The Lost Daughter cast on 'ugly' motherhood, drunk lunches, and their unbreakable Greek-island bond
"Oh, I love my women," Maggie Gyllenhaal sighs on a blindingly bright September day in a hotel suite high above Central Park, throwing her arms around her Lost Daughter cast. The film, based on the 2006 novel by Elena Ferrante and led by Oscar winner Olivia Colman as a fortysomething academic reckoning with a buried past and messy present while vacationing alone in the Mediterranean, doesn't land on Netflix until Dec. 31 (it will have a limited theatrical run beginning Dec. 17). But its female stars — including Dakota Johnson, Jessie Buckley, and Succession's Dagmara Domińczyk — were more than ready to sound off on self-love, finding paradise mid-pandemic, and livin' on a prayer.
But first, the source material: "I had read the Neapolitan novels, which were already being made into an HBO series," Gyllenhaal told EW. "And I read The Days of Abandonment, which is a brilliant book. Originally, I reached out to Elena Ferrante's publishers about that and they said that book had already been made into a film in Italy, but 'Would you consider this one?; And I read The Lost Daughter in a weekend and I thought 'Yes, I would consider this one,' and in fact I think it's a better match for something cinematic."
From there, the casting process began — not least a boozy champagne lunch in New York that locked Colman in, and another that brought Johnson on board. "I knew it would be fine when in the middle of the day I said 'Shall we have that glass of something?' and she went 'yeah!'," Colman recalls of her first meeting with Gyllenhaal, laughing. "And then we were both drunk for the rest of the day." Domińczyk was a friend the actress-director had been wanting to work with more, and a screening of Chernobyl star Buckley's scrappy Scottish indie Wild Rose was enough to seal her in the role of Colman's character's younger self.
But it would take a mid-pandemic pivot to find a shooting location: "Originally, it was an American woman in a kind of unnamed, eastern seaboard Maine type of gothic town," Gyllenhaal says. "A cotton candy and lobster rolls vibe. And then yeah, we couldn't do it. We wanted to shoot in New Jersey, impossible during the pandemic. Then we thought Nova Scotia — they didn't want us. And then there was just this day pretty randomly, or maybe not randomly, 'Oh, how about Greece? I could see it in Greece.' And already I had said '[Colman] should just be English here. Why pretend?" We do enough pretending. An Englishwoman in Greece.... We couldn't be stopped after that."
The cast — which also includes Ed Harris, Normal People's Paul Mescal, and Gyllenhaal's husband Peter Sarsgaard — soon found themselves on a small island in off-season October, a blessed escape from COVID once they passed through entry quarantines. "All the islanders were our [extras] in group scenes, Colman remembers. "So if you had the weekend when we weren't filming, you'd go to any shop they would be like 'Hi! I was in your film! Hi!' It was amazing." For Johnson, the hardest part came later: "After having gone through the pandemic, this was the first movie I had done. And going from being so isolated to then being so seen as an artist and as a woman, there was I think an ascension that happened in my feminine consciousness. It was like a discovery of new pathways for me. But I found going home really hard ... I mean, these women are beyond extraordinary. And then I was like 'Wait, hold on. What? What is this life? I have to do what? Traffic? What is that?' It means nothing. It was just so special."
The movie's unvarnished exploration of motherhood in all its messy, indefinable facets struck a chord even for cast members who haven't yet had that experience themselves. "It made me reframe what being a woman is," Buckley says. "You are going to change and have different needs, and [this story is] really giving permission for us to have life with all of it, not just the image of what it means to be a mother or a daughter or a wife or a dreamer.... I definitely feel like it's changed my life in a way. That all sounds so stupid, that sentence, but it has." Domińczyk, who has two young sons with her husband, the actor Patrick Wilson concurs: "The idea of 'bad mom' I feel like is so passé. And when I talked to Maggie and got the script, I felt like, there is no singular path to motherhood. This does not make you a bad mother. This does not make you a good mother. That is what I love about the way Maggie adapted the novel and what the novel's saying. We are made of ugly, nasty stuff sometimes, because we're human."
For more on the movie — including how Gyllenhaal got Bon Jovi to agree to approve song rights for one crucial scene, and whether there may be a Lost Daughter reunion on screen sooner than later (in space?) — watch the full video above.
A version of this story appears in Entertainment Weekly's January issue, on newsstands Dec. 17 and available to order here. Don't forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.
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