Maggie Gyllenhaal is new to the Batman film franchise, even though her character is not.
The actress assumes the role of Rachel Dawes from Katie Holmes, who was unable to reprise her part in The Dark Knight, opening July 18th. Taking over the role began with her getting Holmes’ blessing, a process complicated by reports that Gyllenhaal made unkind comments about Holmes’ performance.
“I wrote to her,” says Gyllenhaal, who denies having said the remarks. “I wrote her a little email after that because I just thought, I doubt she’s reading this, but if she is I wouldn’t want her to feel bad even for a second,” she says. “Once I knew that I had her blessing in terms of doing this, I kind of thought, OK, the only way for me to do this is to think of her as a whole new woman.”
The Dark Knight presents Rachel with difficult choices. A childhood friend of Bruce Wayne’s, she knows his secret identity and is attracted to him even though she has reservations about his role as Batman. As The Dark Knight begins, she is equally interested in her new boss, Harvey Dent, the crusading and charismatic district attorney out to clean up Gotham City the legal way.
“She’s trying to figure out in a lot of the movie which of these two very honorable men is going about trying to change the world they live in a way that is more effective and better,” she says. Rachel’s final decision is a dramatic highpoint of the film that has far-reaching and devastating consequences for all three characters.
It’s that kind of dramatic situation that challenges her as an actress, Gyllenhaal says. “You always have to try to make things as difficult for yourself as possible as an actor,” she says. “Then you put yourself into these difficult situations and the choices you’ve made, and all you have to do is try to make your way out of them.”
When it came to working with the late Heath Ledger, who died in January of an accidental overdose of prescription medication, Gyllenhaal says he conveyed a rare freedom in the role. “Even though the scene is scary and dark and full of tension, working with someone who’s so free was so much fun.”
Gyllenhaal says she wasn’t looking to work when the opportunity to play the part came along, having recently become a mother. “I hadn’t been reading scripts at all and I wasn’t in the work frame of mind, but I was a big fan of Chris Nolan’s, and actors in the movie were so amazing,” she says. “It was pretty hard not to take seriously the possibility of working with them.”
Having taken some time off to be with her daughter, Gyllenhaal next appears in the comedy Farlanders and is reading scripts, looking for a project worth doing. “I’m really looking for something that’s worth leaving her for and with writers have struck it’s so hard to find it. But I’m looking.”