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In 2002, actor Maggie Gyllenhaal starred in the film The Secretary along with James Spader. The project wasn’t a conventional romance movie, however, as it focused on an S & M type of relationship between a lawyer and his secretary. Given the film’s content, Gyllenhaal expected there to be much more controversy than there ended up being.

Maggie Gyllenhaal once shared that it took a little convincing to star in ‘The Secretary’

Maggie Gyllenhaal smirking while wearing a white dress.
Maggie Gyllenhaal | Arturo Holmes/FilmMagic

Gyllenhaal was curious and fascinated by The Secretary script when she received it.

“I mean it was a great script, really beautifully written,” Gyllenhaal said according to Kamera. “But the thing that sort of scared me when I first read it was less the sex or the things that I would be doing in the movie, but what the movie could ultimately be saying if it were put in the wrong hands.”

With this in mind, it was important for the Honorable Woman actor to see who the director was.

“I think the script was obviously and without question trying to say something smart, political, transgressive and provocative but it was talking about such risky stuff,” she said. “If it fell off the fine line it was walking it would end up being a reactionary, anti-feminist sex movie. So my real worry was about who was directing it. It took a little bit of convincing.”

Eventually, the director for the film ended up being Steven Shainberg. But even after he signed on, Gyllenhaal wanted to talk to Shainberg to gauge how they’d work together.

“We stepped out together and had a couple of long talks and the one thing that first convinced me to do it was that I said ‘OK, fine, we’ve been having all these conversations and you sound interesting, but what do you want the message of the movie to be?’” Gyllenhaal recalled. “And he said ‘Maggie, I don’t know what I want the message of the movie to be and I can’t know until I’ve made it. And that’s why I want to make it. I know what I want to explore, but I have no idea yet.’ And I was really struck by that.”

Maggie Gyllenhaal expected ‘The Secretary’ to be more controversial

Gyllenhaal thought, and was prepared, to defend The Secretary when it hit theaters. Given the movie’s themes and execution, she braced herself for the backlash. But much to her surprise, the film wasn’t met with too much animosity.

“I was surprised by how little controversy there was and how I didn’t really get a chance to fight for the movie like I hoped I was going to get,” Gyllenhaal said.

According to Contact Music, The Lost Daughter director was disappointed she didn’t get a chance to defend the movie.

“I thought this’ll be so fun, I’m going to get to fight against all those old-school feminists. I began to think that my entire college education was preparing me to defend the politics of this movie, but I never had to. It was very disappointing,” she confided.

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The world of cinema has changed considerably from the time The Secretary was made. Gyllenhaal has changed with it, as she no longer functions as an actor, but as a producer and director as well. Because of this, The Kindergarten Teacher star has noticed certain trends and patterns in the industry. What she’s seen has convinced her The Secretary wouldn’t be financed in today’s cinematic climate.

“I’ve always sort of resisted paying attention to the money side of it, but I now am finding it really interesting, because I noticed, for example, Secretary, the first movie I did, would never be financed now, never in a million years,” she told AV Club. “It was made for very little money, but we would never have even gotten that. We would never be able to get that now, with an unknown lead and just James [Spader, her co-star]. There’s just no way.”