Maggie Gyllenhaal on ‘The Kindergarten Teacher,’ Netflix and her special thank you to President Trump

Maggie Gyllenhaal speaks during The Envelope Live screening of "The Kindergarten Teacher" at the Montalban in Los Angeles on Nov. 19.
Maggie Gyllenhaal speaks during The Envelope Live screening of “The Kindergarten Teacher” at the Montalban in Los Angeles on Nov. 19.
(Patrick T. Fallon / For The Times)

The verdict is still out on whether Netflix can compete in the film world the way it has in the television world, but the streaming giant already has one big-screen actress in its corner: Maggie Gyllenhaal.

The Oscar-nominated actress stars in the drama “The Kindergarten Teacher,” about an educator named Lisa whose life is turned upside down when she discovers one of her young students has a talent for poetry.

The film, which Gyllenhaal also produced, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January before being purchased by Netflix and being rolled out on the streaming service on Oct. 12. Though some in the film industry — think the filmmakers behind “Birth of a Nation” and “Crazy Rich Asians” — have been hesitant to see their movies streamed on home televisions rather than play in theaters around the world, Gyllenhaal said she’s grateful for the extra exposure afforded by the popular platform.

“Why is it that people who live only in New York and San Francisco and L.A. and have an art house theater in their city can see movies that are asking you to think for yourself, asking you to think about things that are difficult or complicated,” she said during a recent Envelope Live screening of the film. “It turns out that many people want that.”

After the screening, held Nov. 19 at the Montalban in Hollywood, Gyllenhaal took part in a discussion with Times reporter Glenn Whipp about the film in which she also revealed that the notoriously secretive Netflix had shared viewership statistics for the film with her and director Sara Colangelo.


“Literally our jaws were on the floor,” Gyllenhaal said. “There’s no universe in which even a fraction of that number of people would have seen this movie [in theaters].” She later added, “This movie would have had no life without them.”

Before Netflix came along, the film had a tough time securing financing. Even when the money did come through, the cast and crew were forced to complete filming in just 22 days.

“We didn’t want to shoot it in 22 days,” she said. “I was changing my clothes in the bathroom on the Staten Island Ferry and like no one should be naked in the Staten Island Ferry bathroom. And yet, we’re a group of women. We’re used to it, we do what we do, we take the tiny bit of money that it’s taken us years to raise and we make our movie.”

Thankfully, Gyllenhaal revealed some helpful words of wisdom from her “Crazy Heart” costar Jeff Bridges that helped put things in perspective on set.

Politics also had a big influence on the production because the film was being shot in New York the summer after President Trump was elected. “I definitely think that informed the movie,” Gyllenhaal said. “I think in New York, where we were shooting at that time, there was a kind of combination of a kind of despair and like a radical energy.”

The actress also drew parallels between the journey of her character to the journey many women have been going through since Trump was voted into the White House.

“She’s like waking up to something that she had been asleep to and I think that’s what happening to lots of women right now. I think that’s part of why there’s a cultural shift, like a really exciting cultural shift that’s happening,” she said. “Thank you to Donald Trump for that, in some ways, for stirring all that up in all of us.”

Star and producer Maggie Gyllenhaal describes a feeling of “despair and ... radical energy” resulting from Donald Trump’s election and says the way many women have emotionally responded to his win is “definitely” in “The Kindergarten Teacher.”

The result is a film that spans across multiple genres, according to Gyllenhaal. “It surprised me how … undefinable it feels,” she said. “It’s one of the things I’m most proud of about it.”

For more information on future Envelope Live screenings and events, click here.