It wasn’t long ago that Maggie Gyllenhaal was an indie ingénue, a permanent fixture at Sundance and a regular in the front row at Marc Jacobs. But after eight years of fame, countless magazine covers and an Oscar nomination, Gyllenhaal has sparked to a new role: domestic goddess.
Gyllenhaal is the latest of a new breed of young actresses who put motherhood and family before their need for the limelight.
Like Gyllenhaal, Jennifer Garner, Jessica Alba, Gwyneth Paltrow, Naomi Watts and Nicole Richie are just as likely to be spotted pushing a stroller to Whole Foods, their hair scraped back into a messy bun, as they are to roll up to the Oscars looking flawless. Against all expectations, these women worship their husbands and children, and not at the altar of fame.
Consider Garner, an actress who used to kick butt every week on “Alias” and now uses her muscles to perch at least one toddler on her hips at all times. Hollywood queen bee Julia Roberts is a fervent believer in the sanctity of the nuclear family.
Even Richie, the reality starlet and recovering heroin addict, vanished from the tabloids once she started a family with fiancé Joel Madden. Motherhood had much the same effect on Gyllenhaal. Since becoming a mom, she has slowed her blistering pace to a precisely calibrated trickle.
Her breakout role came in 2002′s “Secretary,” an indie film about a woman in a sadomasochistic relationship with her boss. In its most memorable scene, she crawled on all fours with an envelope in her mouth. Gyllenhaal instantly became a Sundance darling, and her off-kilter good looks and whimsical fashion sense made her a favorite cover girl for magazines like Nylon.
A few years later, she was back with “SherryBaby,” a gritty drama about a drug addict trying to regain custody of her daughter, and modeling for Agent Provocateur, the super-luxe British lingerie retailer.
Her family’s counterculture credentials were an essential part of Gyllenhaal’s persona. Her mother, Naomi Foner, is an accomplished screenwriter. Her father, Stephen Gyllenhaal, is a director. And, of course, there’s her hunky brother Jake, who shot to fame with the cult hit “Donnie Darko” and the groundbreaking “Brokeback Mountain.”
The Gyllenhaals were just your average, all-American family, only they were all gorgeous and famous and made artsy, award-winning movies. Gyllenhaal was like a more intellectual version of Paltrow. They both come from Hollywood families, only Gyllenhaal was a Columbia University grad who dated the cerebral Peter Sarsgaard, not Brad Pitt, and starred in Tony Kushner plays, not “Shallow Hal.”
In case there was any question about Gyllenhaal’s cool pedigree, she was even born on the lower East Side. Enough said.
But all that changed around 2006, when Gyllenhaal gave birth to her daughter, Ramona.
That same year, Gyllenhaal — who once shared a $550-a-month loft on N. Seventh St. in Williamsburg with her painter boyfriend — bought a four-story, $1.75 million brownstone in Park Slope. A rare recent moment in the spotlight came in 2007, when she was photographed breastfeeding Ramona on a West Village sidewalk.
Her first project post-baby was not a gritty independent drama, but the 2008 blockbuster, “The Dark Knight.” A year later came a small part in “Away We Go” — sort of a “Juno” for grownups — followed by an Oscar-nominated supporting role in “Crazy Heart.” Last spring, she and Sarsgaard quietly cashed in their Bohemian chips and got married in a small ceremony in Italy.
Her latest role is in “Nanny McPhee Returns,” the sequel to the 2005 family movie about a snaggletoothed but kindhearted nanny, played by Emma Thompson. Gyllenhaal is Mrs. Green, a young mother struggling to maintain control of her three unruly kids while her husband is away at war. Just as she reaches the end of her rope, Nanny McPhee shows up at her door.
“It doesn’t come naturally to me, organization or running a home,” admits the actress. So as with any other role, Gyllenhaal did her research, even buying a book on the subject, “Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House.”
Slowly but surely, Gyllenhaal has taken to the domestic ritual. “It’s taken some work, and I’ve been doing the work. And I really enjoy it, I’m really proud of my house,” she says.
An outspoken liberal, Gyllenhaal embodies the attitude of a younger generation of feminists who think of personal style, keeping house and being a mother as ways of expressing their individuality — not as ways of denying it. “My mother was interested in political things. The joy of femininity wasn’t something she stressed,” she recently
told Good Housekeeping.
A budding fashion icon, the yoga-svelte Gyllenhaal wowed at this year’s Oscars in a blue Dries Van Noten gown, and she and brother Jake were just voted to Vanity Fair’s International Best-Dressed List. Gyllenhaal has a healthy perspective about the more glamorous trappings of her chosen profession.
“It feels like that’s work. The other stuff is life, and it definitely feels different,” she says. En route to a taping of “The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson,” Gyllenhaal is in what you might call work mode.
“A couple of friends just came over with their daughter, and it felt like I was in costume. Normal people don’t have their hair and makeup done at 4 in the afternoon with a beautiful black Roland Mouret dress,” she jokes. And most “normal people” — feminist or otherwise — don’t even know who Roland Mouret is, either.
Gyllenhaal’s embrace of the traditional gender roles extends beyond regular trips to the salon. “I’ve just been finding so much pleasure in sacrificing sometimes for my husband ? going to where he’s working and tidying up his trailer because he couldn’t manage to do it, and bringing him things that will make him feel better, and being a wife in a more classical way. It feels really right to me,” she told Good Housekeeping.
Once a regular partygoer whose comings and goings were chronicled in Gawker Stalker posts, Gyllenhaal is more of a homebody these days. “Honestly, in Brooklyn, we’re home a lot,” she says. A memorable recent date was a trip to Film Forum to see Charlie Chaplin’s “Modern Times.”
“We were thinking of going to see ‘Inception’ at Union Square, but I couldn’t handle it on a Saturday night,” she says.
Her favorite restaurant of the moment is Moomah, a Tribeca establishment that caters to a very specific clientele: parents with kids in tow. “I couldn’t believe it when I discovered that place. I can bring my daughter and she can do an art project that’s supervised by a sweet, lovely girl, but be able to finish a conversation which, you know, is difficult to do when you have a 31?2-year-old.”
Work is still an essential part of Gyllenhaal’s life, but you sense that it’s just another outlet for her, not the be-all and end-all. She and Sarsgaard started a production company, Double A, mainly as a way to find compelling projects for her.
“I realize how important it is to also be a producer on those movies. If you’re in every scene in a little movie, ultimately you’re like a filmmaker anyway, so it’s important then to have an official say in the project,” she says.
Gyllenhaal’s transformation also means that she and Sarsgaard’s days of urban living are numbered. “My husband is into living in the country, and that’s more and more appealing,” she says.
They’ve also contemplated a move across the pond, but aren’t sure where they’ll land next. One thing, though, is certain: “It’s not like we’re going to move back to the city.