Where her Heart lies...

She has been part of several mega Hollywood projects including The Dark Knight, but Maggie Gyllenhaal says she enjoys doing small indie movies like her latest flick Crazy Heart

MAGGIE GYLLENHAAL HAS acted in the biggest of big movies — The Dark Knight (2008), anybody? — but she’s most at home in the smallest of the small, the quirky likes of Donnie Darko (2001), Secretary (2002), Sherrybaby (2005), Away We Go (2009) and her latest film, Crazy Heart.

“I am more comfortable in the indie films,” Gyllenhaal says. “I feel like it’s how I learned how to work. It’s how I learned best, shooting quickly, at least a scene in the day. I’m better with two scenes a day. Sure, maybe we’ll shoot five scenes a day — that is a little bit too fast, but I like that. I like having to incorporate all the things that get thrown at you, which you have to do less of when you work on a big movie. I do better work, I think, so far anyway, in this kind of intense, fast way.

“But I have done a lot of studio movies,” she adds. “Stranger than Fiction (2006) was pretty big. Mona Lisa Smile (2003) was pretty big. The thing that was cool about Batman, that was really, really notable, was that everybody in every department was an expert, which is not usually the case on a tiny movie. Whether you like the style of the movie or not, the people who are doing sound have done a million movies, down to every department. They’re probably not going to make a silly mistake.

“When you work on a small movie, people sometimes do make silly mistakes,” she continues. “And you have to be forgiving. You have to kind of go, ‘Right, you’re learning. Me too. We all are. It’s OK.’ And what’s funny about that is that usually, in a small movie, a little silly mistake can set you back massively.”

Now in limited release, Crazy Heart brings together two lonely people desperate for a human connection. Jeff Bridges stars as Bad Blake, a has-been country singer reduced to playing bowling alleys. He drinks too much, smokes too much and is one chilli dog away from a heart attack, but he still can sing. Gyllenhaal plays Jean, a much-younger journalist and single mom. Bad and Jean begin a bittersweet romance, one that’s fuelled by mutual attraction, alcohol, bad judgment and the promise of redemption.

Gyllenhaal, who lives in New York with her husband, actor Peter Sarsgaard, and their three-year-old daughter, Ramona, describes the film, written and directed by Scott Cooper, as a love story about real people.

“I think it happens in the way that real love stories happen,” the actress says. “Someone said to me, ‘Oh, it’s so fast the way they get together.’ Well, that’s the fantasy, I think, especially when it’s maybe a little bit of a mistake or you’re not sure, and ‘Was that OK? Was that not OK?’ It happens like that.

“Also, how many people have you been with in your life where it’s a little bit right and a little bit not right?,” she adds. “I think that’s every relationship. I feel like that’s very true in this — and compassionate, too, because they are people who are not doing so well. The movie is very compassionate towards them.

“I love that about movies, where they can find some compassion for people who are struggling,” Gyllenhaal says. “If you watch a movie about that, you can practice having compassion for people who are much more closely connected to you (in real life), where it could be a little more difficult to have compassion for them.”

Gyllenhaal’s oversized eyes brighten when she discusses Bridges. She admits that it was nearly impossible for her to separate the actor from his charismatic character.

“You can’t,” she says. “He’s very appealing. I think she was starving for something, something for her. I don’t think it could have been anybody. I think she’s open when she goes into it. I don’t think she’s open to sleeping with him, but I think she’s just desperate for something that feels good to her.

“And also, why does anyone fall in love with anyone?,” Gyllenhaal continues. “The circumstances of this movie are that, unless these two people really fall in love and you believe the depth of their love for each other, then who cares about the movie? So I knew that and Jeff knew that, and so we had to play people who fell in love. I don’t know why exactly.

“I mean, I think he is Jeff Bridges,” she says. “He is alive. And I think she’s willing to not look at all sorts of things. But, God, haven’t you been in relationships like that, where you were just not willing to see things? That’s what this movie is about.”

Up next for Gyllenhaal is Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang, a sequel to the comedy/fantasy family film Nanny McPhee (2005). Emma Thompson once again has penned the script and reprises her role as a caretaker with a magic touch, while Gyllenhaal co-stars as a harried young mother who needs Nanny McPhee’s help in the worst way.

As unlikely as it seems, Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang, which will open in March, will be the 32-year-old Gyllenhaal’s 33rd film. These days she discusses her life and her work with confidence, but that wasn’t always the case. Secretary came out of the blue, putting Gyllenhaal on the map, thrusting her into the public eye and creating expectations, and it all took some getting used to.

“God, I was a little afraid of all of the attention when it came with Secretary,” the actress admits. “It was very surprising to me, and I was a little unsure about it. I’m less afraid of it as I get older and I understand it better, how to manage it, but at the same time I was thinking, ‘What I aspire to and what I like in movies and what I want.’

“To be in a movie like this, with Jeff Bridges and Robert Duvall, to be the woman in that movie, that is what I want,” she says. “Sissy Spacek came to the premiere. I sat and talked with her for 20 minutes, and she got it and she loved it. I thought, ‘What else do I want?’

“Scott Cooper will tell you that he wanted to make a movie that kind of felt like a ‘70s movie,” Gyllenhaal says. “Those are the movies I love. Partially they’re the movies I love because of those actresses, Ellen Burstyn and Sissy Spacek and Gena Rowlands and Meryl Streep, all those people.

“That’s what I love and I felt like, in a way, just being in the same movie as Robert Duvall, I feel a little bit closer to that.”

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