Maggie Gyllenhaal Knows How to ‘Do the Work, Then Throw It Away’

by Ashley Morton

The actor sat down at the 2018 Vulture Festival to discuss her major projects, including The Deuce, and how she continues to learn.


“In order to be a good actor, you have to have a point of view about the scene and the character you’re playing,” Maggie Gyllenhaal told moderator Stacey Wilson Hunt at the 2018 Vulture Festival. The panel, “Maggie Gyllenhaal in Five Acts,” kicked off with a clip reel of the Oscar and Emmy-nominated actor’s five most memorable pieces of work: films Secretary (2002), Sherrybaby (2006) and Crazy Heart; (2009), and TV series The Honourable Woman (2014) and HBO’s The Deuce (2017). The selection of scenes made a clear statement: Maggie Gyllenhaal doesn’t pick the easy roles.

The discussion began with why Gyllenhaal stayed off the rom-com track, and whether Hollywood had told her she didn’t fit the mold of “pretty Hollywood starlet.” Her interests, Gyllenhaal admitted, have never been for the obvious stories. “My taste, when left to my own devices, might be to the side,” she said, confiding she still has trouble getting the projects she wants made. “These were roles where [being pretty] was not the point,” the actor said of the five scenes that just unspooled.

Earning recognition for her work could be a mixed blessing. Often, what she received was offers to play the same type. “And then out of the blue,” she marvelled, “there’ll be somebody who goes, ‘Actually I don’t know if you know this about yourself but you need to play this.’”

What’s helped, said Gyllenhaal, is having a strong point of view, acknowledging it can be difficult to muster when you’re still young.

“I learned how to use my mind, where I am as a person right now, and the fiction of the piece I'm doing to make my heart and brain bigger.”
— Maggie Gyllenhaal

“I learned how to work when I was 35,” she said. “I learned how to sit with a script, and take the time, not just learn your lines.” She explained her process: “I learned how to use my mind, where I am as a person right now, and the fiction of the piece I’m doing to make my heart and brain bigger.”

That being said, the actor also leaves room for error and discovery. “Just yesterday, I walked onto the set of The Deuce and I was like, ‘I know for sure this’ and I was completely wrong,” she revealed. “On The Honorable Woman I learned how to work, and on The Kindergarten Teacher and the end of The Deuce Season 1, I learned how to really throw it away. I did the work, I did the thinking, and now I don’t know where we’re going to go.”

Speaking to The Deuce, and the clip shown — from “What Kind of Bad” [Season 1, Episode 5] where Gyllenhaal’s character, Candy, gives herself an orgasm after her date is unable to — Hunt asked the actor to speak to her feelings about sex on film. Gyllenhaal made the point that it’s always interesting, as long as it’s part of the scene.

“I love that scene because it’s a communication of something,” she elaborated. “It’s political, emotional, it’s new. It’s an expression of so many things that are important to me... Sex sometimes is a way of communicating things that can’t be communicated any other way, both in life and on film.”

She admitted, however, that after several episodes, she did grow tired of sex scenes but she put the frustration into her work: “I think that’s how Candy felt: ‘I’m f**king over it, and I want to be behind the camera; I believe there’s another way to get what I need.’” Gyllenhaal herself is starting to look at the seat behind the camera, having recently shadowed Deuce director Uta Briesewitz while filming a recent episode.

The Deuce marks the first time Gyllenhaal has returned to a character, with the added intrigue that she’s a different person and artist than when she first signed on to the show. “In our show the first season is 1971 and the second is 1978-79, so the changes and the shifts in who I am can work great in terms of who Candy is. But I’m finding myself in a kind of transition.”

All episodes of The Deuce Season 1 and 2 are now available to stream.

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