself, and it changes everything.
RB: As a working mother, how do you balance the two? It's a struggle that so many women deal with on a day-to-day basis. How do you resolve that?
MG: I don't resolve it, and I have not perfected it at all or even come close. I drop the ball all the time. I'm constantly thinking about it and how it can be managed better, and I'm constantly making what I think are mistakes, but I don't know how else to do it other than to really think it through and do my best. Mistakes are being made all the time, I'm sure. It's really hard to do. Crazy Heart is actually in a lot of ways about the sacrifices you make for your children, at least from Jean's point of view. Until really recently, even though women had been working and having kids for a long time, I think it felt like something that could have been taken away from us. Certainly in the '80s, when I was growing up, it seemed like something you had to act like you were doing perfectly or else maybe you couldn't keep your career. But now it's so much more solidly in place—I mean, of course women can work and have kids—that I think people are starting to expose a little more than they did before how hard it is and how you do fail a little at both things when you're trying to juggle. That's what another one of my movies, Nanny McPhee, is really about. I'm the heroine, I'm a good guy in the movie, but I'm a mother who's not always functioning very well. You have to learn as you go. I don't see how else you do it, because how can you possible prepare, other than learning as you go, to be a mother?
RB: I read that you said this is perhaps your favorite film that you've made. What about this film makes it a favorite?
MG: I think it's the most grown-up work that I've done, and I think it's the most vulnerable. I used to think that the ideal was to be as strong as possible and that that was the most interesting and triumphant thing to watch onscreen. The characters I've played before that I've been especially proud of have been fierce powerhouses, but Jean is different. She's much gentler; she's much more vulnerable. She's a really feeling person, and I guess I feel proud of being able to reveal that.
RB: What was it like to work with Jeff Bridges?
MG: Oh, he was great. He and I work in pretty similar ways in that for both of us the ideal thing is to let whatever happens happen. Neither of us like to plan, and I think we both knew that in order for the movie to work it had to be a real. We had to really fall deeply in love, or, our characters did. When we met, we had no time. We didn't say anything about it but we just sort of looked each other in the eye and basically said, 'I'm ready to go. I'm up for anything. Are you up for anything?' We were playing people with really big hearts and I think we are people with big hearts, so it was a powerful connection.
RB: This film took a really interesting journey to get into theaters. At first there was a lot of trouble getting it released at all, and then it had a theatrical release earlier than planned and now it's a big Oscar® contender. What was it like being a part of that? Are you involved in those dealings, or do you just wait for the call? And do you pay attention to the Oscar buzz and the talk of awards?
MG: You know, I wish that I didn't care at all about that stuff but, you know, it's exciting. But, at the same time, if I think too much about awards it makes me crazy, so I try not to dwell on it too much. Also, honestly, this movie has already given me so much. I mean, to be in a movie opposite Jeff Bridges and to be in a movie with Robert Duvall, who I have always admired and is one of the greatest actors ever. To be the woman in a movie with those guys, that's just such an amazing gift that I'm trying not to be greedy.
When it comes to the movie coming out early, of course I pay attention to it because there's a lot of work to be done when a movie comes out. Basically what happened was that this movie was made with a distribution deal with Paramount Vantage and, as they were finishing editing it, Vantage fell apart. It's kind of the climate—or was the climate six months ago; it's shifting a bit now—but we were a real example of the times, where things were really shifting and we could have gotten lost in the fray. But, thank god for Fox Searchlight, we didn't.
RB: It certainly sounds like things are working out for the best.
MG: Totally. This movie's had a star over it, honestly, from the minute it came into existence.
Printed from Oprah.com on Thursday, December 5, 2013
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