December 11, 2018

Maggie Gyllenhaal Inspires at Women in Entertainment Summit

Maggie Gyllenhaal and media adviser Lori H. Schwartz.

“I am not looking for empowering female characters,” Maggie Gyllenhaal told audiences on Oct. 11 at the fourth annual Women in Entertainment Summit at the Skirball Cultural Center. “I’m looking for characters that feel human, that feel like a representation, where it’s possible to express something about my female experience that’s real.” 

Gyllenhaal, who made her comments in a discussion with tech and media adviser Lori H. Schwartz, host of the “Tech Cat” TV show and podcast, currently stars as Candy in the HBO series “The Deuce” and Lisa in the movie “The Kindergarten Teacher,” based on the Israeli film of the same name. “The Kindergarten Teacher” was released in theaters and on Netflix last week. Gyllenhaal also serves as a producer on the series and the film. 

“I find that the projects that really draw me, draw me because they give me the opportunity to explore something about myself that’s kind of on the edge of what I know about myself,” she said.

Gyllenhall said of her character Candy that she’s an unlikely feminist hero because she’s an adult film star and director. Of Lisa, she described the character as teetering on the edge psychologically. The film is about a woman who becomes obsessed with a child in her class when she starts to think he’s a poetic genius. 

“What it’s really about is the consequences of what happens when you starve a woman’s mind,” Gyllenhaal said. “Because it’s made by a group of women filmmakers, our conclusion is the consequences are dire. The movie is as much a psychological thriller as it is a horror movie.”

Both of these characters are “hungry,” Gyllenhaal said. “So many women in the past two years have woken up to the fact that things aren’t what we wished they were — that we’ve compromised ourselves in ways that have serious, dire, real consequences. And I’m tired of it.”

Raised culturally Jewish in New York by filmmaker parents, Gyllenhaal’s mother is from an Ashkenazi family and her father is of English, Swedish, Swiss-German, German and distant Welsh and French ancestry. 

For her next project, Gyllenhaal is set to adapt Elena Ferrante’s novel “The Lost Daughter.” Gyllenhaal will write and direct as well as produce the film with Talia Kleinhendler and Osnat Handelsman-Keren of Pie Films, with whom she partnered on “The Kindergarten Teacher.”

“I found more and more with my acting, my best work comes from opening my mind up to something and seeing what comes up,” Gyllenhaal said. “That’s how I began this directing project.”

Gyllenhaal hoped Ferrante would give her the rights to one of her novels and had to write a letter with her fundamental intentions for the film project. She started working on the letter a few months before her 40th birthday last year and learned she got the rights a few days before that milestone occasion.

She is now two-thirds of her way through writing the adaptation. When Gyllenhaal expressed her concerns about funding the project, a few people told her not to think about it. “Write the movie you want to make for you,” they said.

Authenticity is definitely something Gyllenhaal values. “Ideally, when you express something that’s really honest, human and true, it may not be compelling on a super-mass level, but it will be compelling to many people,” she said.

Schwartz added, “Often, the mark of success for a true artist is contributing great work to the environment they are in, making a difference, marking the era by creating content that resonates in tone and topic with the current culture and potentially pushing against it to suggest change. Maggie is such an artist.”