Maggie Gyllenhaal, whose breakout role came as a kinky administrative assistant in the 2002 sadomasochistic romance “Secretary,” presumably doesn’t blush easily. And her latest film, “Hysteria,” which explains how a disillusioned young doctor (Hugh Dancy) invented the vibrator in Victorian England, might seem tame by comparison. But, Gyllenhaal recently revealed while on promotional rounds for the movie, she discovered its subject matter is still curiously taboo.
“When I watched it, I was flushed and people in the audience were hysterically laughing,” Gyllenhaal says. “And it came out of not being used to seeing stuff like that, and even I felt that way. And the first movie I made was an S&M movie. I do not think of myself as prudish at all. I’m interested in sex; I’m curious about it. I think of myself as pretty open. But I was surprised by my own response and the audience’s response, every time I’ve been around the movie or been interviewed about it, and how, kind of, uncomfortable it still makes us.”
Gyllenhaal’s character, an ardent champion of women’s rights and advocate for the poor, doesn’t actually appear in the film’s bawdier scenes, which depict misguided physicians attempting to cure women of the titular affliction through womb massage. But it was the film’s humor and delicately balanced tone that won her over. “It’s like that English, clever, really tight dialogue where you have to pay attention and you have to use your brain,” she says. “But I liked the mix of this kind of intellectual comedy with ladies having loud orgasms in doctors offices.”
Gyllenhaal says she was less concerned with tending to historical accuracy than exploring the depths of her rebellious character. “I did research more inside myself, like challenging myself to be as wild and as free and as strident as I could be,” she says. “And that’s kind of why I decided to do the movie, really -- I wanted to see how wild I could be,” she continued. “I’ve played characters who are a lot wilder. But in the constraints of that time and those clothes, I just thought it would be cool to see how far I could go.”
The role also reveals that she does an impeccable British accent -- one that might have a familiar ring. “Everyone tells me I sound like Emma Thompson,” Gyllenhaal says. “That was probably how I learned it -- from ‘Nanny McPhee.’ [Gyllenhaal starred in 2010’s “Nanny McPhee Returns.”] I was actually just watching ‘Nanny McPhee’ with my daughter and thinking ‘is my accent okay?’”
While Ramona, 5, is finally old enough for an introduction to her mom’s oeuvre, the family’s focus is likely now on its newest addition. Gyllenhaal and husband Peter Sarsgaard welcomed daughter Gloria Ray on April 19. And the actress’s pregnancy was well-documented by the baby-bump-obsessed tabloids. But if you ask her, paparazzi shots are the one subject of which ignorance is bliss.
“I do not go near them,” she says. “I don’t know if they do it to me or if they don’t, because when I used to even peek a little bit I found it so brutal, and so unkind. Sometimes someone will send me something or say ‘Oh, I saw a picture of you and Ramona on the street.’ And I always write back and say I just don’t want to know ... It’s funny because I feel this way about almost nothing else. Everything else in my life I think ‘I want all the information.’ I want to know as much as I can know,” she adds. “In this case, if someone followed my 5-year-old to kindergarten and I didn’t know, I would rather just not know. I get so confused by all of that.”
But she says moving to Brooklyn has made life more low-key. “It’s much better now. Last time, when my daughter [Ramona] was born, I was living in the West Village. Everything was different. I had, like, seven movies come out at once.”
Gyllenhaal says that doing international press for “Hysteria” has sparked some unexpected conversations. “My favorite was where this woman asked me which did I think did more for women’s rights and the women’s movement: the vibrator or the dishwasher?” she says. “I think I have to go with the dishwasher.”