Maggie Gyllenhaal interview: ‘Sex scenes? I’m kind of an expert’

Maggie Gyllenhaal in The Dark Knight - Album / Alamy Stock Photo
Just before Maggie Gyllenhaal told her husband to go to bed with a beautiful and talented woman 13 years her junior, she wondered if that was such a good idea.
Gyllenhaal had spent the past two years writing and preparing for The Lost Daughter, an adaptation of a novel by Elena Ferrante, the pseudonymous Italian author whose true identity is a closely guarded secret. Now the all-important casting process had begun: for the role of Leda, a kind of heroine of the film, she had secured Olivia Colman and the striking young Irish actress Jessie Buckley, who would split the role between the present and flashback scenes.
Meanwhile she had introduced herself to her husband, the actor Peter Sarsgaard, for the playful handsome Professor Hardy. The thought of staging it in the love scenes that she had just written between Hardy and the younger, married Leda, was less important to her - the intensity of which had to be absolutely convincing if the audience were to accept Leda's later decisions and regrets.
“I thought to myself: 'Do I really want to manage this situation?'”, Recalls Gyllenhaal, the 44-year-old star of Secretary and Crazy Heart, with a grimace. "Where does my husband play the object of desire for this brilliant, beautiful young actress?"
She even got so far as to compile a list of alternative candidates, then gave in. “We were together for 20 years, through all sorts of joys and difficulties, and I knew there was no one who could start this role like him. I mean, he's irresistible, and that's exactly what the character has to be. So I said to myself "- she submissively raises her hands -" 'It will be fine. ""
For his part, Sarsgaard, 50, has heroically devoted himself to canodling. And her decision was worth it: The love scenes from The Lost Daughter are undisputed, well ...
"Name is?" Gyllenhaal suggests. “The sex just feels inevitable, doesn't it?” Part of the chemistry traces her back to the fact that the characters of Buckley and Sarsgaard are a meeting of heads: both work in the refined art of translating poetry; he thinks her Italian auden is wonderful.
"Maybe that's a feminine thing," suggests Gyllenhaal, "but if someone really understands how your brain works, right down to the molecule, there is nothing more sexual than that."
During last year's lockdown, Gyllenhaal made a short film called Penelope, which also starred Sarsgaard: The couple shot it at their Vermont home as part of a Netflix gasp called Homemade. But The Lost Daughter - also a Netflix production that opens in theaters for the first time next month - marks her full-length directorial debut.
"He's irresistible ..." Peter Sarsgaard and Jessie Buckley on The Lost Daughter - Netflix
It was a personal project long before she engaged her spouse. Gyllenhaal was a fan of Ferrante's Neapolitan quartet for years and devoured each edition as soon as it was published. This led her to the author's 2002 book The Days of Abandonment, which she itched herself to help make a film. She wrote to Ferrante's publisher to inquire about the rights which happened to be bound elsewhere. But they suggested that she consider The Lost Daughter, its slender, spiky successor, about a middle-aged academic whose surreally tense encounter with an awkward family on vacation makes her reflect on her own weaknesses as a mother and wife.
On her pages Gyllenhaal found everything that she had loved about Ferrante in a concentrated form: "This clarification of the truth about the female experience of the world and all the things about which we have collectively agreed to remain silent." As she worked on the script, she looked guiltily over the shoulder - especially when she wrote scenes in which the younger Leda neglects her little daughters or snaps openly at her. (Gyllenhaal and Sarsgaard also have two daughters, Ramona and Gloria Ray.) "Even when you acknowledge these feelings, you feel so exposed," she says.
True to its form, Ferrante himself stayed out of sight and only communicated occasionally and always by email with Gyllenhaal. But it was the author who insisted that the actress not only direct, but also give her own opinion on the material: An invitation that Ferrante wrote later, she would never have given a man. "In fact, she said the contract would be void if I didn't give instructions," says Gyllenhaal, obviously touched. "So I wrote back and said, 'Well, let me write the script first and then we'll see.' But she refused to move."
Gyllenhaal in Sherrybaby (2006) - AA Film Archive / Alamy Stock Photo
Ferrante read the script but gave limited feedback. She did, however, give Gyllenhaal her blessings to change the ending of the story - albeit in a way that is still in line with the intent of the novel. Has she gained any sense of the real Ferrante from dealing with this literary riddle?
"To be honest, I don't have any more information than you do," she insists. “But in my mind she is this very wise 70 year old woman. The good thing about her anonymity is that she could be what I needed her to be. "
Born in New York in 1977, Gyllenhaal grew up in Los Angeles in a family of creative types: her parents were filmmakers, and her younger brother Jake went into acting before her. How long did she have ambitions to direct?
