Image courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
Maggie Gyllenhaal is no stranger to playing strong, confident women. The Academy Award-nominated actress has played roles ranging from a journalist and single mom in “Crazy Heart” to a liberal and outspoken academic in “Mona Lisa Smile.” Her latest film, “Hysteria,” which opens May 18, is set in London during the Victorian era, when various female “afflictions” — melancholia, frigidity and nymphomania among them — were bunched together and labeled “hysteria.” The supposed cause: a disorder of the uterus. The preferred treatment: “manual stimulation” of the womb.
In the film, Dr. Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy) joins the practice of a “hysteria” specialist, Robert Dalrymple (Jonathan Pryce). Granville becomes engaged to the very proper Dalrymple daughter, Emily (Felicity Jones). But what good film is without conflict? Granville falls for Emily’s sister, Charlotte (Gyllenhaal), a firebrand progressive fighter for women’s rights. Gyllenhaal spoke to The Arty Semite by phone about the strong women in her life, eating Jewish deli on Christmas and attending her first Orthodox Seder.
Curt Schleier: Tell me a little about your background.
Maggie Gyllenhaal: My father [director Stephen Gyllenhaal] was raised in the Swedenborgian religion — kind of a Christian mystic religion — and he grew up in a small Pennsylvania town. My mother [screenwriter Naomi Gyllenhaal] is Jewish and grew up in Brooklyn.