If you haven’t noticed, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Peter Sarsgaard are like the Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman of this generation.

They are each in Oscar contender films ‘ Maggie in ‘Crazy Heart‘ with Jeff Bridges, Peter in ‘An Education‘ with Carey Mulligan. And they each give sensational, understated performances. A year ago they performed Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya” together directed by Austin Pendleton at CSC. They’re the real thing.

I had lunch with Maggie at Cookshop on 10th Avenue a couple of weeks ago, to talk about how much everyone loves Jeff Bridges and how ‘Crazy Heart’ turns out to be Fox Searchlight’s surprise movie of the season.

Back in September at the Toronto Film Festival, when I saw Jeff Bridges at the premiere of ‘The Men Who Stare at Goats,’ I’d asked him what else he had coming out, he didn’t even mention ‘Crazy Heart.’ Then ‘Amelia‘ tanked, and F/S scrambled for a live action Oscar film. (The fantastic ‘Mr. Fox‘ notwithstanding.) They looked in all their cupboards and drawers, and found this little film with a country heart of gold.

The Sarsgaards have a three-year-old daughter Ramona who Maggie says has changed her acting career completely. ‘I got a feeling when she was 14 months that I had to do something for myself. It was just during the writers’ strike. And then ‘Crazy Heart’ came to me, and I thought there’s no way this movie will be made. When I read it I said no way.’

Her character Jean is a local journalist/single mom who comes to interview Bridges’ Bad Blake, a washed up country star. They fall into a relationship quickly — which is almost hard to believe because Bad Blake is such a disaster. ‘But he’s also very charming,’ Maggie says, protesting. It’s a much softer part for Maggie, whose career highlights (‘Batman’ aside) include playing S&M in ‘Secretary’ and a drug addict in ‘Sherrybaby.’ Maggie says of Jean, ‘There’s a fierceness about them that Jean doesn’t have.’ She says she got her inspiration from characters played in the 70s by the likes of Sissy Spacek, Ellen Burstyn and Jane Fonda.
Maggie and her famous brother Jake are the children of director Stephen Gyllenhaal and screenwriter Naomi Foner, a (now divorced) couple who worked a lot when the kids were growing up. Among their credits are ‘A Dangerous Woman’ and ‘Running on Empty.’ How did they manage to work so much?, I asked Maggie. ‘They cobbled it together,’ she says.

When Gyllenhaal was making “Crazy Heart,” she says, her mom came to the set for two weeks to watch Ramona. ‘She said I wanted to give you the freedom to lose yourself in your work.’

And Ramona kept busy while her mom worked. Bridges included many pictures of her in a book he gave the cast when the movie wrapped.

‘I sort of thought, do I want to approve these pictures? But then I thought she was a major, major part of that experience.’ Does Ramona see her on screen ever?’ ‘I did a voice over for a children’s movie. I asked her, it that nice for you or funny? And she said, It’s nice. And it’s funny.’

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