Maggie Gyllenhaal co-starred last year in one of the biggest comic-book blockbusters ever, The Dark Knight. But now the actress is venturing from the big-budget Batman franchise to Away We Go, an indie film directed by Sam Mendes.
In the film, Gyllenhaal gets a wildly comic turn as a hippie mom obsessed with going back to basics to raise her kids. And as Parade.com’s Jeanne Wolf found out, Maggie was glad she was a mom herself (raising a three-year-old daughter with Peter Saarsgard, whom she recently married) before taking the part.
Becoming an earth mother.
“Shortly before my daughter was born, I had a fantasy that everything was going to be organic and cloth diapers. I think a lot of people are that way. And then, of course, you actually have a child you have to manage in the real world with all the complications that brings. But the woman I play is really far out when it comes to her ideas of parenting. She’s still nursing her 4-year-old and the whole family sleeps in bed together. I’ve never gone that far.”
Her advice on parenting.
“If I’ve learned anything as a mom with a daughter who’s three, I’ve learned that you cannot judge the way another person is raising their kid. Everybody is just doing the best they can. It’s hard to be a mom. I can relate to the anxieties of having other people tell you what to do.”
The one essential for a Big Apple mom.
“I had a stroller from the beginning. You can’t function without a stroller in New York. Thank God for my stroller. When my daughter was born, we were sent all sorts of strollers by these stroller companies because that’s one of the perks of being an actor. And so we kind of tried all of them and it was sort of like picking out your first car. We have one that is lightweight and easy to fold. I’m good with a stroller, like those moms who know how to click ‘em and close ‘em just before they jump on the subway.”
Mothering on and off the set.
“I don’t know if I could have done the movie if I wasn’t a mother. I had to comfort a crying 11-month-old baby. If I hadn’t been able to pull it off, we would have wasted a lot of film time. So I thought, ‘Thank God, I know what to do.’ Then I’d go home to my own baby daughter. So I felt like I was just doing non-stop mothering.”
Getting back to work.
“I found it very difficult to decide to do anything after my daughter was born. But I finally figured out that, as an actress, there are some things you just can’t say no to. I just thought, ‘How can I not work with Sam Mendes? I have to do Away We Go. But I like to take my daughter with me and it’s much easier when you’re doing a big studio blockbuster like The Dark Knight because there’s a lot of just sitting around in your trailer. When you’re doing a tiny indie film, you’re working so hard you just don’t have any time. You work a lot harder.”
The battle she keeps on fighting.
“Not smoking is a never-ending struggle. You put a cigarette to your mouth, you light it, and you know that you’re hurting yourself. I did it at least 10 times a day and my throat hurt, my voice was gone, but I still was attracted to it. It’s the same thing as dating someone who’s not great for you, or staying up all night before you have something really important to do the next day. It’s something that we all do, and I’m not exactly clear as to why we do it.”
Bonding with Emma Thompson.
“I’m in London now shooting Nanny McPhee and The Big Bang with Emma Thompson, which has been amazing. We both brought our daughters to the set. I’m in love with her. She’s kind of a goddess, I think. I also made Crazy Heart, which I think is probably my favorite movie I’ve ever done. Jeff Bridges plays a country singer and I play a journalist, and we have an ill-fated and wild love affair. It was a small film and it took a lot out of me, but it was worth it.”
Note to actors who settled for a high-school education.
“I am so glad I went to college. I mean, I thank God for that. I learned that my ideas were worth something. That I could articulate what it was I wanted to say. That I could listen. That I could change my ideas. That I could convince someone of something I thought was important. And all of those skills are incredibly important if you’re actress.”