Weeks before the birth of her second daughter, Gloria, Maggie Gyllenhaal is, quite literally, barefoot and pregnant.
She kicks her feet up, makes herself comfortable on a couch, and smiles a bit distractedly. She’s got baby brain and has been nesting at home.
“I tried to get a little dressed up today for this,” says Gyllenhaal, dressed in loose black pants and a top. “I find that my brain is a little slower pregnant.”
Now, Gyllenhaal is trying to switch from parenting to promotional mode to talk up her new movie, Hysteria, opening Friday. In the story of how the vibrator was created, Gyllenhaal, 34, plays a women’s rights activist in Victorian London. Her character, Charlotte, is pugnacious, demanding and non-conformist, something Gyllenhaal relished playing.
“Charlotte is kind of a fantasy, a woman’s fantasy of a woman. I wish I could be that brave and be that sure of myself.
“There’s a part of her that’s so strident that she misses some subtleties. She’s shut herself off from love, and I haven’t done that. She likes to cause chaos, she wants to shake it up, and that’s always an appealing quality to see in someone.”
Plus, Charlotte was without question ahead of her time, Gyllenhaal says. “The things she says are what we all believe to be the truth: that an orgasm makes a woman feel good.”
Gyllenhaal is taking a break for the summer, to be home with her newborn, her daughter, Ramona, 5, and her husband, actor Peter Sarsgaard. Eventually, she’ll go back to work on HBO’s version of Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections, playing another deeply passionate woman.
“Denise is such an interesting character. She changes so much. You think she’s one thing and she becomes another thing. She’s so relatable. It’s so cool to play a chef. She’s very sexual, and food and sex are all combined for her.”
She’s also unsure about what it means to have another child, and how the new addition will affect her life.
“I’m curious to see how much I remember about nursing and changing diapers. About all of it. I have no idea how to do it with two. Having children is the most humbling thing you can do.”
And even though Gyllenhaal and Sarsgaard live a privileged life in New York City, she struggles with the same questions any working mother faces. Can you do it all? And if so, how?
“Peter was joking with me the other day. He said, ‘How are either of us ever going to work, ever?’ We’ve figured out pretty well how to do it with one. At first we would take her with us. Now she’s in kindergarten and it’s important that she’s settled. I wouldn’t take her out for any old thing.”
Sarsgaard will be directing his first feature film, Born to Run, based on the non-fiction work of Christopher McDougall about Tarahumara Indians.
And yes, his wife would happily sign on.
“He and I work so well together, talking about drafts, about the script, talking about casting. I’d do whatever he wanted. I really enjoy talking with him about projects and helping him think things through.
“Artistically we’re a good combination. I love acting with him. My experience acting with him is on stage, and I love it, but I don’t know how we’ll do that for a long time.
“It means neither of us is home to put the kids to bed.”