Based on Thomas Cobb's 1987 novel of the same name, Crazy Heart tells the lingering, feature length story behind a song. A country song. That backstory is anchored by beautiful performances by Jeff Bridges (as a grizzly down-and-out alcoholic singer-songwriter) and Maggie Gyllenhaal (as the recently divorced single mother and aspiring music journalist sent to interview him) and both have the power to turn Oscar-whispers into full-throated roars. This is an actor's film and in it's leads and in each other, the film finds a perfect match.
Buzzine's Izumi Hasegawa sat down with Maggie Gyllenhaal in Los Angeles to talk about the differences and parallels between Maggie's recent real-life experiences and those on-screen, her approach to the film's key scenes, and her first encounter with her current co-star back in 2003...
Izumi Hasegawa: How much of your own experience as a mother came into play creating the character?
I usually try not to talk too much about my family in 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 kind of got to this place where I felt like 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 she was a tiny baby.
I had worked a little. I did Batman, but literally I worked 15 days over eight months. It was a totally different thing. I did Away We Go for three days, and Away We Go got a little of that energy. I was like, “I have something to say!” But then it was over, like that.
Crazy Heart got almost all of it. When I look at the movie now, I see Jean is really going through a similar thing. I don’t know if that’s just part of the movie inherently or I put it there, but I think, for Jean, it’s like she’s got this four-year-old who, at least for a big chunk of time, she’s been raising alone. She’s just been trying to do good, trying to be good, trying to manage, and I think she just 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 she just takes it, and I don’t think it could’ve been anybody. I think she really falls in love with him, but I think that’s a line every mother walks — balancing what you need in order to be alive and what you have to sacrifice for your kids.
MG: A lot of people ask me about this scene or that scene, or how I made her or whatever. I don’t know. The times when I know exactly how I crafted something is usually when the script isn’t great and there aren’t great actors, and I have to fill in all the blanks myself. When the script can buoy me, when the scene can be about 15 different things and can end in 15 different notes every time you play it, it’s best not to make a bunch of choices.
I do my own work. I scribble all over my script. My teacher was telling me, “Don’t write anything on your script.” I do work, but I don’t know what it is. I don’t know exactly what it is. When the script is working and the other actor is great, I usually just walk in to see what happens. Like the scene where I find out he’s been lost, I tried every time to walk into the room like, “What’s going on? Where’s Buddy?” without any kind of idea of what was going to happen or where it was going to go, and just let it go anywhere.
The best example of letting it go anywhere, that I love — my favorite scene that I got to play in the movie — was the one where he’s writing a song on my bed and I freak out for no reason. I watched the movie next to my best girlfriend because my husband was away and I needed someone to come with me. I think I needed someone to come with me because I felt like I am a different actor now that I have a child.
IH: What was it like working with Jeff [Bridges]?
MG: I met him at the premiere for Mona Lisa Smile, where I was like a baby. He was there because his nephew was in the movie. I went up to him — I’d had a couple glasses of champagne — and said, “I love your movies.”
I was like, “This is my premiere. I can talk to whoever I want.” He said, “We’re going to work together one day,” and my entire week was made, but then it happened, and I’m glad it happened however many years later, when I had a better sense of myself as an artist.
At that time, I didn’t know how I would have managed, but I met him and I just remember it was not explicit. We didn’t say anything, we didn’t talk about acting ever. But I felt like I met him and we just sort of said to each other somehow without saying anything, “I’m up for anything. I will go all the way anywhere we need to go. I’m open.”
I felt that absolutely from him, and I think we were playing people who had really open hearts, and I think we are people who have open hearts. I think we just kind of said, “I’ll go there with you. Let’s go.” And we got down and we did it.
Fox Searchlight Pictures' 'Crazy Heart' is in theatres now.