MIPTV: Maggie Gyllenhaal Says Best Creative Opportunities Are in TV

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Maggie Gyllenhaal

Soon to appear in the BBC and Sundance Channel spy thriller "The Honourable Woman," the actress says the days of reliable financing for interesting indie film projects are over.

CANNES – From indie film to the blockbuster Batman franchise, Maggie Gyllenhaal has been defined only by the unpredictable career choices she's made. Now’s she’s tackling the politically sensitive spy thriller The Honourable Woman, co-produced by the BBC and Sundance Channel, which will hit small screens later this year.

The eight-episode series allowed the actress to work in a “wilder” and more intense way, she said at MIPTV, knowing the arc of the story more in-depth than two-hour scripts allow -- and in a more cohesive way than episodic TV.

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Television series have become a haven for creative types as indie film funding has dried up. “When I first started acting, independent film was where everything was going on and you could easily get a million or two million dollars to make a movie, and almost every movie I made at that time for that money found distribution and an audience.”

Producers were more willing to take risks on smaller stories -- and on unknown actresses.

“I would never be cast in Secretary now, there’s no way. The movie wouldn’t have been made and they never would have hired me because I’d never done anything else. It would have to be Emma Stone, or someone that was financeable,” she said of her breakout 2002 S&M comedy. As blockbusters boomed and brought in billions, indie film dried up, and many artists moved on.

"People who were financing movies felt they had to ensure that they would make a lot of money and it got really tied up with commerce in a way that outweighed taking a real risk."  

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“I think all the interesting actors, writers and directors that wanted to work want to work on something unusual that follows a different rhythm and has a poetry to it, or that’s talking about things that are dangerous, are finding that there’s room for that in television now.”

The Oscar-nominated actress says it is the work she is most proud of and is the most complicated role she has tackled emotionally and intellectually. “I’ve never been more impacted by anything I’ve ever done. I think that has something to do with the scope and the length and really coming to love someone,” she says of her character, Nessa Stein.

The spy thriller revolves around the daughter of an arms dealer who is trying to come to terms with her history and right her father’s wrongs through peace initiatives after she inherits his company.

Awareness of the delicate balance in tone the show needed to strike on the subject of the politics in the Middle East added another layer to the challenge.

“It requires real thinking, because it is such a sensitive subject. When I was shooting it, I was constantly aware of it on some level and thinking, ‘Is this saying something I don’t want it to say?’ ” She hopes that the series, shot in London and Morocco, can add to the dialogue about the political situation there.

“Maybe this is naive or idealistic, but obviously there are people on either side of this conflict with vise grips on their particular position and neither position is helping anyone,” she said. “If this show for 10 seconds can allow that grip to loosen, if hearts can shift the tiniest bit for 10 seconds, then I think we will have done something extraordinary.”

The series will air on the BBC and Sundance Channel. It has been sold to HBO Nordics and Canal Plus in France during MIPTV.