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Maggie Gyllenhaal
Credit: Monica Ahanonu

Maggie Gyllenhaal doesn’t always think about her paycheck when she signs on to a film — at least she didn’t until recently. Within the past year or so, as Time’s Up has begun to take hold throughout the entertainment industry, the Golden Globe-winning actress and producer has been reconsidering her worth and the worth of independent, feminine filmmaking in general. “When I was first starting out, I had no power,” she tells InStyle. “When you have no power, usually you're not paid very much.”

Now, after about 16 years in the spotlight, Gyllenhaal says she wields her hard-earned power to try to make things fair. She says she’d rather see a passion project through on a low budget than demand a high salary. But she still wants to see the industry create more space and offer more support for women trying to make this passion their profession. “I think we have to be given the opportunity to do what we love and express ourselves artistically, and be paid for it,” she says.

The indie icon also needs space — not from anyone in particular, but from the noise of a busy life — to let her personal creativity flow. As of late, while she works on adapting a book into a film she will eventually direct, she says she prefers to write during quiet, uninterrupted, airplane time. She’s been considering creative space quite literally after a recent trip to the dentist for which she downloaded an audio book of Virginia Woolf’s extended feminist essay “A Room of One’s Own.”

“In the middle, she asks if there can be such a thing as feminine writing when it's been such a masculine world for so long, or if women’s writing is just blinded by the anger and pain of not having been allowed to be a part of it for so long,” Gyllenhaal says, sounding not unlike her character on HBO's The Deuce, which just returned for its second season. (Candy, a former sex worker, fights for behind-the-camera power in a burgeoning, boys-club porn business.)

“'A Room of One's Own' is, in a little way, about giving women the space to have their minds clear enough to express themselves,” she says, and she's partnered with Autograph Collection Hotels as an independent film advisor to help give young women that space to develop their ideas, and work. “It seemed like such an interesting match to support women writers by giving them space in a room of their own, where they can take the time to see what comes out of their mind and onto the page.”

This year, she’s chosen three female screenwriters from Hollywood’s Black List, which collects popular, yet unproduced screenplays, to participate in the hotel group’s Indie Film Project Screenwriters in Residence program. The selected screenwriters, Sarah Jane Inwards, Amanda Idoko, and Chiara Towne (pictured below with Gyllenhaal), will each select an Autograph Collection hotel of her choice, anywhere in the world, to work on her project for an entire week.

Below, Gyllenhaal talks more about achieving success in the industry, and what that means in terms of a paycheck; female role models throughout her career; and advice she wants to give young female screenwriters just starting out. For starters: Those "we'll pay you anything!" job offers aren't always as sweet as they sound.

On defining success … I feel successful when I'm expressing or exploring something about myself or my place in the world through the work that I'm doing. When I'm doing that, the work is good. And that used to feel like this big, cathartic, explosive thing. And now it feels quieter. I think in order for it to feel successful to me, it has to feel personal.

On mentors in the biz … I had an acting teacher for many years starting with Secretary who died about a year or two ago. She was a real mentor — a powerful, unusual, wild woman who taught me to be brave enough to put myself into my work. I also felt very mentored and supported by Julia Roberts. When I did Mona Lisa Smile with her it was right when Secretary was coming out. Everything was changing for me with award ceremonies, interviews, and all those things that came with the beginning of being known. She was wonderful. She said that I have to be myself and protect myself. She said, “You don't need everyone to see every bit of you. When you have to get up to read a speech, don't read it off the page. Write it down, know basically what it says, then go up there and be yourself.”

Emma Thompson also said, "You're trying to keep all the balls in the air: being a mother, being a wife, being an actress. You're trying to do everything perfectly, and that will not work. You have to accept just doing the best you can as opposed to some kind of doing the very best fantasy.”

Maggie Gyllenhaal
Credit: Celeste Sloman

On negotiating for her salary … I try to hit on what's fair. If I’m making a movie like The Kids of Our Future for no money, it would be ridiculous if I said I was only doing it for such and such amount. That would mean we lose a day of shooting. Whereas, if I’m working for a big network that has lots of money and there's a big budget, I think, "They'll pay me fairly." And every once in a while, you're in a situation where they say, "We need you. What you bring to this movie is so important that we will pay you whatever you want." It doesn't happen often, but when it does, usually the movie isn't very appealing — otherwise, why would they have to be like that?

On what she spent her first acting paycheck on … The first time I had any acting money was from Secretary. I was with a boyfriend that I had been with since college, and it was long overdue for me to break up with him. So, I did, and then I bought myself a ticket to Paris for three weeks by myself.

On wavering confidence … I think that if you're really trying to do work that includes exploring yourself, there's going be tons of times when you think something is too much or too scary, or I can't do this. I think that all the time. One thing that makes me feel better is remembering that I have experience I can trust. And I can trust my instincts. I also find a lot of comfort in curiosity, recognizing something as harder than I thought or not what I expected, but asking myself, “What is it?" Then you get curious, look around, and explore. I think that helps with confidence.

On her creative space … Right now I'm adapting a screenplay into a film I'm going to direct, and I’ve been thinking through the adaptation as I'm doing other things, like taking the kids to school, exercising, grocery shopping, whatever. And then I get the most writing done on airplanes, especially if I have like a five-hour plane ride. All the things I've been collecting in my mind over time, I organize and put on paper. So lately that's been my place, which I think has something to do with being the mother of two small kids, shooting a television show, and having so many other things going on.

Advice on getting paid … When I'm given the opportunity to do something that's artistically interesting to me, I often think, “I don't care if I'm paid.” And I'm just learning over the past year that I actually do need to be paid for my work. I wonder whether it's a feminine thing, because I don't know if men do that in the same way. Even Candy on The Deuce does it. She's like, “I don't care if you pay me, I just want to be given the chance to do what I love.” I really relate to that, but I don't think it's right. We have to be given the opportunity to do what we love, express ourselves artistically, and be paid for it. I hope people in the younger generation feel entitled to both being paid and being given the opportunity do what they want with their work.