Mega Maggie Gyllenhaal
Once the queen of quirky indie movies, The Dark Knight star Maggie Gyllenhaal braces for the highs and surprising lows of blockbuster-size fame.
By Meryl Gordon
Photo Credit: Mark Abrahams
For her breakthrough role as a kinky office assistant in 2002's Secretary, Maggie Gyllenhaal earned $65,000 for a performance that required her to be spanked and deliver mail on all fours. The budget was so low for her star turn as a troubled ex-convict in Sherrybaby (2006) that she didn't have a trailer; the crew carried around a hospital cot so she could take catnaps between scenes. Now, the onetime indie queen finds herself squarely in Hollywood blockbuster territory, playing Batman's girlfriend in The Dark Knight budget $180 million where there are as many pitfalls as perks. Consider: Suddenly, she's a target for the fashion police.
"Oh, my God, all the time," says Gyllenhaal, her voice rising. After she wore a sweeping purple Peter Som gown to the Metropolitan Museum Costume Institute gala last May, her photo appeared on a "worst dressed" Website accompanied by vicious put-downs from bloggers. "I thought I looked great," she says. "Sometimes it freaks me out. I've been so hurt and felt so bad." But with extra star wattage from her actor fiancé, Peter Sarsgaard, and her famous younger brother, Jake, she knows that everything about her is considered fair game now more than ever. "People will always say mean things about you if you put yourself out there," she says and she has never been one to hold back.
"Maggie's got a lot of sass," says Aaron Eckhart, who stars as the disfigured vigilante Two-Face in The Dark Knight. He starts to laugh as he adds, "She has very strong opinions on acting and things outside moviemaking. She's not afraid to speak her mind."
On this sunny afternoon at the cozy restaurant Savoy, a Soho mainstay, Gyllenhaal, who has come directly from her 8-year-old niece's dance recital, is dressed full fashion alert for comfort, in sandals, blue jeans, a gray jersey wrap top, a Miu Miu red cardigan sweater, an antique diamond engagement ring, and a gold necklace with her 22-month-old daughter Ramona's name engraved on a tiny angel pendant. Tall and slender, she has a throaty voice and a lopsided smile. It has become de rigueur for anorectic actresses to consume big meals when dining with reporters to prove they do eat, but Gyllenhaal does not appear to be acting when she digs into a plate of pork sausage.
When I first met Gyllenhaal two years ago, she was very pregnant and house-hunting. Today she's deep into motherhood and renovating the 1860s brownstone she owns with Sarsgaard ("We made every mistake you can make"). Gyllenhaal who's been cool with playing tortured characters and graphic sex scenes admits that it took her a while to adjust to the mommy role. "I've spent all my time learning how to be a mother and make a home with a child," she says, adding that when Ramona was first born, "I didn't know what I was doing. It's so hard and requires so much work and careful thought. You just get stronger and stronger."
She thinks a lot about the kind of example she wants to set for her daughter, a topic she frequently hashes out in therapy. "For me it's about getting to know my own mind," she says of regularly seeing a shrink. "It makes it easier to grow, and to grow up. I'm always thinking about what I want to take from my mother and what I don't."
Gyllenhaal was raised in a close-knit baby-boomer household in California with politically active parents (her father, Stephen, is a director; her mother, Naomi Foner, a screenwriter). "They were not celebrities," she notes, which allowed her and Jake to have tabloid-free childhoods. Born in 1977, she came of age with the impression that it wasn't important to wear makeup, nor was it OK to manipulate people with her feminine wiles. "I always felt there was something dishonest about dyeing your hair to make it more beautiful," Gyllenhaal says although she's over that now.
See behind-the-scenes pics from Maggie's photo shoot here
Her mother accompanied her during the filming of The Dark Knight to help out with the baby. "She's been incredible," Gyllenhaal says. "She's been there whenever I needed her." Yet Gyllenhaal is newly aware of how her own worldview was shaped by having a feminist working mother. "I was not taught how to run a home, and I don't think Peter was either. My mother worked, and we had babysitters. She taught me that I can do anythingthat I'm smart, I'm powerfuland I am so grateful, but I have a big gap in the homemaking area. My mom gave me great books, and taught me about politics. These were incredibly important things she gave me. But," she adds with an affectionate laugh, "she didn't moisturize."