In SherryBaby (2006), Maggie Gyllenhaal portrayed Sherry Swanson, who returns home after serving a prison sentence to reestablish a relationship with her young daughter.
Gyllenhaal described for Interview magazine her experience with the character, and the big change in her attitude toward appreciating roles that are “not so wayward.”
Maggie Gyllenhaal: “We shot Sherrybaby in 25 days. I was never in my own clothes. I would get into her clothes, be her all day, come home, fall asleep, wake up, go back to work.
“I do better in that kind of work. What I found with Sherry was that she was in such a rough place that she didn’t have the luxury to feel any kind of self-pity or to fall apart at all, or she would not have been able to survive.
“So I shot all these fucked-up scenes that were really horrible, but I didn’t experience them that way. Obviously, I understood that all the things that happened in the movie were painful for her, but I didn’t let that into the work.
“Then all the terrible things I’ve had to go through surfaced after we’d finished shooting. And I got over it.
“I don’t think I could play that part now. I don’t know that I could be okay with the things I had to be okay with in order to play her.”
Interview mag.: Were you in therapy when you did that film?
Maggie Gyllenhaal: “Mm-hmm.”
Interview mag.: So was it exorcism? Catharsis?
Maggie Gyllenhaal: “Well, that stuff is private, but every role I choose – whether consciously or unconsciously – there’s something in it that I have to think about and work through. . .
“For a while, I got into taking someone really fucked-up and showing the audience how they were beautiful and lovable. That’s a way of practicing compassion.
“But now I want to play a queen! I want to play someone who’s thinking and elegant and not so wayward. I feel like a big change has happened.”
Interview mag.: Here’s another observation from your press clippings: “Gyllenhaal clearly relishes taking a wrecking ball to anything perfect or beautiful in her own cinematic creations.” But I always suspected that you were happy to be beautiful in real life.
Maggie Gyllenhaal: “That is not wrong about my work. It was also true in my life. What I thought was most beautiful was something a little fucked up, a little off. I think that’s a way of hiding.
“As an actress and a person. I feel different now. I’m not as interested in finding what is unattractive as I am in finding what is attractive. It’s much riskier to say, I’m going to try and express what’s beautiful in me.”
[From interview by Tim Blanks, Interview magazine, May 2008.]
[Photo at top from facebook.com/pages/Maggie-Gyllenhaal]
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A number of other actors have also expressed perspectives on the mental health and emotional challenge aspects of acting:
See list of Inner Actor posts on Mental Health
and list of posts on Emotional Challenges
also see the page Nurturing mental health: acting.