Maggie Gyllenhaal


Interviewed by Tom Dawson

The daughter of director Stephen Gyllenhaal and sister of "Donnie Darko" star Jake, 24-year-old Maggie Gyllenhaal has had small roles in both "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind" and "Adaptation.". She gets her first lead in US indie "Secretary", as the shy, self-harming woman who becomes empowered by an S&M relationship with her male boss, James Spader.

What was your initial response to the script for "Secretary"?

I knew immediately that it was a smart movie with a political agenda, that it was intended to be transgressive and to push something forward. I wasn't completely trusting that a director I had never heard of before was going to have the same intentions that I had. In the wrong hands, the script could easily be an anti-feminist reactionary movie, and that my character Lee could be this male fantasy that gets off on being submissive.

So how did the director, Steven Shainberg, persuade you to take the role?

It was clear from my first audition that we could communicate and that he was smart and a real thinking person, which was comforting to me. But I still wasn't sure about the film. The thing that pushed me over the edge was that I asked him what he wanted the message of the movie to be, and he said, "Listen Maggie, I don't know what I'm going to say. If I knew what I was trying to say, I wouldn't have to make it. I know what I want to explore, though." I was so moved by that, I decided to do it. .

What was the toughest scene in the film for you as an actress?

Things like the spanking scene with James Spader, I felt so protected and I was really trusting of James and Steve [Shainberg]. So I felt excited and curious the way my character felt. Logistically, the scene in the pool was really hard. I had to take my contact lenses out so I couldn't see, I was wearing all my clothes and my shoes, and I was holding a weight so I could stay at the bottom. That really flipped my mum out when she was shown some of the dailies.

"Secretary" has an interesting take on the process of self-transformation. It seems to happen to your character Lee almost accidentally...

I agree with you that it is almost accidental. It's like she falls into something. She's moved by Mr Grey [James Spader] from the second she meets him. She finds herself changing and goes with it because it feels good. She's such an innocent she doesn't have the tools to judge it. But there comes a point when she says that, "This isn't enough for me." And he has to respond to that in some way.