Maggie Gyllenhaal talks Criminal
Criminal is a new con film set to open on September 10th. Maggie recently talked about the grift game and want went into making this first time feature for director Gregory Jacobs, better known as Steven Soderbergh's right-hand man (Greg has served as Assistant Director on most of Soderbergh's projects).
O: When you started this movie, did you think about where the character was eventually going to go, or did you not consider her final outcome?
Maggie: I think I play each scene with the information I have up until that point. Whatever I know up until then, that's what I know. I didn't do anything for the sake of the audience.
O: This seemed like a very difficult character to tap into. How did you go about doing that?
Maggie: What interested me about her was that she seemed to be, at least on the page, this classic girl in the con movie. The femme fatal with the red lipstick. Which is appealing to me. I'm interested in that. There's something attractive about that to me. But I don't think it's something she's performing with an intention. And I don't think she's necessarily performing it very well. I liked that idea of someone trying to excel herself at something, and not really succeeding. I felt like that when I was playing her, that I wasn't succeeding. I didn't know where to put my hands. Here I was in this suit, and there were times when I felt like I was totally pulling it off, and then there were times when I felt like, "What am I doing? This is not me." I think that's what Valerie is going through.
O: Are you a fan of the genre? Do you like films centered around the art of the con?
Maggie: Yeah. I mean, I don't know…I didn't think of this as a genre movie. Though, that is what it is. It's a very classic con movie. I don't think it's doing anything particularly shocking or new. It's not a new breed. What is so interesting about this one is that everyone is conning everyone else. My favorite thing about the movie is that, when you watch it, you have to invest yourself. There's nobody saying, "This is the person you can trust, and this is the person you can't trust." The movie does not do that. It does not say, "Trust this person for awhile. Look at cute, sweet little Diego. He is not lying." But then it seems like he is lying. All the things you valued up until then, because he was the protagonist, you have to throw some of that trust away. But do you throw some of it away? Do you throw all of it away? Wait. Where are we? Who can I trust? You have to invest in somebody, and chances are, you're going to probably invest in someone that is going to deceive you. Because everyone is deceiving.
O: How was it working with cute little Diego?
Maggie: I love Diego. I have nothing but good things to say about him.
O: He's a generous actor?
Maggie: Very. He's very generous. And loving.
O: Have you ever been conned yourself?
Maggie: Yeah, I've been conned a couple of times. Now, I'm a little more savvy.
O: What happened? How did you get conned?
Maggie: Well, this is a baby con. It was a tiny little con. Once, I was in London, alone. I was having lunch in a café by myself outside. I tried to ask for the bill, and I took my wallet out, and put it on the table. I was waiting for the bill to come. This guy came over to me and said, "I don't think you're going to be able to pay for your meal." And I said, "What?" Then he grabbed my wallet and ran down the street. I don't really consider that a con. It's just got a little something in it. Also, I was traveling alone in Spain, and I met this couple that was lost. They conned me into buying them this expensive dinner. I knew I was being conned, but I couldn't get out of it. It was so strange. But there were good things about them, too.
O: Were you frustrated or embarrassed that you allowed that to happen to yourself?
Maggie: I was sort of fascinated both times, actually. I was a little bit thrilled both times, to be honest. I remember talking to this English Bobby Cop guy on the phone, and I told him the story about how my wallet got stolen. He started laughing, and he asked me, "What did your wallet look like?" And I said, "Well, it had a brand of the Virgin Mary burned into the front of it." He was laughing, and he said, "Well, we'll get back to you if we find it."
O: What was it like developing the paternal relationship between you and John C. Reilly?
Maggie: I think we are very similar actors, in the sense that I'm not a very literal actor. I didn't feel that he had to feel like my brother. But that he did have to feel like something. And I was going to let whatever he felt like be okay. So, we just kind of interacted a little bit. We stoked the fire of antagonism a little, and we let that be okay.
O: Do you have any advice for young women that might be contemplating not finishing college, so they can concentrate on acting instead? Because you managed to do both, right?
Maggie: Yeah. I feel so empowered by having finished college. What I got out of it was, I learned how to articulate myself. And I learned how to say what I mean. It basically gave me confidence. And the ability to analyze text. Which is not so important in a movie like this, but very important in doing a Tony Kushner play. I don't think I'd have been able to do that play if I hadn't gone through college.
O: English literature was your major?
Maggie: Yeah. But it doesn't matter what your major is. You don't have to have that be your major. That just interested me, so I studied that. It was really more like sitting in a seminar and having everyone understand it. I think the confidence that it gave me is the most important thing, and I think it's really worth something. A big part of being an actress is feeling entitled to your artistic opinion, feeling that it means something, and being able to stand by it. Now, things are changing. Ten years ago, it was really difficult for a young actress to walk onto a set and disagree with a director, and have them be okay. And be able to have a conversation about it, and have everyone be cool with it. Unless you're working with Robert Altman. Or, the coolest people…All the great directors want to collaborate with their actresses as far as I can see. I mean, I think it's the people that are less good that don't want to. Having an education, and being able to articulate what you want and why, is invaluable.
O: Do you get much time to spend with your brother, Jake?
