Maggie Gyllenhaal on 'Won't Back Down': we're failing our kids
Maggie Gyllenhaal said she learned from making "Won't Back Down" that the United States public school system is in danger of failing our kids.
"I think things need to change, that's really clear to me after learning about the public school system in this country," Gyllenhaal said in an interview provided by Twentieth Century Fox. "If we're not serving our kids, we really are failing and if the difference is amongst the grown-ups that are part of the issue, are keeping us from helping our children, then we're really in trouble."
"Won't Back Down," which tells the story of two mothers (Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis), one of whom is also a teacher, who risk everything to improve their children's failing inner city school.
"I play Jamie, who is a single mother whose daughter is in a public school that's really failing her and she's in a position that no mother should have to be in," Gyllenhaal said. "She, with the help of Viola's character, who's a teacher, they try to revolutionize the school and change it, turn it around."
The actress, who recently welcomed her second daughter with husband Peter Sarsgaard, was most interested in her character's growth over the course of the film.
"In the beginning of the movie, Jamie - she doesn't think of herself as a political person, or an activist, or an intellectual or as a thinker and she gets activated because of her heart - because of her deep need to help her kid," Gyllenhaal said. "I loved that. That was what I wanted to explore - how someone can be activated and inspired."
On the inspiration for her character, Gyllenhaal said that she tried to think of what kind of person is the most stubborn and decided the answer is teenagers.
"She's so stubborn and bombastic. She won't back down and she doesn't take no for an answer, in the way that a teenager does it. I thought 'Who is like that? Who does that?' So I played her like a kid, I played her like someone who had her kid really early and kind of got stuck and I think she does become a grown-up, as the movie goes on. But something about that child-like energy really serves her in this case."
Gyllenhaal said that the most worrisome aspect of the education system is that young people aren't confident in their ability to think for themselves, which does not bode well for November's presidential election.
"The thing about a great teacher is that they make you feel seen. They make you feel like your ideas are worthwhile and look, we live in a democracy - you can't have a functioning democracy without an educated electorate because otherwise, how do you choose your leaders? What tools do you use? It ends up just becoming about your heart and how you feel about somebody, which is not enough. And worse, whether you like your hairstyle, you know what I mean? Ultimately, you need to be able to use your own mind and believe in your own mind and to believe your ability to analyze information in order to decide who is going to lead the country you live in."
Gyllenhaal attended the Harvard-Westlake prep school in Los Angeles and went on to study literature and Eastern relifion at New York's Columbia University. She also studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London.
The 34-year-old actress has appeared in films like "The Secretary," "Crazy Heart" and "The Dark Knight" and has worked with charity organizations like Witness and TrickleUp.org. She also supports the American Civil Liberties Union.
"Won't Back Down" opened in theaters on September 28. Watch the trailer below.