An eight-hour miniseries premiering Thursday at 10 p.m. on SundanceTV, The Honorable Woman is a virtuoso effort by Hugo Blick, who wrote and directed it.
And in the lead role of Baroness Nessa Stein, an Anglo-Israeli businesswoman who wants to span a raging divide with communication cables laid between Israel and the West Bank, Maggie Gyllenhaal delivers the most nuanced yet full-bodied performance you could hope to see.
The 36-year-old actress, whose films include Crazy Heart, World Trade Center and The Dark Knight, recently told the Associated Press that on The Honorable Woman, she and Blick related on a level beyond words.
“Hugo was the most trusting director I’ve ever worked with in my life,” said Gyllenhaal as she unwittingly invoked a key question — “Who do you trust?” — that serves as the first sentence her character utters.
“And I’ve never, ever played a character who was more fully, wholly, truly formed than this one,” she went on. “Hugo had written all eight episodes before we began, but so many things about her surprised me! So I would kind of walk into each scene knowing what I knew about Nessa, then see how it expressed itself. And then I would think, ‘OK, that scene happened. Now, where are we?’ ”
“It is much more interesting to watch an actor actually learning something,” Gyllenhaal persisted, “rather than watch someone pretend like they’re learning something. You can set up a situation for yourself that includes your own issues, terrors, strengths, and then put yourself in that situation, and when you do the scene you can learn many things. That was always what I was trying to accomplish.
“Nessa has to go through this journey,” said Gyllenhaal, who clearly puts a premium on trust, “and I went through it, too.”