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Last Updated: Friday, 1 September 2006, 08:04 GMT 09:04 UK
Prolific Gyllenhaal plays ugly
By Manoush Zomorodi
New York

Maggie Gyllenhaal in Sherrybaby
Gyllenhaal's performance in Sherrybaby has been praised
Actress Maggie Gyllenhaal is on the brink of mainstream stardom - and has appeared in a staggering six films already this year.

The 28-year-old can currently be seen portraying a grieving wife in Oliver Stone's World Trade Center, and a frustrated girlfriend in the romantic comedy Trust the Man.

Stranger Than Fiction, in which she stars alongside Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson, is released in November. Her voice can also be heard in the animated film Monster House and earlier this year, she played a pastry chef in Great New Wonderful.

But now Gyllenhaal's mind is on her independent film Sherrybaby, which debuted at the Sundance Film Festival and comes to US cinemas in September.

She plays recovering heroin addict Sherry Swanson, just released from prison and struggling to find work and regain custody of her young daughter.

"I feel like Sherrybaby really asking something really interesting of the audience," she says.

"It's sort of saying, can you watch this woman be this flawed, have this hard of a time and still love her and still be compassionate toward her?"

Bigger projects

Gyllenhaal came to Hollywood's attention four years ago in Secretary, in which she played a young woman who begins a sadomasochistic relationship with her boss.

Her career progressed with a steady stream of projects, but younger brother Jake Gyllenhaal, who starred in last year's Brokeback Mountain, is still the more famous sibling.

Maggie Gyllenhaal
There can be a very obvious idea of what beauty is or what being sexy is, and I don't think that I fit into that idea
Maggie Gyllenhaal
Gyllenhaal admits she has begun to pursue bigger projects.

"When I was younger, I thought it was sort of punk to say I don't care if anybody sees my movies or not," she says.

"I do care if people see my movies. I'm not making them for myself, otherwise I'd just act in my kitchen. I want people to see them, I want people to be moved by them."

The actress has said that when she began looking at acting as a career, she was told by casting agents that she was not sexy or beautiful enough - but credits the makers of Secretary with changing that perception.

Motherhood beckons

"There can be a very obvious idea of what beauty is or what being sexy is, and I don't think that I fit into that idea - at least then," she says.

"When I made Secretary I was given this opportunity that I think is pretty rare and pretty unusual for someone my age - I was given an opportunity to express myself.

"If you're really doing that honestly, I think it's very sexy and can be very compelling. It takes someone who's interested and curious to find beauty in a less obvious way."

Peter Sarsgaard and Maggie Gyllenhaal
Gyllenhaal is expecting her baby with actor Peter Sarsgaard

And unlike many Hollywood starlets, Gyllenhaal does not seem to mind looking unattractive on screen.

Critics have praised her appearance in Sherrybaby, and some have predicted she may receive an Oscar nomination for her raw performance.

Academy voters have shown a preference in recent times for honouring actresses "playing ugly" - Nicole Kidman donned a prosthetic nose and won for The Hours, Charlize Theron won for her role in Monster, and Felicity Huffman was nominated last year for portraying a transsexual in Transamerica.

But for now, Gyllenhaal is concentrating a more imminent arrival - her baby, which is due this autumn.

And she says that once that happens, she is unsure whether she'll continue to work as hard.

"I'm really going to have to see how it feels to be a mother," she says.

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