Nothing bonds New Yorkers like real estate. So, while we can’t even fathom what it must be like to be 32 and own a four-story townhouse in Park Slope, when we visited Maggie Gyllenhaal at her brownstone last week, we could at least (sort of) relate to her tales of the West Village rental she and Peter Sarsgaard had been living in before they fled to Brooklyn. The actress, who’s currently co-starring with Jeff Bridges in the Oscar-bait indie Crazy Heart, says her aunt had been living in a “big, beautiful, raw” loft space on Greenwich Street with her husband and two kids for years, and that Gyllenhaal and Sarsgaard had inherited the right to rent it from her “super-cheaply.” It was on the fourth floor of one of two adjoining walk-ups that had been bought by two artist couples who were dear friends and treated the buildings as a commune. “Then one couple died and part of the ownership went down to their son, who was nuts, and then the other couple gave one of the floors to their daughter’s boyfriend, who then was no longer her boyfriend,” says Gyllenhaal. “It was just never official and all very kind of loose. Which is great — unless it’s not, you know.”
Gyllenhaal isn’t quite sure exactly what happened, but soon the building’s owners started trying to break up each other’s leases, and simultaneously tried to increase Gyllenhaal’s rent astronomically and force them out. “It was this totally strange, like, New York situation where there were five owners of the building who were suing each other and we lived on the only floor that they all owned jointly, and so they were all trying to sue us,” she says. “It was, like, crazy.”
At some point, Gyllenhaal says, she had to mentally check out. “I did just sort of try to say, ‘As long as we’re fine, I don’t want to spend much of my energy thinking about this. Honestly, everybody was telling us, ‘You’re just absolutely going to win. Don’t worry. Just show up at the court date. You’ve done nothing wrong.’ Which is exactly what happened.”
It was an awesome location and an awesome price, but by that point, Gyllenhaal was pregnant, and when she contemplated her future there, it involved more lawsuits and every single day lugging a giant Maclaren stroller up and down four flights of stairs because her lobby was “three feet by three feet” and she couldn’t possibly leave it downstairs. “I always thought I’d raise my kids in Manhattan, but I’m really glad we left,” she says. “We closed on the house two days after she [her daughter Ramona] was born. I remember someone said, ‘Oh, we closed on the house!’ And I was like, ‘Oh great.’ Next to having this 2-day-old baby, I just didn’t care.”
Related: Read Jada’s Encounter with Gyllenhaal in this week’s New York.