A different honour for A -lister Maggie

The Honourable Woman, Maggie Gyllenhall
The Honourable Woman, Maggie Gyllenhall
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When your parents are an acting power couple, your uncle’s a Hollywood heart-throb and your grandparents also work in film, it’s understandable if you don’t think the movie business is that big a deal.

Maggie Gyllenhaal might have A-list pals and an Oscar nomination under her belt, but her seven-year-old daughter Ramona - whose father is the actor Peter Sarsgaard - isn’t at all dazzled by her mum’s day job.

“I think she’s proud of me, you know?” says the actress, smiling. “But I don’t think she thinks it’s the most amazing, glittering thing.”

Recalling some of Ramona’s observations, Gyllenhaal, whose brother is Brokeback Mountain star Jake, laughs, explaining: “It’s funny, sometimes she’ll say, ‘It’s hard to be an actress, you have to take your coat off, even if it’s really cold!’”

Despite growing up in Los Angeles, with her director father, Stephen, and screenwriter mother Naomi Foner, Gyllenhaal “never felt comfortable” there.

At 17, she returned to New York, where she was born, to earn a BA from Columbia University (she also studied at London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art), and she and Sarsgaard now live in the city’s Brooklyn region with Ramona and her two-year old sister, Gloria Ray.

Next on her wish list of places to live is London, where she filmed the upcoming BBC drama The Honourable Woman.

“I feel like that’s really where I ought to be living. I just have to convince my husband,” she says with a laugh.

“You know how in some cities you just feel like they welcome you in? I feel that way about London. You make friends easily and get the rhythm of the city.”

Gyllenhaal had her daughters in tow while filming the eight-part, BBC political thriller, her first TV role.

Gyllenhaal plays Anglo-Israeli Baroness Nessa Stein, who has inherited her late father’s arms business and changed the company’s purpose to laying data cables between Israel and the West Bank.

Nessa witnessed her father’s assassination as a child, was held hostage in Gaza as a young woman, and also harbours a dark secret from her past.

The show’s topical political themes were part of what drew Gyllenhaal to the project: “In particular, the incredibly compassionate and thoughtful way those political ideas are dealt with.”

Mainly, however, she just loved her complex, powerful character.

“She’s so much more alive than I am - than anyone is, really. It’s nice to be in her skin,” says Gyllenhaal.

“Hugo [Blick, writer and director of The Honourable Woman] wrote a whole person. He gave me space to be a whole woman who is all the things that we actually are - she’s confident and intelligent and graceful, but she’s also broken and confused and scared.”

Gyllenhaal carries off Nessa’s cut-glass accent with aplomb.

“I’ve done an English accent quite a few times now. I did it in Nanny McPhee Returns [2010] and in Hysteria [2011]. But this is the first time I’ve ever felt it was totally in my bones.

“It just felt like it was my voice. I did this thing, which I know is kind of embarrassing, but once I was in work, I just talked in an English accent all day.”

She did draw the line at speaking to her husband in clipped tones. “He would just be like, ‘What are you doing?’”