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August 15, 2006

Truly, Deeply, Maggie Gyllenhaal

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Gyllenhaal's heartbreaking performance in Sherrybaby as a troubled ex-con trying to reconnect with her daughter premiered at the Sundance Film Festival to accolades. "Maggie has the ability to take a character who is making bad choices, doing nasty things, and make her appealing," says Laurie Collyer, the film's director. Meanwhile, the hotly anticipated World Trade Center gives Gyllenhaal a dramatic turn as a worried and sympathetic wife, based on a real person. "I was immediately drawn to it," she says. "Everyone who read the script said they cried."

Gyllenhaal is at the tipping point of fame, with all the good and bad that comes with newfound celebrity. With the career of her fiancé, actor Peter Sarsgaard, also on the upswing, the couple, who have been together nearly five years, are now tabloid fodder. "The paparazzi know where we live. Ten of them will just follow us down the street as we do nothing interesting at all," she says. "Pick up dry cleaning, get coffee." The attention makes her self-conscious. "It's odd to have people take your picture. I'll think, Did I look okay? I didn't think about what I was wearing, is it all right? I should say, 'I don't care.'"

Gyllenhaal grew up in Los Angeles with movie-industry parents, but she's not used to this kind of scrutiny. Her dad, Stephen Gyllenhaal, is a director (Paris Trout), and her mother, Naomi Foner, is a screenwriter (Running on Empty). "They're a very close family," says director Doug McGrath, a family friend. "They're obsessed with politics, not showbiz." Says Gyllenhaal: "My parents weren't superstars. They made smaller movies." She used to visit her folks on movie sets and get the occasional walk-on with a line of dialogue. "I never liked it," she says, adding that her father once got her a job on a film set making snacks for the cast. "I got $50, but I had something to do, and I felt better." It was an acting class at age 11 that changed her mind. "I just felt like I was really good at it; it felt like really deep daydreaming," she says.

Ask her whether she and Jake have any sibling rivalry, and it's the only time she turns momentarily cranky. "I'm so bored with that question," she says. "I have a brother, we fight sometimes, we support each other." She finds it helpful to compare notes with Jake about their childhoods. "As you get older and start to look at things that are 'broken' about your parents — everybody's parents have those things — it's nice to have someone else to ask, 'Am I crazy? Or was this crazy?' Jake is very good at figuring that stuff out," she says.

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