She made her name in a drama about sadomasochism – and broke the mould again as a porn director in The Deuce. But it’s her hotly debated new film that might prove to be her most transgressive yet
Nearly two decades ago, Maggie Gyllenhaal came crawling on her hands and knees into James Spader’s office, a memo clutched between her teeth – but it may as well have been a calling card. Gyllenhaal’s performance as Lee, the gagged and manacled office assistant/S&M sex slave in the now-notorious Secretary, set the tone for a career that has rarely lacked for daring.
In the years since, she has racked up a number of complex, even contradictory, roles: the defiant, self-absorbed ex-con in the indie film Sherrybaby; the capable, conflicted businesswoman drawn into the grubby world of arms dealing in the BBC thriller The Honourable Woman; and Eileen, the sex worker turned pioneering pornography director in David Simon’s dawn-of-porn series, The Deuce. She says she has long rejected cinema’s “fantasy version of the powerful woman” in favour of an “actual woman”, with “some aspects that are powerful, and some that are confused, broken and vulnerable. I want all of it!” she says, grinning from the vaguely Scandi-style sofa in her hotel suite.