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Maggie Gyllenhaal and Regina King on How They Choose Roles

Maggie Gyllenhaal and Regina King sat down for a conversation for Variety’s Actors on Actors. For more, click here

Maggie Gyllenhaal’s obsession with one talented student has disastrous consequences in “The Kindergarten Teacher,” a disturbing drama that was the talk of this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

Regina King also turned heads playing a tough but loving mother of a pregnant girl in “If Beale Street Could Talk,” an adaptation of James Baldwin’s novel of the same name that will surely score her an invitation to the Oscars. Both films are testaments to actresses at the top of their game.

Regina King: What drew you to “The Kindergarten Teacher”? I love all your choices, but what about “The Kindergarten Teacher” was attractive?

Maggie Gyllenhaal: I wonder if you’re the same; every once in a while there’s scripts I read and I’m like, “Yes. That one’s for me.” I’m pretty good I think at this point about trusting that instinct. I often find after I make something and talk about it a little bit, then I know why I chose it.

King: I’m very similar. As we’re having conversations, I’m discovering new things even now.

Gyllenhaal: I think the thing that draws me is unconscious. Then, later I get to sort of figure out what it was in a more intellectual way. Looking back on it now, I can see that it’s a movie about a woman who has a vibrant, curious, artistic mind who’s been starved. To me, it’s more about the ways in which women have had to twist ourselves into pretzels, bend over backwards to fit into a culture that doesn’t really have space for us. How about you? Had you read “If Beale Street Could Talk”?

King: I was a bit embarrassed that I hadn’t. I get the script and first off: Barry Jenkins, James Baldwin. Then I read the script, and I felt like I don’t want to sit down with him without having read the book. The agents are always like, “Oh, no. You don’t need to.” I said, “I need to.” We ended up on an hour Skype call just talking about the book versus the script, and the things that I saw in the book and the things that I loved that he pulled out of the book. It was just an amazing conversation. I just felt I’ve got to work with Barry Jenkins. He’s the true definition of an auteur. I haven’t had the opportunity to work with as many female directors I think as you have. 

Gyllenhaal: Well, now I’ve got more. The whole second season of “The Deuce” was almost entirely shot by women. There’s so much sex, we — a group of us — together created this new job of an intimacy expert.

King: I think she’s come over to our set. The same woman.

Gyllenhaal: She’s great. But it’s interesting because I have done so many sex scenes in my life. I have learned how to protect myself. I’m good with it. I don’t actually want someone talking to me. But I can also see the woman who came in at 22, who got the job, who’s a great actress who has to take her clothes off. I know that that person needs help, and I could have used that help when I was younger.

King: Do you think things have changed for us in this industry?

Gyllenhaal: I feel like things have changed in the past year even. To be totally honest, I think the money always lags, so on “The Kindergarten Teacher” we’re a group of women making a movie about a woman, and it’s a wild roller coaster of a movie. We still had no money and we were a group of women, so we were used to it. We were like, “OK, this is how we do it. We’re going make it work, and I’m going to change my clothes in the bathroom on the set and on the ferry.” Which nobody should ever do! But then again, and this is new, a part of me is like, “I’m so proud of us that we did it for nothing. But like, why? Why do we got to do it for nothing?”

King: Until this conversation started happening out loud, I’m embarrassed to say, I didn’t think about the differences. I knew they existed, but I didn’t sit in it. Unfortunately, I just accepted it. I am so excited that we are vocal now because it made me start paying attention.

Gyllenhaal: I truly personally feel different. I’m going to direct a movie.

King: Go on, girl.

Gyllenhaal: It’s far from being real, but even to feel entitled to use storytelling and the things that turn me on. I’m not proud of this, but until this year, I didn’t feel entitled.

Watch the full interview below:

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