For those seeking a film that combines a Victorian love story with the invention of sex toys, “Hysteria” will likely hit the spot. The film, based on a true story, tells the story of how Mortimer Granville, a young doctor in 19th-century London employed to perform “pelvic massages” to well-heeled ladies diagnosed with “hysteria,” eventually invented the first vibrator. (Yup, you read that right).
However, Mortimer (Hugh Dancy) meets his match in the wildly independent and vivacious Charlotte Dalrymple, played by Maggie Gyllenhaal. The 34-year-old actress, who recently gave birth to a second baby girl, spoke to The Huffington Post about the film’s message, women’s rights and the kind of sex scenes that resonate. Just like Charlotte, Gyllenhaal is spirited, funny and a delight.
This movie is like Jane Austen with sex toys.
(Laughs) I think that’s what sort of works about it. It’s naturally funny. You have everyone in Victorian England being afraid to show an ankle and then at the same time there are doctors making women [have orgasms] in their offices. The fact that it actually happened is one of those things that’s naturally funny.
I did love that it touched on more serious topics, such as women’s rights.
The way I’ve been thinking about this is, it’s a romantic comedy; there’s lightness about it, there’s a clever pleasure about watching it. Can it hold a really heavy political agenda? No, but it can hold something.
Do you find it depressing that the movie talks about women’s rights over their bodies and over 100 years later we’re still talking about that?
I’m very involved in Planned Parenthood. I’m shocked at how politicized women’s rights over their bodies have become, particularly in this election again, more than 100 years later.
I went to an event a few months ago and usually I try not to talk to the paparazzi magazines. I feel like it’s the only power I have over them. I was doing some interviews and somebody asked me what I thought about Gaddafi and I looked down at the ground and saw they were from Hollywood Gossip Life or something like that and I thought, “You know what? I don’t want to talk about this here because it’s the wrong place.” The substance of what I think about, that is not going to be printed. But one thing I can say — that you can say to anybody and that anybody can get — is that women should have rights over their bodies. I can say it to anybody; I don’t care who hears it or how they write it. It’s not a political issue, as far as I’m concerned.
You seem to do quality projects. Do you ever get offered schlock?
I don’t know if they [don't] offer it to me because they think I won’t be interested or they’re not interested (Laughs). Sometimes, yes, I read things and think, “This is terrible, I couldn’t possibly do this.” I guess maybe because of the recession a lot of the big movie studios have been making movies not about anything and I’m not so interested in that and to be honest, they don’t seem to be so interested in me.
Charlotte is such a great role. She’s not just the “girlfriend” role.
It’s true that she’s the heart, the life. I think what was the most fun about it and the reason I decided to do the movie was I thought it doesn’t really serve this movie to have a really historically accurate portrayal of a Victorian suffragette; it’s not the point of this movie. The politics that Charlotte gets to talk about are extremely simple, expressed in a very simple way and I thought the way to make the movie better and make her more interesting is to have her be as wild as possible, like she could be from another planet. She just has to be so full of life that she’s going to burst. I thought that would be fun to try to do.
The movie opens with a montage of women having orgasms. Aren’t you glad you didn’t have to do that?
No, I didn’t have to do any vibrator stuff and wasn’t around when it was filmed, so I was surprised when I saw the film. I loved being surprised by the response of the audience. Everyone was kind of flushed or a little hysterical. We’re not used to, me included, seeing women have orgasms and use vibrators.
That’s what I’m interested in. I think the film is a really interesting way to explore the realities of sex from a woman’s point of view and if you can do that — when I’ve done it and when I’ve seen it — I think it’s so much more erotic than the kind of, “put on a Victoria’s Secret black demi-bra, be lit perfectly and arch your back” way. I mean that will do something for some people, but it’s not the same as watching a sex scene where you go, “Wow, these people are communicating and they’re actually having sex that reminds me of the way that I have sex.”