FROM her breakthrough role in the stylish sadomasochism drama Secretary to the grimly gripping Batman sequel, The Dark Knight, Maggie Gyllenhaal has proved time and again she’s got a keen eye for a critical hit.
But good taste is apparently not genetic.
“My daughter loves these Cinderella and Rapunzel books which someone gave us,” she says of Ramona, her three-year-old daughter with actor husband Peter Sarsgaard (An Education). The couple married in Italy in May last year.
“I hate reading them to her. They’re modern retellings and they’re not about anything. But it’s a complicated one – it’s up to her what she wants to read before she goes to sleep.”
At home – a brownstone in low-key Brooklyn, worlds away from the grand Beverly Hills hotel suite in Los Angeles where we meet – Disney cartoons aren’t normally allowed.
“But when she sees them, she loves them,” sighs the New York-born but LA-raised actor.
“She’s hook, line and sinker. She loves pink and sparkles, my high heeled shoes and make-up. It’s OK. You’ve got to pick your battles. But I do think it’s important to think about the movies that our kids watch, and what those stories are saying.”
The lack of good stories for kids is one of the reasons she signed up for her latest film, Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang. Set during World War II, it’s a sequel to the children’s film starring and written by Emma Thompson.
Gyllenhaal plays Mrs Green, a harried working mother left to look after a farm and three rowdy kids while her husband (played by Rhys Ifans, The Boat That Rocked) is off at war. Thompson plays Nanny McPhee, the magical nanny who appears when she’s wanted the least and needed the most.
Despite a nearly two-decade age gap – Gyllenhaal is 32, Thompson, 50, – they are now firm friends.
“I really do admire her,” she says. “She said to me the other day that I understood what she was saying before she’d finished a sentence. It’s really true.”
Thompson gave her some acting advice while they were filming.
“I told her afterwards, if another actor had done that, I would have felt like, f— you!” she laughs. “But because it was Emma, I was like, ‘Yes, anything you want!’ ”
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