Maggie’s first time

Thirty years have passed since 15-year-old Maggie Gyllenhaal made her debut in Waterlanddirected by his father Stephen, a professional director with at least a couple of films to remember in his career (The black heart of Paris Trout, A dangerous woman). Best of all, it’s been twenty since she charmed the Sundance Film Festival with her mesmerizing performance in Secretary, in which she plays a woman who frees herself by discovering the pleasure of being submissive and the power that comes with it. In Italy it was released on April 4, 2003, we take it as a sign that The dark daughterMaggie’s behind-the-camera debut, will be released on April 7th.

Based on the novel of the same name by Elena Ferrante, the film – starring Olivia Colman, as opposed to a Dakota Johnson of Renaissance beauty – is a reflection on being a woman and on motherhood that debuted at the 78th Venice Film Festival, winning the Osella for the best script. It was the beginning of an Awards Season that saw the film protagonist until the last act, the Oscars of the slap, where it was in the running as well as for the non-original screenplay (beaten by The signs of the heart – TAIL) also for the lead actress (Colman) and non-protagonist, the talented Jessie Buckley (who plays Colman as a young man on the screen). Perfectly comfortable with her in the role of the director, Miss Gyllenhaal told us how he was born The dark daughterstarting from the literary source.

Maggie Gyllenhaal on the set. Photo: Yannis Drakoulidis / Netflix

What was your first encounter with Elena Ferrante’s works?
I have read the novels ofBrilliant friend as soon as they have been translated into English. When I had finished the first two, the third still did not have an English version and the fourth had not yet been published in Italian either. In the meantime I had also recovered The dark daughter, and the story had hit me deeply. As I read, I thought about how disconnected this woman was, and then after three days I found myself being completely empathetic towards her, almost reassured that there was someone talking about a topic that no one has ever wanted to address. I found myself reading and rereading those pages by myself, thinking about my motherhood but above all about my being a woman from an intellectual, emotional, sexual point of view, all things you are afraid to talk about. Then I began to think about what it could have been like to build a situation in which to no longer be alone with these thoughts, but to be able to share them with your husband, your daughter, your mother. A dangerous and exciting situation, in which you show yourself helpless and tell a moment in which you feel broken, not perfect. Because the pressure of being the perfect mother is overwhelming and it’s a fantasy: at my best moment I think I’ve been close to it for 15 minutes.

Elena Ferrante’s novel was set in Italy, for the film the choice fell on Greece instead.
But initially it was supposed to be set in the United States, in some vacation spot on the Maine coast, all waterfront and lobster sandwiches. Although I was married and spent my pregnancy in Italy, I do not know her at all and I could not have had the voice of an Italian woman: I thought that I would have had more in common with an English woman, at least for the language, but the thing what was important was that the story works for any woman in the world. So the United States, but then Covid came and we realized it wasn’t possible. We tried with Canada, but the cast was too international and they wouldn’t let us all arrive, it was too dangerous in the middle of the pandemic: we had Israeli producers, a French cinematographer, English and Irish actresses. My producer had suggested moving everything to England, but for me it would have been a situation like Italy. Until at a certain point I thought it could be Greece, a place where I would feel like a tourist as the protagonist of the story. When we discovered that the concessions for productions in Greece are very advantageous, we understood that that was the way.

(So it went, with the Gyllenhaal family who moved to the Peloponnese for almost a year, including their brother Jake, who followed his older sister’s enterprise with great passion.)

When it comes to Elena Ferrante, the question is a must: have you had contact with the mysterious writer?
Of course I never met her. I wrote her a letter, prepared for a very long time, to persuade her to grant me the rights for the cinematic exploitation of the novel, and the request stipulated that I would certainly write the film, but also with the option of directing it. Elena Ferrante replied by telling me that the agreement would only be valid if I were the director of the film. And then she one day she wrote an article for the Guardian in which he talked about me saying that the adaptation could only really work if I made it completely mine, and that he wanted me to express myself freely through his work. It was exactly the direction I had taken, I no longer wanted to have the novel constantly by my side, but for the adaptation to have its own independent life. When Ferrante read the script, he gave me some advice and wrote me two more articulate notes, and one of the two was fundamental: that is, that Leda, the protagonist, should not have been or seem deranged, because she would not have given the public no reason to empathize with her condition as a mother.

