In her own estimation, Maggie Gyllenhaal tends to play women undergoing an awakening. And that's especially true of her character in The Kindergarten Teacher, which premiered last week at Sundance Film Festival. Gyllenhaal's Lisa is a frustrated educator with artistic aspirations, who becomes inspired and obsessed when one of her students reveals himself to be a prodigious poet. She's knocked out of the monotony of her life, certainly, but her desire to foster his talent leads to a spate of irrational decisions.
On how The Kindergarten Teacher was influenced by Donald Trump:
"It’s about a woman who is fundamentally awake and wants to be alive—she’s an artist and nobody cares about her work. She doesn’t have any kind of artistic connection or human connection, and she’s driven crazy by the insanity of the culture and the time she finds herself in. (She lives in the same time that we do.)
When I read—and was so moved by—the script, Trump had not yet been elected. I think Trump’s election was, for a lot of women, and a lot of people, kind of a wake up call. And yet the things that that we needed to wake up to were true even before Trump was elected. So I read the script, I responded to it, and when we made the movie last summer, the pain and shock of everything Trump was talking about—in particular in terms of women—was a part of my process. I’ve played a lot of women who you meet right as they can’t go on any longer in the way they were—they have to wake up, and the audience watches the different ways that they do so. That’s really interesting to me and true here for Lisa, except the ways she chooses are really off track."
On the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements:
"I think if there was more gender equality at the highest levels, things would be very different. I've been thinking a lot about this, and I feel like a five-minute interview or a red carpet is not really the place to talk about this incredibly complicated issue that’s very important to me. And I’ve had some really interesting conversations with friends of mine, with colleagues of mine. But honestly my visceral emotional politics about gender equality and where we are in the world right now are in my movie."
On the #TimesUp protest on the Golden Globes red carpet:
"I was a part of organizing it. One of the things I thought was amazing about it was that all of these actresses—some of whom are much younger, some of whom are much older, many of whom are my contemporaries, who most of the time are in competition with each other—joined together, all of us in one room, many people saying very smart, interesting things. We raised money for a legal defense fund to pay for women in all sorts of industries who need legal protection. So, that’s amazing, right? And I have said, and I have tweeted, 'I am a feminist for due process.' I hope that this energy, and this anger, and this pain, and this hopefulness can turn into something that is codified.
But at the Golden Globes I found it difficult to discuss this because my feelings about it are very, very complicated, and the conversations that have been most exciting to me are ones that have gone on for 45 minutes. I found it difficult on a red carpet to respond to questions about how I was feeling in a way that felt honest to me. But like I said, it’s in my movie. It’s also in The Deuce. The Deuce is about misogyny, and it's about how we use sex as currency."
On how to bring more female voices to the screen:
"To be honest, I don’t have a lot of control over what happens on the big budget studio level. I wish I had more, but I think all of us actresses together do have some power in terms of little movies like this one. What's so interesting about this movie is it’s almost entirely made by women—but that wasn’t an exercise or something. It was that Sara Colangelo wrote a script which was incredibly compelling to women. And so we just kind of were drawn to it like a magnet.
I don’t think you can say: 'I’m going to only make movies written and directed by women,' because some movies won’t be good, then. It’s only going to work if the movies are really good. You have to go with your gut and your taste, and choose projects that are compelling. I think we've gotten used to, as women, seeing that in any given film or television project, only 30 percent of it is relatable to us, or is a genuine expression of our experience. And we’re like, 'Cool, 30 percent is great,' and we fit ourselves into that 30 percent. When I'm presented with something that one-hundred percent feels like it's asking to be expressed in a feminine way, in a way that feels real to me, it's so compelling."