Maggie Gyllenhaal is one of the most interesting people in Hollywood. Period. And it’s not just because over the course of her two-decade career, she’s consistently taken on daring roles that depict an unconventional take on the female experience (think Secretary and The Kindergarten Teacher). Or, because she’s got that rare kind of quiet yet devastatingly cool style that’s hard to pull off. Or even because she’s refreshingly open about everything from directing her first film to being naked on TV at 42.
That last reference ties back to Gyllenhaal’s critically acclaimed role as Candy, a feminist porn director on the HBO series The Deuce, a drama set in the 1970s. Candy begins the show as a sex worker but eventually makes the jump to adult films, first in front of and later behind the camera. It is Candy’s fresh, even radical perception of how to make a good porn with an even greater female story at the center that, as Gyllenhaal tells us, is her genuine “birth of an artist moment.”
Through Candy’s experiences, we get to observe the full arc of a woman finding a new sense of freedom, and beginning to take agency in her own life and on a film set. It was also an acting and producing experience that made Gyllenhaal think more deeply about beauty, aging, and what makes someone sexy. “What does sensuality, sexuality, beauty…I don't mean like beautiful beauty, I mean beauty in a wide spectrum kind of way…what does it look like as we age, and sex, all of it? There's no model for it,” she tells Refinery29 global editor-in-chief Christene Barberich on this week’s episode of UnStyled.
These culture-shifting questions are what Gyllenhaal is set to take on in her latest project, an adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s The Lost Daughter, which she’s currently writing, producing, and, for the first time, directing. Ferrante is beloved for writing the same kind of characters Gyllenhaal has frequently played—complex, sometimes troubled, but always strong and unapologetic. She was also drawn to the story because of Ferrante’s openness about the difficulties and unspoken challenges of motherhood, a central theme in the The Lost Daughter, a story that follows a professor who, when her daughters leave home to be with their father, goes on a solo holiday by the sea, only to find herself mysteriously confronting secrets from her past.
“I think motherhood is designed in a way that it's impossible not to fail,” Gyllenhaal says. “Meaning that you are all of a sudden a mother without any experience You can have experience taking care of children, but it's a very different thing, and you're just handed a child. You're exhausted, and everything is new. So, failure is an inextricable part of it.”
Hear the rest of Gyllenhaal and Barberich’s conversation by listening to UnStyled and subscribing via Apple Podcasts today. As always, thanks for listening.