The producers of Crazy Heart acknowledge that finding the right star to play the love interest for Jeff Bridges’ character was so vital in making the love story believable that Bridges himself became involved in the casting sessions. And it was the actor who ultimately picked Maggie Gyllenhaal for the role.
Bridges portrays down-and-out country singer Bad Blake, who drinks too much, has had too many marriages and has been on the road for too many years. But one night in Santa Fe, he meets local journalist and single mom Jean Craddock, and their relationship goes way beyond their initial interview.
I spoke with Maggie Gyllenhaal about her role of Jean, and the experience of working with Jeff Bridges.
How much of your own experience as a mother came into play creating the character?
Everything in my life has changed absolutely and completely since becoming a mother. So it’s difficult to even know at this point. I usually try not to talk too much about my family to 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 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 [been able to] for a while when she was a tiny baby.
I had worked a little. I did The Dark Knight but literally I worked 15 days over eight months. It was a totally different thing. I did Away We Go for three days. When I look at Crazy Heart 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. I think she just finally says, “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.”
How do you access your emotions in a film like this?
God, 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. When the script is working and the other actor is great, I usually just walk in to see what happens.
I watched the movie next to my best girlfriend because my husband was away and I needed someone to come with me, because I feel like I am a different actor now that I have a child. I felt so much more vulnerable in this part than I ever have in anything, and quieter.
I think the other things I’ve done that I’ve been really proud of, I’ve kind of bulldozed through. I’ve played these fierce, wild people and Jean’s quieter. That’s so much more vulnerable.
What was it like working with Jeff?
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 that it happened however many years later when I had a better sense of myself as an artist.
In Crazy Heart we are playing people who had really open hearts, and I think we are people who have open hearts. I think we just said, “I’ll go there with you. Let’s go.” And we got down and we did it.