The credits may be rolling on Maggie Gyllenhaal’s life of indie anonymity. In addition to World Trade Center, she stars in two more studio projects—the just-released Trust the Man and the upcoming Stranger Than Fiction. And she returns to her roots in Sherrybaby, a drama about an addict’s quest to become a better mother.
In Sherrybaby, you play a recovering junkie just out of prison. How did you prepare?
I hung out with women in halfway houses. It kind of went into me by osmosis—it smells like this in here, this is what the light looks like.
What did they think of you?
Nobody recognized me or anything. Mostly, they wanted to help me get it right. They said they’d never seen a movie that accurately depicted their lives.
The movie’s pretty realistic—and depressing.
Sherry’s in a bad place, and things are hard for her, but she’s got this hopeful energy. I mean, when she goes down on that guy in the job office, which is so bleak, I didn’t think of it that way at all when I was shooting—that’s too obvious. What’s not obvious is the way she gets through it and survives.
There’s a lot of raw sexuality in the film. Was that difficult for you?
When I was shooting it, I was focusing on the pleasure. The scene when she’s fucking that guy in the basement after they just met, I think you could cry through the whole scene, but why? That would be so boring. For me, when I was filming that scene, I was thinking, This is great—pleasure, pleasure, pleasure. I’ve been in prison for three years and I want to have sex with a man! But when I watch it now, I think, Oh, man, that’s horrible, and I feel very disturbed by the sex.
There was a lot of negative press last year about comments you made at the Tribeca Film Festival—you said the United States was “responsible in some way” for 9/11.
Yeah, it was hard, and painful. But it was just terribly misunderstood.
I never said anything like, “We deserved this.” Nothing like that.
So what would you say now?
Instead of apologizing, I wrote a little clarification of what I meant. I said that as important as it is to continue to honor all the people who were hurt and killed on 9/11, which was catastrophic—and which I just made an entire movie about—it’s also equally important to be brave and patriotic enough to look at the ways we can change the way we live, in order to help what is undeniably a really bad situation in the world. And I’m proud of having said that.
Now that you’re doing studio features, do you think you’ll keep doing independent films like Sherrybaby?
With a movie like Sherrybaby, I love it, I’m proud of it, and I believe in it. But it’s so much work to get a little movie like that made, to get it seen, to get it bought, to get it into theaters—it’s almost like you have to be a producer. That makes me look at little independent movies more closely—like, do I really want to spend years, or not? I want people to see the movies I make. I’m not just acting for me.
—Sherrybaby, Directed by Laurie Collyer, IFC Films, opens September 8 (R). Next: Shortbus, The Nativity Story, and Marie Antoinette Previewed