That's a tricky question, she says, “because I didn't feel justified in wanting it. If you were a woman who loved movies, the much clearer route was just to be an actress with ideas. ”Over the next three decades, she worked out ways to get those ideas onto the screen: sometimes through an excuse -“ Me just privately steered a scene in a certain direction and hoped that 30 percent of what I did was in the film ”- and sometimes by talking to its directors.
In The Deuce, a recent HBO drama set in the New York porn industry in the 1970s and 1980s, Gyllenhaal was cast as Candy, a prostitute whose business acumen sees her rise to become a full-fledged adult mogul in business. “But I thought, 'Wouldn't it be a more interesting story if she was a director instead of a producer? So I kept talking to [series creators] David Simon and George Pelecanos, and I came up with the idea so delicately, with a little sugar - you know, however, as an actress, you can get what you need.
“And then,” she adds happily, “Candy became a director.” It was only when Gyllenhaal played her character's own movement behind the camera that she began to realize that she had met her own wish.
“It wasn't so much that it got me the idea, but that I felt like doing it myself,” she says. “I'm a lot braver on screen than in real life. I often learn things in my work before I learn them in life. "
Gyllenhaal in Secretary (2002) - AA Film Archive / Alamy Stock Photo
Courage was not in short supply in Gyllenhaal's breakout performance. That came about in Steven Shainberg's Secretary, an erotic black comedy from 2002 about a sadomasochistic affair between a lawyer (James Spader) and his submissive assistant (Gyllenhaal). During the infamous spanking scene, her hand brushes Spader's and she puts her little finger around his thumb: a blow of emotional truth in the middle of the role-play. This subtle but vital gesture was not on the shot list; it was still captured by Shainberg's camera. But after consulting with Spader, Gyllenhaal casually suggested to her director that she was just a 23 year old newcomer, but maybe it would be a nice idea to capture it?
"You know, I've shot so many sex scenes, I'm kind of an expert on that now," she says dryly. But she fell by the wayside while filming Secretary. The film was made long before #MeToo inspired the rise of the intimacy coordinator - the dedicated advisor on set who ensures that all scenes of a sexual nature are played out in a spirit of professionalism and mutual respect.
When Gyllenhaal was younger, this role was often taken informally by other women on the set who took care of each other: “Maybe the make-up artist or someone in the dressing room or a more experienced actress who just kept an eye out. And as I got more experienced, I became that person. Olivia Colman did this job too. Just keep an eye on the people who are younger than you and who don't always feel they can say no. "
She believes real change was sparked by the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements that shed light on the culture of sexual harassment in Hollywood. "I think the sea is rough right now," she says. "It's not that we're all suddenly fine, but something is definitely changing."
The Kindergarten Teacher (2018) - Moviestore Collection Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo
She hasn't hired an intimacy coordinator for The Lost Daughter, "because I've done so many sex scenes in my own life, I think I'm sensitive to what my cast needed". She vetoed any inclusion of nudity on any actress. I remember that Olivia didn't want to wear a certain hat that I imagined, so we just ditched the hat. "
In the intimate scenes and elsewhere, she found Buckley responded best to the kind of direction she herself would appreciate. Colman, on the other hand, is “very different. When I spoke to her, it quickly became clear to me: 'Oh no, no, no, you can't wake this woman's heart like that. ""
The film was originally scheduled to be shot in New Jersey in the spring of 2020, but Covid has decided not to. The producers of Gyllenhaal combed the globe for an alternative location and in August they found the small Greek island of Spetses, which was suitable for "full-size" production. Within 10 days of signing the forms, Gyllenhaal had rewritten the script to take into account the new environment, and she and the cast had begun their quarantine in the southern Aegean Sea: all in all, not a disaster. They were there for 28 days, filming every scene on the island's 9.8 square miles - including the one in the United States.
About a crisis, a film and a grandiose one at that: It now takes real directing acumen.
"I've worked with some directors who were full of love and freedom, but some were brutal and some were fearful and narrow-minded," says Gyllenhaal. "So many times I've felt like the wronged kid who says, 'When I grow up, nobody on my set is going to feel that way." "
The Lost Daughter will be in theaters on December 17th and on Netflix from December 31st
In this article:
Maggie Gyllenhaal
US-american actress
Elena Ferrante
Italian writer pseudonym
Peter Sarsgaard
American actor (1971-)

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