Maggie Gyllenhaal was fully pregnant when she sat down at our roundtable, joined by Allison Jimeno, the real life wife of Will Jimeno who was trapped in the World Trade Center rubble. We talked about their thoughts on 9/11, playing the role, politics and director Oliver Stone. Read on for the transcript…
Was being pregnant in the movie good practice?
Maggie Gyllenhaal: Yeah, it was, I got to be pretend pregnant first.
This seems like more of a normal role for you than Secretary was.
Maggie: Well, it turned into something kind of unusual. I never choose things based on their level of craziness, it’s just people or characters I get drawn to for some reason. I do think in the end this movie ends up being pretty provocative. It’s the only thing I’ve seen, I haven’t seen United 93 which is unfortunate, but this is the only thing I’ve seen that deals with 9/11 that doesn’t have some kind of a political agenda. That’s particularly interesting to me not because I don’t think it’s okay to have a political agenda, it is, but because it did this thing to me which was shocking. I was able to feel 9/11. I definitely went in to watching this movie with my guard up, it was just my instinct because I’m not stupid but as I watched it I relaxed and started to feel. Having that effect and talking about this subject is unusual and new and special.
Is there pressure in doing a true story?
Maggie: I think there can be so I did everything I could to avoid that. Feeling a responsibility or a pressure when you’re acting is not going to be good or helpful. I’ve never played a real person before, I could never have dinner or call the person before but I knew if what I wanted to do was honor her and affect the audience I don’t think I think it would have been best to imitate her. Or even try to recreate her memory of that day. Every actor is different but for me the way I’m going to do it best is by allowing anything to be okay in the scene. Allison maybe cried two hours later, but if I’m going to cry I’m going to cry. She had already been very active in the making of the script so there was already that attention to detail.
Is there anything you did to help her deal with playing you?
Allison Jimeno: I did mention to Maggie that I would be on set, and whether or not that would be too difficult. So I was on set, but not for Maggie’s scenes and I understand that. I would not have wanted to been in her position, I think I would have been a little awkward. When we spent time together I didn’t want push anything on her, I just wanted to be available if she had questions. I trusted her to do a wonderful job and if you see it you see she did an amazing job.
What was it like to relive that day?
Allison: I went in to watching the film trying to figure out if it was me or someone else but then I remembered to focus in on the message of the film. That was such a big part for me, there was so much good that we wanted to tell about (rather) than just what we did. But it was really hard to disconnect because it is really accurate. What was important was to get the message out about the good that came from that day.
What did you ask Allison for specifically?
Maggie: Specifically not details or emotions. It was more that I felt inspired by being around her. We talked about what happened that day but more than that we just talked. We chatted. I just wanted to get a feeling about her.
Was it a difficult shoot for you emotionally to conjure all this up?
Maggie: It was tough, and it was tougher than I thought it would be. I thought it would be hard to re-live that day but the thing about Allison’s character is there isn’t a lot of release. If you have to feel horrible things but you get to cry a lot you end up feeling okay. If you don’t, and there is really almost none in the movie, then it really stays in your body and it can be really hard. Of course it would be nothing as bad what it must have been like to live through it. At the same time as I felt that I also really loved Oliver (Stone). There was something so unusually exhilarating that there was mix of pain and exhilaration. That was kind of interesting.
Allison, given his reputation did you have any reservations about Oliver Stone directing it at first?
Allison: Absolutely not. He’s a wonderful storyteller and I was happy to be working with him. I immediately thought this is our chance to make a wonderful film. To really be able to really express what was important so I was thrilled.
What would you say to people to think this film has an agenda even before seeing it?
Maggie: I think they’re afraid. We’re all so used to expecting there will be. I don’t think there is anything wrong with politics and having a political view but I think at this point if you want to affect anyone and make them open their hearts to this subject I don’t think you can include politics in it. It seems to me in watching it that I felt about 9/11, which I’ve longed to do, but it’s been hard to. I felt like all these words they throw around like hero stop meaning anything and now when I watch the movie I thought this is what a hero is. It’s not so much that we have to be afraid of politics, though they have gotten scary; it’s that Oliver’s intention was to make people feel. Somehow he made it about something else other than politics.
World Trade Center opens Wednesday August 9. You can also check out 8 clips from the film here as well as our interview with Oliver Stone here and our interview with Michael PeÃ±a and Will Jimeno here.