BY ELISABETH SEREDA
With her mini series The Honourable Woman about to start airing on the Sundance Channel, Maggie Gyllenhaal talks about the impact the story and the shoot had on her. The HFPA met with the actress during the Sundance Film Festival, when the production was still putting the finishing touches on the seven-parter.
„I really had never worked on anything that I’ve been more excited about in my life, ever. It was heaven. The scripts were phenomenal, like nothing I’d ever read before in my life,” says an exuberant Maggie Gyllenhaal in the downstairs salon of the Stein Eriksen Lodge where the sun is setting behind the snow covered ski slopes of the Wasatch Mountains.
She is dressed in pastel colors, her look more hippie than member of the House of Lords, which she plays in the series. „It’s about a woman who was raised in London and whose father was an Israeli gun runner billionaire. He was killed in front of her and her brother when they were kids. So when they get older they inherit his foundation and decide to subvert what he was doing. Instead of running arms, they lay communication cable, fiber optics for computers and internet between Israel and Palestine. She becomes this really powerful symbol of peace. And she is trying to broker peace in a way that is completely uncompromised.”
The Honourable Woman is a political thriller involving the United States, the UK and other countries, and the story takes on the MI6, the CIA and the FBI. There are kidnappings, rapes and murders. The format of the mini series affords the film makers the luxury of time, and a professionalism Gyllenhaal did not expect: „Usually in television you read an episode, then you get the next episode and they are figuring it out as they go along. In this case we had it all written before it began, and it’s exquisite in the way it is written.,” she says.
“It’s so structured that I could be as wild and unusual as I wanted within that structure, which was heaven because I had a director who was confident enough in the script that he wanted to see how far the character could go. And look, I have never read or played or explored a woman like this before. I never had seven hours.“
Gyllenhaal describes her character, Nessa Stein, as conflicted as the relationship between Israel and Palestine: „That is a backdrop for this woman to explore very similar conflicts in herself. She feels responsible for what her father was doing. He was killing people. She inherited that guilt and those crimes, and she is trying to right them. But it’s not as simple as laying communication cables between countries. This woman feels so much more than I do, but through her I have become more alive. But it’s Greek, the stuff that happens to her. It’s like Medea.”
Maggie Gyllenhaal’s eyes are sparkling and she can hardly contain herself: „This is the first time I am talking about this, so please forgive me. But I’ve been never been anywhere near a project like this one! I am a totally different person for having done it.” She explains: „There is no right way to live, there’s no such thing as an honourable woman. Nessa is figuring this out as she goes deeper into who she is, and I had similar experiences in my life. When I was younger I thought I knew what good was and now in my thirties I see that it’s much more complicated than I ever thought. And sexier and darker and way more interesting!”
She laughs. „I never used to watch TV. But this script was so good. I’m reading this and going, ‘I don’t care if it’s TV or not, it’s really special.’ And my husband (Peter Sarsgard), who did The Killing, pointed out how great it is to be able to go deeper with the character because you have no time constraints.” Gyllenhaal became a believer. And not only as an actor but also as a consumer. She now is an addict of certain TV-series: „I love Girls. I feel like I was those girls. And I like Ray Donovan. Love Downton Abbey, but that’s like crack. And no, I haven’t seen Homeland. I’ve only seen one episode of Scandal. She’s hot,” she says, referring to Kerry Washington.
As a viewer she is hooked; as an actor she hopes to have a future in television: „I drunkenly told Hugo Blick, the director, at the wrap party that I am in work-love with him. In September I am doing the Tom Stoppard play The Real Thing on Broadway with Ewan McGregor, but then I’d like to do a project with Hugo again. I want to do something awesome, because where do you go after an experience like this?!”