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Maggie Gyllenhaal says she was brainwashed into feeling guilty about equal pay

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Christobel Hastings
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Maggie Gyllenhaal might be completely in control as the sex-worker-turned-porn-director in HBO’s The Deuce, but in a new interview, the actor bravely opened up about feeling less-than-worthy when she gained pay parity. 

As far as Hollywood actresses go, Maggie Gyllenhaal is nothing short of a national treasure. She’s straight-talking, politically engaged, and her complex roles always defy our expectations. 

Take her role as Eileen “Candy” Merrell, the savvy sex-worker-turned-porn-director in HBO’s The Deuce, a classic example of the kind of character Gyllenhaal so expertly brings to life. Instead of being written off as one-dimensional, Gyllenhaal completely upends our assumptions, bringing Candy to life with a level of wit and nuance rarely seen on screen. 

Gyllenhaal doesn’t always feel completely in control, though. Even though the actress is a leading figure in the #TimesUp and #MeToo movements against sexual harassment and gender inequality, navigating an industry fraught with sexism and misogyny remains a struggle. 

Speaking to John Fugelsang on Sirius XM about her role in The Deuce, the gritty 70s New York-set drama which explores the dawn of the porn industry, Gyllenhaal opened up about feeling guilty at receiving a salary increase to level her pay to that of her co-star, James Franco.

“Out of the blue I got a phone call saying that HBO was going to significantly raise my salary. I am going to be totally honest here. The first feeling I had was, I felt kind of guilty,” she recalled.

The Oscar-nominated actress went on to explain that she believes her reaction to getting equal pay was down to “brainwashing” in the film industry.

“Like I thought, ‘I just had this windfall? Wait, that’s not fair.’ That’s where I’m brainwashed. I’m like, ‘I don’t deserve this,’” she continued.

Gyllenhaal elaborated on her reaction, adding that part of the reason she felt guilty was because she believed Franco to be a “way more bankable” actor, which justified the pay disparity. But she soon came around to identifying that her feelings stemmed from “confused logic”, which then enabled her to recognise her self-worth. 

“That’s what I’ve been told for my entire career,” she said. “It took me maybe a day to go, ‘No, no, no, this is payback for a long time, when have I ever been paid the same as my male co-star?’ It took me a while to kind of clear my head.”

Gyllenhaal’s story is saddening, but it’s also admirable of the star to open up a conversation about why we sometimes accept less than we deserve. It’s a common phenomenon, in fact, and not just pervasive in the issue of equal pay: women are conditioned to contain their bodies, quieten they voices, and minimise their desires in most aspects of their daily lives. By speaking out about our experiences, though, we can dismantle our habits, find common ground, and work towards achieving exactly what we deserve. 

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Images: Getty, Paul Schiraldi/HBO