Maggie Gyllenhaal Opens Up about Her Role in ‘The Dark Knight’

Maggie Gyllenhaal as Rachel Dawes in The Dark Knight
Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures

The first interview in our week long coverage of The Dark Knight will go to Maggie Gyllenhaal who takes over for Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes, the film’s lead female and lead romantic connection, this time for a pair of “heroes”. Maggie had one of the tougher tasks in the film in that she had to take over for an actress playing an established role in an extremely high profile summer film and we don’t waste any time in asking her about the transition.

Just as with all of the seven interviews I will post this week, Maggie had a lot to say about the film and its meaning. I am sure you will find each interview posted this week very entertaining as you get a behind-the-scenes glimpse at what is surely for many, the most anticipated film of summer 2008. Enjoy!

Maggie how was it stepping into the role Katie Holmes had played in Batman Begins?

Maggie Gyllenhaal (MG): First of all I wanted to make sure I had her blessing in terms of doing it. When I found out I did I didn’t think it would do anyone any good for me to try to imitate her. It would have been awful. I could never have done that so I thought, you know I have to make her a new woman. I think that was the best way to honor what Katie did as well to sort of really let [Rachel] really start anew. There are some plot points and some things in the narrative that happened in the first movie that had a big effect on our movie and I paid attention to those. Most importantly at the end of the previous movie she says to Bruce Wayne, “I love you but I can’t be with you as Batman and I understand why you need to be Batman, but let’s see what happens.” And then of course that plays itself out all over the place in our movie so I did have to pay attention, but I started over in some ways.

The lion share of your work has been these really interesting characters in smaller films, what does a film like this mean to you? Do you look at this as another job or in the back of your mind are you thinking this is a big summer film that could potentially have an effect on your career?

MG: Well, when I was approached about this movie I wasn’t looking to work at all. I had a three month old. I wasn’t reading scripts so I wasn’t in the career-minded frame of mind at all. I was a fan of Chris [Nolan] and I knew who was in the movie, like Gary Oldman and Michael Cane and Morgan Freeman and Heath and Christian and Aaron Eckhart, it was a hard thing not to take seriously. But I think what made me do it at that time was really a couple of conversations I had with Chris where first of all he was so thoughtful and smart, honest and also he gave me the script to read after our first meeting and he said, “She’s not quite finished in this draft.” I read it and I had some ideas and most of them were about making sure that she would be a fully realized woman. That she would be smart and feisty and fierce and just as invested in finding justice in the community that she lived in just as these guys were. I felt like that was exactly the same thing Chris wanted her to be so, in a way, dealing in a way with those actors, with this director was not all that different then anything I’ve done before, especially because although it takes place in Gotham and fundamentally it is a movie about Batman, he wanted us to play everything for truth.

There are great actors that are really operatic, great actors that are larger than life, but the actors that he chose in the movie are the ones who are into realism. So it was very similar in a lot of ways to some of the smaller movies I’ve done. But also one thing I’ll say is I love independent film, the independent film world is not what it was when I first started making movies. It is very, very, very difficult to get an interesting movie made these days and I don’t want to make a movie that 10 people see and those 10 people believe in the exact same things I do. I want to make movies that many people see and I want to have an effect on people that don’t agree with me and feel differently about the world than I do and I want to open their minds and their hearts. Actually I think this is kind of an ideal way, this movie is exactly that.

Do you have to like your characters to feel comfortable in their skin?

MG: Yes, I do.

You felt comfortable with this character?

MG: Yeah, I actually admire her. She puts more on the line and sacrifices more for the things that she believes in than I do.

The Joker explains to Rachel how he got his scars
Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures

Can you talk about working with Heath Ledger, especially that one scene where he has the knife to your face and it is almost impossible to think that he is not going to cut you.

MG: I think what Heath does in the movie is extraordinary and unusual and rare and special even for the most talented and experienced actors. He hits this stride where he is totally free in the movie and I think when that happens it bleeds out onto everyone around you. Acting with him, even though the scene was very scary and when I watched it was full of tension I actually had a great time working with him because anything I threw at him he would take it and threw all sorts of amazing things at me. It was what you always hope for.

What does the film say about the masks that people wear? We physically see it in the film, but does it say anything about the masks we wear?

MG: Well I think what is interesting in the movie and I think this is important to Rachel also is that there are these two men, well commissioner Gordon also, but just to focus on Harvey Dent and Bruce Wayne, both trying to do good, both trying to work toward justice in a correct city, both really believing in morality and honor. One of them is doing it out in the open following the law, working within the system the other one is doing it in a way that is much more radical. I think maybe, I think he feels like the system is so broken that he has to crack it a different way and he has to hide who he is in order to protect himself. I think Rachel is equally in love with both of these men. I think in love with them partially because they are so well intentioned and trying to figure out which way is more honorable.

Did you see a political message in this film, especially with the cell phone surveillance and Fox’s impression of that? Did you tap into that and what are your impressions of that in such a large summer film?

MG: Yeah, I think that was pretty obviously a comment on something, that little piece, but I think in general you would be hard pressed to find anyone who wouldn’t say the world is in a tough place right now. I think things ebb and flow in that way, look at history where you learn about this war and that war and right now we are in the midst of a tough time. I think that this movie, and all of Batman, that’s part of why it is so appealing it is about someone who is able to be courageous enough and risk enough to stand up against what they think is wrong and what they believe in and someone who is able to sacrifice their own comfort and possibly their own safety for the good of their community. I think when you are in trouble in a city, in a country, in the world you are hoping for people like that who can guide you, who can be heroic, who can change things. I think that is exactly what the movie is about.

How important is that in films? Especially one of this size? Because some films are made specifically for that reason, where this is obviously made to be a comic book movie and that might have been a guiding force inside the script?

MG: I was so glad when I saw it in this film, which was made for millions and millions of dollars, so many peoples minds and hearts and so much effort put into it that it ended up being about something. So I guess its PG-13, so if 13 and 14 year old boys who want to see the Bat motorcycle – I completely understand – are also going to come out of the movie after two and a half hours watching something that is also about being an honorable courageous man and that is what I mean when I say, I don’t want to make movies for the hundred who believe just the same exact thing I believe I want to effect these kids. I want to help change the world and make it better and encourage people to help make the world around them a better place.

Have you always felt that way?

MG: I’ve always felt that way. I’ve always felt that way, look I’m not a social worker, I’m not a political activist I’m an actress. I don’t pretend that I’m able to risk as much as I wish I were willing to risk. I see people like Rachel who is an assistant district attorney and her whole life is about making her community better. I’m doing as much as I can, but I don’t pretend to be sacrificing everything, not at all, but I do believe it is important and I do believe it is important for an industry as huge and powerful and rich as Hollywood.

What is next for you?

MG: I finished a movie with Sam Mendes in the spring.

That one is called?

MG: It is called Farlanders, but I don’t think it is going to end up being called that.

What kind of movie is that?

MG: It is a comedy a broad comedy, really funny.

What else?

MG: It is rough after a writers strike to find anything good to do.

The Dark Knight hits theaters this Friday, July 18. For more information on the film click here. You can also enter our Dark Knight giveaway here and stay tuned as throughout the entire week I will be posting interviews with Christian Bale, Christopher Nolan, Aaron Eckhart, Gary Oldman, David Goyer, Jonathan Nolan, Emma Thomas and Charles Rovan. To say this isn’t the week of The Dark Knight is a drastic misconception.

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