Hugh Dancy and Maggie Gyllenhaal in 'Hysteria'. Photo: Liam Daniel, courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
Maggie Gyllenhaal has been in small, indie flicks (Secretary), Oscar bait (Crazy Heart), and blockbusters (The Dark Knight), but Hysteria is the first time she’s been in a film about vibrators. The story follows a Victorian-era doctor as he comes up with a device to help women, and ironically he’s not the one who is considered a menace to society—instead, it’s Gyllenhaal’s character, Charlotte Dalrymple, the outspoken crusader for women’s and children’s rights. With her own family growing—her second child Gloria was born last month—Gyllenhaal sat down with ELLE.com to talk about how becoming a mother has affected her choice in films, and why she’s not turned on by most movie sex scenes.
ELLE: This isn’t the first time you’re starring in a film that deals with female sexuality. What’s the draw for you?
Maggie Gyllenhaal: I think everybody’s interested in sex and sexuality. I think it’s a part of being human, and film is an interesting place to explore that, especially because I think sex has been explored in film in a way that’s very unreal and very much based in fantasy. When I see sex scenes in movies that are real and free, like my own experience of sex, they’re so much sexier. I guess it’s a nod of subtle feminism to be able to express it from a woman’s points of view what real sex is like—where it isn’t like you’re wearing a black demi-cup Victoria’s Secret bra and it’s lit perfectly and you’re arching your back—it’s not like that!
ELLE: What was your initial reaction when you first heard about Hysteria?
MG: I was curious. It came to me through the producer of Crazy Heart, and it was right after we had done all the Oscar stuff and we had been around each other a lot. I trusted her because we had a good experience together on that movie, and she says, “This is a great script, and it happens to be about the invention of the vibrator—which happened to take place in 1880s London.” And I thought, “Oh it did? That was when the vibrator was invented?” The script itself I thought was excellent—really, really smart and really well-crafted.
ELLE: Did you relate to Charlotte at all?
MG: Everyone keeps asking me would I have been like Charlotte if I lived back then. And the truth is, no, I wouldn’t have. I would have loved to imagine that I would have been like her, but it wouldn’t have been possible. You wouldn’t have been able to survive. Would I have been okay in a Victorian prison? No, probably not!
ELLE: Is it difficult to find films with really great, strong female leads?
MG: It’s so funny, there are so few good movies being made these days, so when there’s a good one, everybody wants to do it. Think about the actresses who you think are good; so many of them play strong, female, sexual, interesting characters. And all of us are like, “I’ll do that one!” Because there are so few. But I do find that there are a few actresses who are my age who I really respect and admire. I find as I get older, even though there’s some level of competition, it gets divided up pretty evenly. Like, “Oh that one she’s gonna do, and this one I’m gonna do.” You go through different phases of being more wanted or less wanted, but I find it kind of goes up and down and shifts and [is] based on things that are kind of out of your control!
ELLE: Have you gotten pickier about the roles you take now that you have a family?
MG: Not in terms of, oh, I wouldn’t do Sherrybaby now because I have kids and it would be inappropriate. But I do think that it’s not worth it to take my family to Romania to do something [just] okay. Whereas maybe if I had no kids, I’d go, I can do something with this. My daughter’s in kindergarten now; if someone asked me to go to Romania, I’d have to put her in school or take a tutor. I mean, you have to send your kid to first grade! I do consider now how it works with my life and how it works with my husband’s life and career. But both of us want to support each other to do things that are really great, you know? I do think that there’s something about being 25 and thinking, I’m just going to be as hardcore as I can possibly be.