LOS ANGELES — Maggie Gyllenhaal has been a Spirit Awards darling (“Secretary,” “Happy Endings”), a Golden Globe nominee (“Sherrybaby,” “Secretary”) and a superhero’s girlfriend (“Batman Begins”). But the 32-year-old actress had never been an Oscar nominee — and didn’t think her turn in “Crazy Heart” as Jean Craddock, a single mother and journalist who falls for an alcoholic country singer many years her senior (Jeff Bridges), was going to change that. That is, until the academy surprised many observers by nominating her for supporting actress. Over lunch in Beverly Hills, the actress talked about May-December romances, her love for Penelope Cruz and her ongoing battle not to read pieces like this.
Question: Before the Oscar nominations were announced, many pundits had laid out the supporting actress field and your name wasn’t on their lists. Was that your feeling too?
Answer: “It’s sort of funny. I really did get to a place of ‘What are awards anyway, and do they really matter?’ To really have come to terms with that and then get nominated for an Academy Award (she laughs). It’s a little confusing. But mostly I’m trying to have fun. Someone told me that Helen Mirren said that getting nominated for an Academy Award is like living in a fantasy bubble — it bursts when you don’t win or, if you do win, the day after. So either way it ends in a month.
Q. You had a close relationship with Jeff Bridges on set. Was it a case of friendship at first sight?
A. I had only met him once (before this film). Then he called me a couple times before we started shooting, and I didn’t call him back. I still don’t know why. He caught me once as I was walking down the street. ... He was just calling to catch up, and I didn’t know what I was doing yet, and I didn’t have any pulse on (the role). So we had this weird conversation, and then he called me three more times and I didn’t call him back. Then I did a little work on (the role) and went to Santa Fe (N.M., where much of the film was shot) and we met. And what happened was we just said to each other, without saying anything at all, “I’m totally willing to go anywhere and do anything. My heart is open. Is yours? Good.” And then it was just on.
Q. What have the reactions been to the age difference in the on-screen relationship?
A. I get some indignance from women journalists. I think it’s difficult for a relationship with a 30-year age difference to be healthy. But it happens all the time. So, what, you don’t make movies about it if you think it’s not the healthiest thing in the world? I got sent this article — and I’ve been trying not to read press — about sexism in our culture, and they cited “Crazy Heart” as an example of yet another movie where the guy’s much older and the woman’s much younger. And I felt like this person who was writing maybe didn’t see the movie. We’re not this sexy hero and heroine who are championing our love affair! You can’t choose who turns you on.
Q. You play a journalist in this film, which must make it a little bit odd when you’re having, well, conversations like these.
A. It’s tough talking to journalists because I think (the character) Jean is very green. She’s not a seasoned journalist. And sometimes they can be a little critical.
But I think Jean is interested in finding out something true, which is something I’m interested in in terms of journalists. Some people have interviewed me, before I stopped reading press — which I haven’t entirely done, but I try — and I read the article and thought, ‘That person came in with an open mind and did their best to figure out something true about me.’ Other times, I think someone has a fantasy or idea of me and just writes it up. Jean is the first kind.
Q. Have any journalists said things that weren’t simply evaluations of your job performance?
A. I had a great interview with the Carpetbagger woman (Melena Ryzik of the New York Times). I loved her — we really got along — but she was like, ‘I’m so tired of seeing movies where the woman journalist sleeps with her subject.’ And I was like, ‘I don’t know if it happens, but it happened here.’ And she’s not as tough as you are. Jean isn’t as grounded. She’s such a feeler. She’s fighting through all of that to write this article and be a journalist, but the opposition to that is this powerful, serious attraction.
Q. Which eventually wins out.
A. Yes (pause). And I wonder what (Ryzik) would have done if she was in a room with Jeff Bridges.
Q. How do you look at the Oscar field in both actress categories and your own chances?
A. What do you mean? (laughing) I’m going to kick Mo’Nique’s ... Let’s see, I loved Penelope (Cruz) in “Nine,” but I loved her in “Broken Embraces.” It’s the best performance I’ve seen in 10 years. I think Meryl (Streep) is brilliant. I didn’t see ‘Blind Side.’ I didn’t get a screener and don’t have our baby sitter with us out here. I haven’t seen “Avatar” either.
Q. Is that a motion-capture thing?
A. Not at all. I’m super interested. I’m not a Luddite. I’m totally willing to let things change. I’ll be blue if someone wants me to.”