In "Batman Beings," Rachel Dawes was introduced as a childhood friend and eventual love interest for Christian Bale's Bruce Wayne. Played by Katie Holmes, the character revealed Batman's true mask. In "The Dark Knight," Rachel is played by Maggie Gyllenhaal, who talked to CBR News about taking over the rule and making a big studio film.
In assuming the role of Dawes, Gyllenhaal said she needed approval from one person: Katie Holmes. "Before I decided to do the movie, I wanted to make sure I had her blessing. I didn't want to do it if it wasn't okay with her," she said. "I was assured that I absolutely [had her blessing]. I'm a fan of hers and I think she's a lovely actress and I thought she was great in the previous movie."
Though not recreating Holmes's performance, Gyllenhaal gives her colleague a great deal of credit in creating the part. "I really admire what she did in the previous movie and at the same time, I knew it would impossible to imitate her and I would be horrible at that," Gyllenhaal explained.
Gyllenhaal decided to approach Rachel as "a new woman." In meeting with director-writer Christopher Nolan, she discussed her concerns. "It was important to me when I met with Chris that Rachel be somebody who was a full, thinking woman; fierce, funny, and really somebody with a mind, which is not always the case in a big summer blockbuster. It was important to Chris as well that she be that way."
However, Gyllenhaal acknowledges the history of the character can never be forgotten. Explained the actress, "There are some plot points, some narrative stuff, in the previous movie that's really important to this movie that [Katie] built. Like at the end of the last movie, she says to Bruce Wayne, 'I love you and I understand that you need to be Batman, but I can't be with you if you're Batman.' That, of course, plays all the way through this movie and she made that. So, of course, what she did is resonating in this movie, also."
Gyllenhaal is better known for roles in smaller films like "Secretary" and "Mona Lisa Smile." But despite stunts and costumes, she found "The Dark Knight" similar to her work in the past. "It's Gary Oldman and Michael Caine and Aaron Eckhart and Christian Bale and Heath [Ledger] and Morgan Freeman and a great director and it really isn't all that different than anything else I've ever done," she said. "It is sort of fantasy on some level -- the circumstances are larger than life -- [but] Chris really wanted us to play the scenes for truth. So it didn't feel very different to me."
In considering the difference between "The Dark Knight" and smaller projects like "Secretary" Gyllenhaal did admit to one aspect that stands out for her. "All my clothes were made for me. That's where you feel the difference between [this and] an indie movie," she joked. "I had a seven-month-old when I started this movie and fourteen-month-old when I finished and I stopped nursing her in the middle, so I was surprised that you couldn't tell watching the movie. The wardrobe woman was unbelievable on this movie and she tailored all the clothes to me. She somehow nipped them and tucked them as I changed. She was really incredible and I really loved her."
Regarding her co-stars, Gyllenhaal singled out Ledger's performance as the Joker. "He is doing something that is really extraordinary and unusual even for the most talented and most experienced actors, which is that he finds a stride that is totally free," she said. "When you're around that, it bleeds onto everyone else and everyone else's work. So acting with him, even though the [party] scene was scary and full of tension, was actually really fun." Despite his malevolent persona on screen, Gyllenhaal said Ledger "did not stay in character" when the director called cut.
In continuing the romantic aspect of Rachel Dawes, and now extending it to a real triangle between Bruce Wayne and Harvey Dent, Gyllenhaal quipped, "I know, it's an enviable position." She briefly explained her approach to that element of the story. "I tried to make it as difficult for myself as I possible could. I decided that she really had to love them both absolutely and equally."
The part of Dawes did require Gyllenhaal to do some stunt work, a first for her. "I've never done anything like that before," she said. "Chris is not really into CGI. There's some, but I think he tries to avoid it as much as he can. So we shot big chunks of that stuff in one [night,] I got to experience some of what it would actually feel like. Of course, I didn't drop from a 300-storey building. It looked like I did, but it was easy to pretend that's what happening so there still was acting in the midst of that stuff. It was fun, it was really fun."
Before coming to "The Dark Knight," Gyllenhaal was not familiar with the mythos surrounding Batman. "I didn't know about it. I didn't really care about it at first, either," she said. "I didn't even have to think about for awhile because the movie seemed so real. I would almost forget I was in a Batman movie. There was one time where I was doing a scene and taking really seriously and all of a sudden I say, 'Believe me, Bruce Wayne's penthouse is the safest place in Gotham.' Oh, right! I'm in a Batman movie! Then I hit the beat and [I imagined the] music swelled and it was great."
At one point, a perilous situation her character faces also brought Gyllenhaal into Batman's world. "We were shooting this stunt and Batman grabs me in his cape and saves me from death and I loved it and I got it," Gyllenhaal recalled. "Now, that I've been in the movie and I can feel how important Batman and the Batman mythology and the movies and the comics are to so many people. I just hope that we and that I have done justice to what's in their imagination. I think about it very differently now."
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