Michelle Kung
July 29, 2005 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Ever since she spent part of her breakout movie, 2002’s Secretary, shackled in S&M-themed gear, screen life for budding indie queen Maggie Gyllenhaal, 27, has been varying degrees of strange. As Jude, a gold-digging singer who hooks up with Tom Arnold and his gay son (Jason Ritter) — to better fleece the family — in Don Roos’ new ensemble dramedy Happy Endings, the actress takes her daring a step further: She does her own singing.

You sing three songs (including Billy Joel’s ”Honesty” and ”Just the Way You Are”) in this film. Nerve-racking? The thing I said to Don was, I really love this movie, but it’s important to me that all the singing be done live. So Don and I went into the studio and recorded some temp tracks and reworked the songs a week before we started. He assured me that we wouldn’t use [them], which was nice because it gave me a little rehearsal.

You actually sound pretty impressive for a novice. I didn’t have singing lessons, but I did sing in the choir when I was in school. I kind of came at it [from Jude’s perspective]. For her, it felt like a calming thing, a way that she could express herself. It felt like an animal part of her. I let the place where that’s true for me come out.

Jude’s voice? Sweet. Her personality? Not so much. The interesting thing about her for me was finding a way to compassionately understand the reasons she does the things she does. I don’t really want to see a movie about a manipulative girl who f—s everyone for money. I don’t care about that. I want to see how she’s human.

And we gotta ask: How was kissing Tom Arnold? Tom was incredible. He’s so gentle and thoughtful and alive. Plus, for most of our scenes together, we were lounging around this beautiful house in Los Angeles. Tom and I have a really loving relationship, and I don’t believe you can create something like that if it’s not there.

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