The Lost Daughter filmmaker Maggie Gyllenhaal and actress Dakota Johnson were attracted to the hard, often unattractive truths — particularly about motherhood — that too often go unexplored in cultural conversation that the film explores.
“Elena Ferrante, who wrote the book that the film is based on, she really in all of her novels is telling the truth about things that I think for a really long time we’ve agreed not to talk about,” Gyllenhaal, who made her directorial debut on the film and also adapted the screenplay from Ferrante’s novel, told Deadline’s Contenders New York on Saturday. She shared the stage with Johnson, co-star (and Gyllenhaal’s spouse) Peter Sarsgaard and editor Affonso Gonçalves.
“There’s something inherently dramatic about telling the truth in general. Like, even when you tell the truth to a little kid – really the truth about something – and you see their eyes open up,” said Gyllenhaal. “So I do think that’s what drove me. And also because they were truths about things that related to me and my experience as a woman in the world. As a mother, yes, of course, but also as a lover as a thinker, as an artist. It felt good to like just straight forwardly laid them out.”
Written and directed by Gyllenhaal, The Lost Daughter is a psychological starring Colman as Leda, a middle-aged divorcée on holiday whose chance encounter with another woman and daughter causes her vacation to take a dark turn as she is forced to confront her past. Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Paul Mescal and Ed Harris also star.
Johnson revealed that any trepidation about taking on the role of a young mother struggling with the responsibilities of parenting were eased her excitement to delve into territory little explored in screen storytelling.
“The initial feeling was, ‘Oh, I’m a little bit scared to play this young woman who’s having a really difficult time as a mother,’ because that is typically a very unlikable person,” said Johnson. “But it’s so normal and it’s so honest, and it was some someone that I recognized more than, you know, a young mother who’s who gets everything perfect and is feeling great about it and super happy and all the time doesn’t waver from that.”
Johnson also praised Gyllenhaal for the support she provided, especially doing more challenging moments. “Having Maggie there, who knows what it feels like to be an actor acting, made me feel so safe and so seen and genuinely loved,” she said. “And that made me feel like I could do really extreme things and still be held. And even in the edit, be held, and that is something like as an actor you end up seeing the movie and you’re like, ‘That’s not what I did.’”
Johnson added: “It was like she offered me her hand and said, ‘Come with me. Let’s go on this journey of, like, truth.’ And that can be scary but also liberating, and that’s the point. And I was like ‘Yes!’”
Gyllenhaal admitted that she had to trust her own instincts navigating the material. “Nothing was easy, but because I’m a beginner in some aspects of this,” she said. “In some aspects, no — I’ve made a lot of movies, — but in other aspects I am. I think one of the things I really relied on was just my own unconscious mind. It’s my first time, so what do I have to go on except just me and my mind? … It’s just myself kind of leading me.”
Netflix acquired worldwide rights to the film in August, ahead of its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival.
Check out the panel video above.
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