Maggie Gyllenhaal interview: ‘The Lost Daughter’ writer-director
“There’s something inherently dramatic about telling the truth, particularly telling the truth about something that’s been taboo,” declares Maggie Gyllenhaal, who makes her feature directorial debut with “The Lost Daughter,” which she adapted from the novel by acclaimed Italian novelist Elena Ferrante.
“When I read her novels, not just ‘The Lost Daughter,’ but I read a few of her novels before that, I felt like she was talking about things so honestly that we, as a culture, have agreed not to talk about and she just broke the agreement without anyone’s permission,” she says admiringly. “I found that really exhilarating and I also found it disturbing and ultimately comforting to know I’m not the only person who has these feelings. Not just about mothering, but about being a woman in the world; as a lover, as a thinker, as an artist and as a mother.” Watch our exclusive video interview with Gyllenhaal above.
“The Lost Daughter” stars Oscar and Emmy winner Olivia Colman as Leda, an academic on holiday in Greece. Her increasingly strained interactions with an obnoxious fellow holidaymakers and her obsession with a younger woman (Dakota Johnson) and her daughter lead her to confront uncomfortable truths about her past experiences as a mother, which play out in flashbacks featuring Jessie Buckley as a younger Leda raising two daughters. The ensemble cast also features Ed Harris, Dagmara Domińczyk, Paul Mescal, Jack Farthing, Oliver Jackson-Cohen and Peter Sarsgaard.
The film had its world premiere at the 78th Venice International Film Festival last fall, where Gyllenhaal won the coveted Best Screenplay prize. It is currently in limited release in theaters before bowing on Netflix on December 31.
“The Lost Daughter” immerses the audience in two timelines, darting back and forth to piece together Leda’s story and the emotional baggage she is carrying. Gyllenhaal’s nuanced screenplay hints at the guilt and shame burdening Leda under the surface, as the director gravitates towards both Colman’s and Buckley’s troubled faces in intimate and telling close-ups that amplify even the slightest glimmer of the actors’ eyes. That the novel was so challenging to adapt, was all the more vindicating for Gyllenhaal, particularly when she is made aware that Ferrante’s feedback about her adaptation has been so positive.
“I felt, really, really seen. I felt like she calls out these two moments in the movie that that were mine; that weren’t in the book,” she reveals. “She writes about the moment where Jessie says, ‘I hate talking to my kids on the phone,’ and also the thing where Olivia says in the reveal with Dakota where she says ‘it felt amazing.’ Those are very, very complicated moments, they don’t mean at all what they seem to mean on the surface, they require a kind of listening and kind of understanding and compassion for these characters, for ourselves. That takes some effort and she basically was saying, ‘I heard you, I understand you,'” Gyllenhaal confides. “I don’t know what else I could possibly ask for.”
Gyllenhaal’s years as an actor has no doubt informed the way she interacts with and nurtures fellow actors on set. “My 20 years of experience as an actress was the biggest gift in every way, making this film,” she says. “I have worked with directors who are brutal and who are not interested in collaborating with me and you know, you’re professional, you figure out how to do it, but it’s horrible. And I have worked now and then with directors who are really full of love and curiosity and respect and there’s no question that my work as an actress that’s worth watching is with those directors,” she reveals. “I did definitely feel like if you hire people who you’re actually curious about and who you actually respect, then a huge part of my job was to love them. Like, actually love them and take care of them. It’s really, really vulnerable being an actor, no matter what you’re doing, and I think it’s hard to really even know how vulnerable.”