Dakota Johnson and Olivia Colman in a scene from ‘The Dark Daughter’. Photo: Bim Film

The man who pushes young Leda to make the decision that will mark the rest of her life is played by your husband, Peter Sarsgaard. Not an easy choice.
I wrote the role with him in mind, then I told myself it wasn’t such a good idea, that I didn’t really want my husband to be in a relationship with an incredibly beautiful and talented actress (Jessie Buckley, nda). Then, once again, a voice from the back of my brain told me that I was acting like a petty bourgeois, there was no one who could play that role better than him. We have been together for twenty years, we have had many experiences together, we love each other, and moreover, how many actors have had deep romantic and sexual relationships with their director while sleeping with someone else on the screen? Plus, Jessie became like a sister to me very early on, and I think this triangle allowed for very sincere emotions to be expressed on screen – the two of them are great.

Your first experience behind the camera is actually “metatelevision”. The prostitute Eileen “Candy” Merrell, who you played in the series The Deuce, became a porn director. It’s hard not to think that the character hasn’t accelerated your desire to go direct …
To be sure, Candy was originally supposed to be just a producer, according to series creator David Simon it was all about money. I, on the other hand, thought that she should have been an artist, and therefore become a director. In the end I managed to convince him, and certainly playing Candy woke up my desire to tell stories and that part of me that she always dreamed of being a director. ” In the beginning, the danger is always that of doing too much or too little, not finding the right balance. A problem that doesn’t seem to have worried Maggie Gyllenhaal. “Even though it’s my first film, there are many aspects of directing that I know very well about being on the set, the relationship with the actors, the director of photography, the crew. I have worked with fifty, sixty different directors, these are experiences that I have assimilated in the field. What I knew very little about were the pre and post production processes and it was important to work with very experienced people. The editing was an exciting moment, but the thing that I was most interested in and that had to come to me was that what I was telling was sincere. Having someone to help me achieve this was crucial.

And we come to the cast.
I needed people who didn’t just interpret a script, but who had a personal artistic sensibility that pushed them to go further, to question themselves and surprise me. They are all very different from each other, and I thought it was part of my job to be able to put them together and push them to the limit, just as they did with me.

Starting with the wonderful Olivia Colman. Didn’t you ever think it could be you Leda?
I’ve never really considered directing and acting together. I liked the idea of ​​giving another actress the chance to do something that I thought was important. Then when I saw Olivia transform Leda into something so different than I could have been, I was thrilled. We really spoke the same language, maybe if I hadn’t had the chance to have such a talented actress I would have considered putting myself out there: luckily there was no need.

Speaking of talent, another very important role in the film is Ed Harris. Historical courses and appeals: in 2000 he brought his directorial debut to Venice, Pollock.
For real? I didn’t remember, it’s a fantastic thing! And he is an extraordinary actor, for that role I immediately thought of him, I told myself that the worst that could happen was that he would say no to me. Instead he accepted, and he also gave me so much on set, telling me a couple of things that helped me a lot. I was really lucky.

The last question is mandatory: will we see Maggie Gyllenhaal acting again or is her place now behind the camera?
I love acting and I miss it. And directing a film is exhausting, but it conveys an energy and a pleasure that I have never experienced before. Comparable, in fact, only with being a mother. I’m not going to stop acting, but the scripts I’ve been reading lately haven’t made me feel the same way. Instead I’m working on a new screenplay, always based on a novel: but it’s still too early to talk about it.

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About David Martin

David Martin is the lead editor for Spark Chronicles. David has been working as a freelance journalist.

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