MAGGIE GYLLENHAAL was nominated for a Golden Globe for her role as a submissive secretary to a sadistic boss in the film Secretary.
At a point when sadomasochism is being explored in the best-selling novel Fifty Shades Of Grey, the Hollywood actress is now starring in yet another risqué film. She plays a women’s rights activist in Hysteria, a romantic comedy out next month about the invention of the vibrator.
Maggie, 34, who is married to Swedish actor Peter Sarsgaard and has two young daughters, told GARTH PEARCE how much she admires her mother.
“MY mum Naomi taught me that protection of her daughter, at all costs, is what counts.
“She was always ferocious against anyone who attacked me. It went on even to my adulthood.
“When I appeared in the film Secretary, with its strong sadomasochistic themes, she could have been horrified.
“But she ended up protecting me against Gloria Steinem (the American feminist) who wrote in the New York Times that the movie glorified pornography. She wrote back, defending it.
“My mum came from an older generation of feminists and had moved forward in a way in which Gloria Steinem had not.
“That does not mean to say she let me go into the movie without questions being asked.
“She was very wary of the director of Secretary and asked me: “What the f*** is going on?”
“But she respected that I wanted to keep the content of that film to myself. Unlike my brother, Jake, (Brokeback Mountain star Jake Gyllenhaal) who invites all his friends to visit his movie sets, I can’t stand having anyone I know around when I am acting. It would not — and does not — feel right.
“My mother wrote scripts (she was Oscar-nominated for Running On Empty) and my father, Stephen, directed films.
“So they both know the problems with films which focus on sex — and were concerned for me. When my mum watched Secretary, which is a complicated, hard movie, she did so while giving me total support. That meant everything.
“She is not puritanical, nor has she ever given me a lecture on morals. She came with me to the film’s launch at the Deauville Festival in France and met the director, Steven Shainberg.
“Her attitude was: “This guy is the first to give my daughter a chance and he’s going to be a friend of mine.”
“I had been turned down for parts in the past because I was not conventionally pretty or sexy enough.
“I remained tough on the outside and would say things like, “You must have a boring idea of what beautiful or sexy is.”
“On the inside, of course, that’s a tough thing to hear.
“It was my mum who convinced me I was both pretty and sexy so I had the strength to deal with those criticisms.
“She had also taught me that Hollywood is not glamorous. It can be wonderful but it can also be hurtful and tough.
“This is why I am probably more interested in political issues (Maggie campaigns for human rights) and enjoy working for charities. My career took off after Secretary. With Hysteria, it’s about the invention of a sex toy in Victorian England which was used by doctors on women. It is controversial but also fun and historically accurate.
“I was not shocked. Don’t forget the script for Secretary was sent to me by my agent with a note which warned: “You might be appalled.”
“I read it and saw my boss had to smack my bare bottom in one scene. So that really did concentrate the mind.
“Mum did not judge us when we were growing up. She had an artistic approach to life, which I admire. It made me feel relaxed about love. I found that being in love was important to me. I always felt happier when in love.
“I had the same boyfriend for five years before Secretary came out in 2002.
“I think we were involved in a young way, fantasising about what it was like to be in love and trying to live up to it.
“I had great times, too, when I was single and searching.
“I did not find many people who I was interested in, to be honest. Only a couple captured me, in the sense that I wanted to know more about them.
“My husband? We met at a dinner party. He did not know who I was but I knew his work a little bit. It was love at first sight, for me. I just wanted to be alone with him.
“As for being a mother myself, I will support and protect my girls as my own mum did with myself. I have been set a fine example.”