Maggie Gyllenhaal on her personal connection to The Lost Daughter: ‘Many people have this experience and nobody talks about it’

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Maggie Gyllenhaal (Anthony Harvey/Shutterstock)
Maggie Gyllenhaal (Anthony Harvey/Shutterstock)

Maggie Gyllenhaal has opened up about her personal connection to Elena Ferrante’s book The Lost Daughter, which she is adapting into a film.

The movie, which explores maternal ambivalence (when a mother has emotional conflict in their feelings towards their children), stars Olivia Colman, Jessie Buckley, Dakota Johnson, Peter Sarsgaard and Paul Mescal.

Speaking at the film’s Venice Film Festival press conference, Gyllenhaal said that she first read Ferrante’s 2006 book years ago and connected with the main character.

“I thought, ‘Oh my god this woman is so f***ed up,’” she recalled. “Then a millisecond later I thought, ‘Oh no, I really relate to her, does that make me f***ed up?’ Then I realised that many people have this experience and nobody talks about it. These are secret truths about a feminine experience.”

In a personal piece for The Independent, Cathy Adams recently discussed her own experience of maternal ambivalence. She wrote: “What I’ve come to realise at a year postpartum is that this maternal ambivalence is almost impossible to talk about openly. As a society, we don’t have the language to describe the pain of becoming a mother. For somebody who uses words to give meaning and shape to things, I struggled to articulate why the transition into motherhood – matrescence – left me utterly cold.”

Gyllenhaal’s husband Sarsgaard said at the press conference: “We are both parents of two lovely children… I think it was such an enormous pleasure to see Maggie really fulfill her talent… I think that’s all I have to say or I’ll cry… For so long people have known what an excellent actress she is. But being around her is truly inspiring.

“These actors know she has an eye for an unconventional truth. There’s the easy truth we use every day. But then there’s what is actually going on. She is unbelievably inspiring. That’s about it.”

On casting her husband in the film, Gyllenhaal said: “To be completely honest, there was a moment when I thought maybe it’s not such a great idea to have Peter play the object of desire with an exquisite, gorgeous, intelligent young actress. I felt that way for around six weeks. Then something exploded in my mind and I thought, ‘You’re so bourgeois.’

“I’ve been with Peter since I was 23 and I know he loves me and I thought, ‘There isn’t anyone who could play that part like he could.’ Peter did exactly what I thought he would do. He surprised me at every turn.”

The Lost Daughter will be released on Netflix.

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