In Crazy Heart, Maggie Gyllenhaal plays the kind of woman she’s so good at portraying: strong, smart and decisive, with an understated beauty that’s hard to pin down. In the film, which opens December 16, she plays aspiring journalist Jean Craddock, a single mom who falls for down-and-out, aging country singer Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges). As they’re swept up into a tentative romance, each deals with their demons along the way.
Despite some of the similarities between Jean and some of her other past roles, Gyllenhaal says that she’s a different actress now. “Everything in my life has changed absolutely and completely since becoming a mother,” she told reporters this week. “I usually try not to talk too much about my family in the press, but the making of this movie was so connected to moving out of a certain phase of motherhood for me. My daughter was almost two when I made the movie, and I got to this place of, ‘I am also me! I am also an actress!’ I had this really strong hunger to express something that I hadn’t had for a while.
“When I look at the movie now, I see Jean as really going through a similar thing,” she said. “I don’t know if that’s part of the movie inherently, or if I put it there. But I think for Jean she’s got this four-year-old, who at least for a big chunk of time she’s been raising alone. She’s been trying to do good, trying to be good, trying to manage … . I think she finally says, ‘I need something for me. I need something that feels good to me. And I don’t care if it’s bad for me. It’s better if it’s bad for me.’ … I think there’s a line that every mother walks … balancing what you need in order to be alive and what you have to sacrifice for your kids.”
While Gyllenhaal’s character in Crazy Heart wrestles with some of the struggles of motherhood, she also treads carefully on a minefield of love and loss. Gyllenhaal opened up to RadarOnline.com about how she approached the romantic component of her role. “My favorite scene that I got to play in the movie is where [Bad Blake] is writing the song on my bed and I freak out for no reason,” she said. “I watched the movie next to my best girlfriend. My husband was away, and I needed someone to come with me because I felt … like … I am a different actress now that I’ve had a child. I felt so much more vulnerable in this part than I ever have in anything. And quieter. The other things I’ve done that I’ve been really proud of, I’ve kind of bulldozed through… .”
In addition to motherhood, Gyllenhaal also credits time for her ability to work so closely with Bridges, with whom she has a compelling — if not surprising — on-screen chemistry. She recalled meeting him for the first time years ago: It was only after a few glasses of champagne that she finally introduced herself, saying, “I love your movies.” Bridges told her, “We’re going to work together one day.”
But then Crazy Heart happened. “I’m glad that it happened however many years later, when I had a better sense of myself as an artist,” Gyllenhaal said. “[In Crazy Heart,] we were both playing people who had really open hearts, and I think we are people who have open hearts, and I think we just kind of said, ‘I’ll go there with you. Let’s go.’ And we got down and we did it.”