Maggie Gyllenhaal brings out Bad Blake’s (Jeff Bridges) crazy heart in her new movie, Crazy Heart, directed by Scott Cooper. Bad Blake’s life might have gone on just the way it always had – from one minor tour to the next, one soulful bar to the next, one hard drink to the next – if he never met Jean Craddock (Gyllenhaal). But once he does, Bad is destined to try to be better than he ever has before.
Finding the right Jean was so vital to making Bad’s love story feel real, that Jeff Bridges became very involved in the casting sessions, and it was Bridges who ultimately chose Maggie Gyllenhaal. Gyllenhaal has twice been nominated for a Golden Globe for her role as a mentally unstable employee in the Sundance Festival winner Secretary and for her performance as an ex-con trying to start again in Sherrybaby. And she drew accolades as Gotham City lawyer Rachel Dawes in the blockbuster The Dark Knight. But it was the energy that emerged between her and Bridges that convinced everyone she had to be Jean.
“She and Jeff had tremendous chemistry the first time they met,” says producer Judy Cairo of the choice. “Maggie is ageless…she’s just an old soul. And she looks so perfect with Jeff. She has an earthiness, a rootedness to her that engenders great empathy.”
In playing Jean, Gyllenhaal wanted to get at all the things that make Jean who she is: her charming naivete as a new journalist; her fierce devotion as a single mother; her terror of getting her heart stomped on again; her tendency to be tempted by the excitement and pleasures of bad boys; and, most of all, her completely unstoppable feelings for BadBlake.
“sat down with Maggie Gyllenhaal recently to talk about her new movie. She told us why she instantly liked her character, how being a mother helped her build the character, and what it was like working withJeff Bridges. Here’s what she had to say:
Q: What was it about your character that really resonated with you?
MG: She seems like a real person to me — someone who is strong in some ways and yet knows she is weak in others, and that’s what I look for in the people I play – that they feel real. That appealed tremendously to me.
Q: How much of your own experience as a mother came into play creating the character?
MG: I mean, I don’t know. Everything in my life has changed absolutely and completely since becoming a mother. So it’s difficult to even know at this point but in some ways – - look, I usually try not to talk too much about my family in press but the making of this movie was so connected to kind of moving out of a certain phase of motherhood for me. My daughter was almost two when I made the movie and I kind of got to this place where I felt like, “I am also me. I am also an actress.” I had this really strong hunger to express something that I hadn’t had for a while when she was a tiny baby. I had worked a little. I did Batman but literally I worked 15 days over eight months. It was a totally different thing. I did Away We Go for three days, and Away We Go got a little of that energy. I was kind of like, “I have something to say!” But then it was over like that. Crazy Heart got almost all of it.
When I look at the movie now, I kind of see Jean is really going through a similar thing. I don’t know if that’s just part of the movie inherently or I put it there, but I think for Jean it’s like she’s got this four year old who, at least for a big chunk of time, she’s been raising alone. She’s just been trying to do good, trying to be good, trying to manage, trying to manage, trying to manage and I think she just finally says, “I need something for me. I need something that feels good to me and I don’t care if it’s bad for me. It’s better if it’s bad for me.” I think she just takes it and I don’t think it could’ve been anybody. I think she really falls in love with him but you know, I think that’s a line every mother walks and I think if you’re a mother, you know what I mean. Balancing what you need in order to be alive and what you have to sacrifice for your kids.
Q: How do you access the emotion at the very end when she’s picking up her things?
MG: God, I don’t know. Honestly, this is the thing. A lot of people ask me about this scene or that scene or how I made her or whatever. I don’t know and I usually don’t. The times when I know exactly how I crafted something is usually when the script isn’t great and there aren’t great actors and I have to fill in all the blanks myself. When the script can buoy me, when the scene can be about 15 different things and can end in 15 different notes every time you play it, it’s best not to make a bunch of choices, and when the other actor is totally alive and living the scenes with you.
I mean, I do my own work. I scribble all over my script. My teacher was telling me, “Don’t write anything on your script.” I do work but I don’t know what it is. I don’t know exactly what it is. When the script is working and the other actor is great, I usually just kind of walk in to see what happens. Like the scene where I find out he’s been lost, I tried every time to walk into the room like, “What’s going on? Where’s Buddy?” without any kind of idea of what was going to happen or where it was going to go and just let it go anywhere.
Although the best example of that though, of letting it go anywhere that I love, my favorite scene that I got to play in the movie was the one where he’s writing a song on my bed and I freak out for no reason. I watched the movie next to my best girlfriend because my husband was away and I needed someone to come with me. I think I needed someone to come with me because I felt like I am a different actor now that I have a child. I felt so much more vulnerable in this part than I ever have in everything, and quieter.
I think the other things I’ve done that I’ve been really proud of, I’ve kind of bulldozed through. I’ve played these fierce, wild people and she’s quieter. That’s so much more vulnerable. So anyway, I brought my girlfriend and she laughed at the part where Jeff says, “Are you mad at me?” And I was like, I felt so glad. I thought, “You know, you do that. You freak out for no reason. So do I. I do that. We do that.” And we played that scene so many different ways.
Q: What draws a woman to a man like Bad Blake in spite of all the brightly flashing danger signs? What moved her to take so many risks?
MG: I think Jean accepts a lot of these things in Bad because she herself is kind of drunk on love for him. I also think there’s a part of her that loves how it feels to be bad. But, she’s a really emotional person and there are parts of Bad that are so wonderful, the way he cares for her son Buddy which really moves her, the way he’s so loving with her, even when he’s drunk. She just doesn’t want to acknowledge that there’s this gaping hole that will ultimately make it impossible for them to be together.
Q: What was it like working with Jeff?
MG: Well, I met him at the premiere for Mona Lisa Smile where I was like a baby. He was there because his nephew was in the movie. I sort of went up to him, I’d had a couple glasses of champagne and said, “I love your movies.” I was like this is my premiere, I can talk to whoever I want. He said, “We’re going to work together one day.” And my entire week was made, but then it happened. And I’m glad that it happened however many years later when I had a better sense of myself as an artist.
At that time, I don’t know how I would have managed but I met him and I just remember, it was not explicit. We didn’t say anything, we didn’t talk about acting ever. But I felt like I met him and we just sort of said to each other somehow without saying anything, “I’m up for anything. I will go all the way anywhere we need to go, I’m open.” And I felt that absolutely from him and I think we were playing people who had really open hearts, and I think we are people who have open hearts. I think we just kind of said, “I’ll go there with you. Let’s go.” And we got down and we did it.
“Crazy Heart” opens in theaters on December 16th.