Maggie Gyllenhaal: From Secretary to Honourable Woman

Maggie Gyllenhaal in The Honourable Woman

How would you describe Nessa Stein?
“Nessa is a very powerful, smart and emotional woman but at the same time she’s broken and confused with a deeply troubled past. She is conflicted about past events, events that have haunted her and it is the reason why she is constantly battling a consuming internal conflict – this internal struggle for reconciliation with her past and her search for personal equilibrium – is manifested in her political activities – to try to reconcile a conflict that has equally haunted a region of the world, countless lives, and political agendas for many years.”

What interested you about the project?
“When I read the scripts I thought they were incredible. Hugo Blick is such a talented writer and I’d never read anything like them before. On one hand they had the thriller aspect, with the twists, turns and secrets but underneath that there is this ocean of realistic human emotion, especially in Nessa and that’s what interested me the most. Everything about Nessa is very intense, she’s just so much more alive than I am, or any of us, and that was such a joy to play.

So while The Honourable Woman deals with political inheritance and trust and deceit, it also deals with the deep personal side to those same issues. So it took all of me, my brain, my heart, my body to play Nessa Stein. And I had never been presented with a challenge quite like that before.”

Why did you choose this role as your first TV project?
“I had never read a character like Nessa. She is a powerful, smart, grown-up woman who is also deeply flawed and broken. She is hard and sensual, brave and childlike all at once. Like we all are. I love that the drama deals with very important, terrifying global conflicts – and it really takes them on – but it is also about a woman trying to sort out similar conflicts inside herself.

I know it differs from project to project but I can see now all the benefits and autonomy television can bring having worked on The Honourable Woman. I just loved the scope of the drama and how a television series grants you the freedom to really flesh out a character. Having worked in films for so long and becoming used to the regular two-hour rhythm, I found it difficult initially, to get my head around regularly shooting scenes out of order. But as time passed it felt really wild and unpredictable and that excited me.”

How did you perfect the English accent?
“I’ve worked on two plays and two movies with an English accent so I knew I was competent at doing the accent. It wasn’t like I was learning something from scratch, but this was the first time I’ve ever felt like it was really in my bones.

I love talking with an English accent and I loved playing Nessa with her English accent. I remember when we finished shooting Hugo said to me, ‘Where are you going to hang that accent?’ as I now feel like a fully fledged Anglophile!”

The Honourable Woman is on BBC now