After playing prostitute-turned-blockbuster porn director Candy Merrell on HBO’s gritty ’70s/’80s NYC crime drama The Deuceportraying a Kindergarten teacher who yearns to become a poet in Netflix’s The Kindergarten Teacher “was the next step” says actress Maggie Gyllenhaal.

And by “next step”, the Crazy Heart supporting actress Oscar nominee means a project that “is an articulation of me”.

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While Candy maneuvers and rises to a position of control on The Deuce amid the chaos around her, Gyllenhaal’s Lisa Spinelli in Kindergarten Teacher is “a regular woman” falling apart. She lives a humdrum life with a blase husband, two teenage kids who disrespect her, but finds a creative muse in her five-year old student Jimmy (Parker Sevak). Ya see, Jimmy can write poetry off the top of his head. He becomes a fountainhead for Lisa who is struggling in a night school poetry course. She starts claiming Jimmy’s poems as her own, and soon wows her teacher and classmates. Lisa tries to make Jimmy’s father aware of his son’s talents, but he could care less. Her adoration for Jimmy’s poetry soon become an obsession and we see a woman in decline.

“In order to grow, you have to fall apart,” says Gyllenhaal who was looking to do a project with “sexiness, opera and punk” akin to John Cassavetes’ A Woman Under the Influence about a wife and mom battling mental illness as powerfully played by Gena Rowlands.

Gyllenhaal, who is also a producer on The Kindergarten Teacher and The Deuce, is attracted to raw female parts. Nudity and sex scenes have specific intentions and purposes in both projects. “I love in movies how sex and sexuality means something else; it’s a means to an end of talking about something else. As an actor, your body is your instrument,” says Gyllenhaal at a recent NYC Awardsline screening at the Landmark W57.

In the recent feminist revolution of #MeToo and Time’s Up, Gyllenhaal also believes Lisa speaks to many women today.

“She’s someone who is starving, she’s hungry, and not being fed and that’s something I can relate to about being a woman in the world; many women are waking up to the extent of which we’ve twisted ourselves into pretzels and bent over backwards to fit into a culture that isn’t built for us,” says the actress.

The Kindergarten Teacher is currently available on Netflix. Gyllenhaal returns to shooting on The Deuce season 3 this February. Gyllenhaal recently adapted and is getting ready to direct a feature adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s novel The Lost Daughter

Watch our post-screening Q&A with Gyllenhaal above.