"The release of this movie was tied completely to the awards season," Maggie Gyllenhaal told indieWIRE regarding Scott Cooper's "Crazy Heart," for which she has been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. "And I could feel it so strongly. For example, when Jeff Bridges won the Golden Globe, all of a sudden ten people a day would stop me on the street and tell me they'd seen the movie. It had such a huge effect. You know, I'd been through the awards stuff before [receiving Golden Globe nominations for both "Secretary" and "Sherrybaby"], at least going on the road and doing some of it... But I've never felt so concretely the effect that it can have on a tiny movie. Though at the same time, as all this was happening with "Crazy Heart," I wasn't nominated for anything. Not anything at all. So of course I was surprised when I got the Oscar nomination. I'd - in a way - already kind of let go of it. Like I said, I'd kind of been down the road before and I'd had different relationships to the awards stuff before and this time I really got to the place of you know, 'they're just awards... it's alright... I love my movie.' And then to be nominated for an Oscar, it's kind of a mind trip!"
Gyllenhaal wasn't kidding when she says her nomination came out of nowhere. While there was certainly significant buzz around her work in "Heart," she didn't receive a single mention from the dozens and dozens of Oscar precursors, even the Independent Spirit Awards, for which she had received two nominations in the past (and where "Crazy Heart" got three nominations). But on Oscar nomination morning, her name was deservedly read, giving the actress her first trip to the Kodak Theater as a nominee.
Gyllenhaal said the surprise element of the nomination has really helped her keep in mind how much the experience can be. "I did really try and let go of it as a validation in some ways," she said. "Although, I really do feel so honestly honored that other actors saw me, and saw what I was doing, even though it was quiet. [My character] Jean's kind of quiet. Quieter than a lot of other people I've played."
Jean is Jean Craddock, a journalist and single mother who begins a relationship with Bad (Jeff Bridges, an Oscar nominee for best actor), a struggling country music star who Jean encountered while writing a piece on him. Gyllenhaal said that when she received the script of the film, she connected to the character in a way that just felt perfect for where she was in her career and her life.
"I had an almost 2-year old when I got the script, and I had work some [since giving birth] but not really on anything that was totally consuming in the way that I was used to working," she said. "I'd been focusing so much on my daughter and it kind of got to this point where I needed something for myself. And 'Crazy Heart' was it. I read the script and I just really kind of got it. I really felt drawn to it... There was something really different about [Jean]. I think she's more vulnerable and more of a 'feeler' than anyone else I've played. I think that has to do with a lot of things, including just getting a little older and becoming a mother... I used to think that the ideal thing to be in the world was strong. To be as sort of fierce as I could be, and as strong as I could be. Both in my life and in my work... Not that I ever was particularly strong. But that's what I was going for."
Gyllenhaal said that as she's grown older, what she values and what she finds important has shifted considerably. "Now I really think the bravest thing that I can do is feel, and be vulnerable," she said. "I think I learned that in my work before I learned that in my life. I just found myself playing someone in Jean who had such an open heart, even before I let my own heart be that open - if that makes sense? Sometimes she's really strong, and sometimes she's really weak, just like a real woman. When I watch it, sometimes it's harder for me to see some parts of that movie than anything I've done... and I've done some wild stuff. I feel very vulnerable watching myself in this movie."
She also said the chemistry she found with Bridges - which really is a pivotal element in making "Crazy Heart" work as well as it does - was very natural. They'd met at the premiere of Gyllenhaal's 2003 film "Mona Lisa Smile,” where they had a nice exchange, but it wasn't until she arrived on set that she really had the chance to get to know him.
"We both knew that in order for the movie to work, these characters had to really, really fall deeply for each other," she explained. "So when we first met on the movie, although nothing was explicit and we didn't say anything out loud... I just felt there was this pact between us where we both were kind of saying, 'I'm up for anything, are you up for anything? Let's get down and do it...' And we really did. And while we came to love each other as friends, really, it came out of the work.”
Continuing she added, “We work so similarly and I think my ideal way of working is his ideal way of working too. Meaning we just responded to each other all the time. We didn't figure out the best way to play a scene and then try to stick to the landing. Instead, we just let things shift and change. We really did just let the scene play in so many ways and never planned anything. I think if you do that you then have an infinite number of possibilities of how a scene will end... on what note it will end... how it will make you feel. I think he feels the same way. That's the most fun way of doing it. And you have to have a great, great partner in order to really do that."
Gyllenhaal also acknowledged that the film's third Oscar nomination, for T-Bone Burnett and Ryan Bingham's original song, "The Weary Kind," was an equally important element to the film. She heard it for the first time the same day she met Bridges on the film's set. They had driven out to a playground to meet the actor that would be playing Gyllenhaal's son in the film, and afterward, Bridges told her to get in his car, where he played her "The Weary Kind."
"When I heard that song," Gyllenhaal said, "it took everything I had not to cry, and that song in particular means a lot to me. I acted a scene to that song, and I listened to a lot during shooting... If that song wasn't such a really special song, I think the movie would have a chunk missing out of it."
Both "The Weary Kind" and Bridges' performance are heavy favorites to win statuettes heading into next weekend's Oscars. While Gyllenhaal has the seemingly unbeatable Mo'Nique to contend with her in her category, she seems happy to just be going along for the ride, particularly with a film she so clearly adores.
"I'm really trying to have fun," she said of awards season. "I am trying to go out to the parties and have a drink and get dressed up. I went to the Oscar Luncheon and it was so cool...like high school graduation in a way. They stand you all up in a row and take your picture and you go up one by one in reverse alphabetical order - which kind of keeps you on your toes - and you get your certificate. And to do all this with a movie I love so much... it's a pleasure. I love 'Crazy Heart.' And I feel so proud to stand up for it."
This is part of a series of profiles and interviews that indieWIRE will be publishing in the days leading up to the 82nd Academy Awards that profiles various nominees. Previous editions include: