VENICE LIDO, Italy — By going behind the cameras for her feature writing-directing debut with Netflix’s “The Lost Daughter,” Maggie Gyllenhaal has recharged her career.
Freely adapted from the pseudonymous Italian author Elena Ferrante’s novel of the same name, “The Lost Daughter” has been racking up awards and praise since it premiered at September’s Venice Film Festival, where Gyllenhaal, 44, was awarded best screenplay.
“The Lost Daughter” is expected to place in Motion Picture Academy and Critics Choice nominations for star Olivia Colman and Gyllenhaal’s direction and screenplay adaptation.
As to how this career change happened, “I read these (Ferrante) books years ago and I thought, ‘This woman is so (expletive) up’ — and then a minute later I related to her. Am I (expletive) up? Or is this an experience that nobody is talking about?”
In “The Lost Daughter,” Colman’s Leda Caruso, a Cambridge professor, is on holiday in Greece, where her history as an imperfect mother is revealed in flashbacks while her interactions with visiting vacationers threaten violence.
For Gyllenhaal, Ferrante’s writing reveals “these secret truths about a feminine experience in the world, spoken out loud.”
“I wondered: What if instead of sitting in a room with this book, what would happen if you had to sit with strangers or your mother and have these secrets revealed?
“Where most people have a huge spectrum of things inside them, often we as women are presented with this fantasy version of ourselves. We wanted to show the overwhelming love and joy — and Leda is full of love — that’s a mom.
“But also to do this dangerous thing by opening the truth — of a degree of darkness, perversity, desperation and terror that is also being a parent.
“I would be shocked,” she added, “if there wasn’t one mother who thought, ‘I would like to walk out the door.’ Here (in Leda) is someone who did. I hope the movie asks whether you like her. Or find it comforting that, ‘I wish I had these thoughts.’”
Her relationship with Ferrante, Gyllenhaal clarified, is restricted. “I don’t know who she is. We spoke only through letters. I wrote her a letter first to get the rights for the book and she said, ‘The contract is void if you don’t direct it.’ That was scary!
“I took it as this cosmic vote of confidence from across the universe. She read the script and gave me notes. One was: Take out the sex scene, which I did.
“And she said, ‘It’s important for Leda not to be crazy. If she’s not crazy, we can love her and care about her.’”
“The Lost Daughter” opens Friday.