Maggie: Yeah, we try to find time to spend together. We just spent a week together on vacation.
O: Is it a challenge to find women that are interesting to play?
Maggie: Well, I just did three movies where I played three really interesting women back to back. I feel that there is no shortage of interesting women roles. That's probably inaccurate, but I found them. And I did all of them just now.
O: Can you talk about those?
Maggie: Yeah, the first one I shot was this movie called The Great New Wonderful. Which was a small movie in New York. I play a woman that is a cake decorator. She decorates cakes that cost fifteen grand, and she is really an entrepreneur that is stuck in the New York world, and she has a crack-up. She was a great woman. I loved her. Then I starred in a movie called Happy Endings. Don Roos directed that, he also directed the Opposite of Sex. I play a woman that is sleeping on her cousin's couch and can't really get it together. She had this incredible kind of wisdom. She has a love triangle with this gay kid and his dad. And she is so wise about it. Wiser than I'd ever be in my life about it. She's amazing, that woman. I love her. Then I did this movie, which may be the one that's closest to my heart. I just finished it two weeks ago, and I think I'm still recovering from it in some ways. It's called Shall Not Want. Which is a movie that I'd been attached to. The script is incredible. It is about a woman that just got out of prison, and she has a five year old. I've been holding onto the script for years. We just set it up, and we did it. And we made it, and we shot it in twenty-five days. That movie? I just thought she was another incredible woman. Really incredible.
O: What did you have to recover from?
Maggie: Well, it was a movie shot in twenty-five days. A movie where I'm in every moment of it. And I'm playing someone that is a recovering drug addict that just got out of prison. It takes place in two weeks. It's hard stuff I was doing in that movie. I'm still trying to figure out what the right line is, between myself and the people I play. Sometimes I go too far one way, or too far the other. I think, in this movie, I totally got sucked into this person I was playing. I was shooting fourteen hours a day in Newark, then going home just to eat something and sleep. So, most of my waking life was spent playing this woman and working constantly. Not like a big movie, where you shoot for an hour or two, then they light for a couple of hours. This was like, everything happened at once. We were constantly working. It takes awhile to recover from something like that. It was tiring.
O: Do you get any time for a personal life when you're working that hard?
Maggie: I have to figure it out. I really have to figure out how to do it. I also did a play in that time. A play is much easier to maintain your personal life with, because if you're rehearsing your work from 11-6, you get to have your whole morning, and you get to have your whole evening. And when you're doing the play, you get to have your whole day. It's a much healthier way of working. On a film, it's hard. 12 to 14 hours a day, even when you're not acting. On a movie like Shall Not Want, I was always actually acting. I was either changing my clothes really quickly, and wiping off that lipstick, and putting on the other one, because, really, it was yesterday, and constantly working. There's either that, or you do have an hour off while you're working, but they said they were going to be ready in ten minutes. So, even though an hour has gone by, you've been ready for the last fifty minutes to go work at any moment. It's a really active type of energy, and it's really tiring. For me, I think I'm learning how to have a life and work on something like that. The real test will be having a family. When I have a family, I really have to. I have to come home, I have to eat dinner with the kids, and I have to be there.
O: Do you plan on doing that sometime soon?
Maggie: At some point. No, not yet. But at some point, I am planning on doing that.
O: Do you have a mentor? Who is a soundboard for you professionally?
Maggie: My boyfriend can be that for me. He is an actor as well. I have an acting teacher that is very helpful to me. She can be that too. I talk to my friends about it. And my agents and managers. They are really smart, and interested in me not becoming a commodity, but in actually being in artist. I have a lot of good people around me that I can talk to about it. And then, in the end, there's usually just something in me that says, "Ah, I have to do this one." There's something in me that always has to connect.
O: You studied religion in college as well?
Maggie: It's so weird. I did, but I don't know how that got to be the thing I studied. I studied English literature. But I didn't major in Religion, or anything.
O: Do you picture yourself doing a popcorn movie, or does that not interest you?
Maggie: Yeah, I could see myself doing that. I can. I would like to do a big movie that many, many people see. But I know that I would be miserable if it didn't have something to it. If I couldn't do what I do in the midst of that. Do you know what I mean? So, I'm looking for something like that.
O: Do you ever get offered those types of films?
Maggie: Sometimes, yeah. None that have sparked me yet.
O: All of your films have a great sense of integrity. How did you tie that into this film? Where was your character's integrity?
Maggie: You know what? I think she was someone that was really struggling in the face of people who were really dishonest. I think she was basically trying to survive it. I mean, that was a hard one. I didn't know that's how it was going to feel to play her, but that's how it felt. It's funny, because people have been saying to me all day that she seems really strong, but I think she's defiantly the weakest woman that I've played.
Maggie: Oh, yeah.
O: How so?
Maggie: I just think that she's being bullied by someone. And she's just trying to function as well as she can.
O: Are you going to take a break soon?
Maggie: I'm doing this cartoon movie. Not cartoon, exactly, but one of those things where you put the balls on your face. Motion capture. It's called Monster House. I play the disenchanted babysitter. She's watching these kids that are getting attacked by this house. I'm just doing it very quickly. Then I might take a break. There are always things I want to do. I'm just sort of waiting to see what comes together.