In “The Honorable Woman,” Maggie Gyllenhaal plays Nessa Stein, a woman with a secret — with many secrets, actually.
“You find out what her big secret is pretty early on. And then there’s 25 other secrets that you didn’t know about,” teases Gyllenhaal.
Nessa’s father was a Zionist arms dealer and now, after inheriting his company, she turns his business into a company that lays data networks between Israel and the West Bank. The eight-part series, which premieres Thursday (July 31) at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Sundance, follows Nessa as she is appointed to the House of Lords — and the fallout after the fact.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is something that Gyllenhaal had to research, she tells Zap2it and a group of other reporters while discussing her first foray into television.
“I knew as much about the Middle East as someone who reads the newspaper every day as best they can. I believe that it’s my responsibility as a person in the world to be informed about what’s happening around me,” she says. “But I was not an expert. I’m still not an expert. But she is, so that was part of my research in order to play her.”
Gyllenhaal says she was drawn to the project because the script was so multifaceted. “It has those thriller, whodunit aspects that make it hard to put down,” she says, “but if it had only been good on that level I wouldn’t have done it. I think the thing that really pulled me in was underneath that exquisitely drawn thriller is this ocean of human behavior and human interaction.”
It helps that the project was so fulfilling because — otherwise it would’ve been too exhausting to handle.
“Even in those darkest moments it really did give me back so much that I wouldn’t leave depleted,” she says. “In fact, in some ways I would leave work feeling replenished. But see, I have two little kids so after that day at work I would go home and I would have dinner with them and read to them and put them to sleep. That was the most difficult thing — managing those things at the same time.”
Over the eight episodes, Nyssa’s story will examine what it means to be honorable and good, and your opinion of the characters might change from week to week. Gyllenhaal says to embrace those complicated feelings.
“Let yourself get mad sometimes and let yourself be confused because ultimately Hugo Blick is a genius and he will help you through it,” she says, “and I will too.”
“The Honorable Woman” airs Thursday nights at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Sundance Channel beginning July 31.