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INTERVIEW: Hugh Dancy, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Jonathan Pryce Have a Case of Hysteria

The stars of the new film about the invention of the vibrator share their on-set experiences. logo
Maggie Gyllenhaal in Hysteria
(© Sony Picture Classics)
Hugh Dancy, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Jonathan Pryce have many things in common. All three are highly accomplished stage actors -- Dancy is currently on Broadway in David Ives' Venus in Fur, for which he has received a Drama Desk Award nomination, Pryce is at BAM in Harold Pinter's The Caretaker, and Gyllenhaal's stage credits include The Three Sisters and Uncle Vanya -- and all are married to or living with other actors (Claire Danes, Peter Sarsgaard, and Kate Fahey, respectively).

Those similarities are just one reason the three performers got along so well while filming Hysteria, opening on Friday, May 18, for which director Tanya Wexler and her fabulous cast have concocted a frothy period rom-com with a bit of social commentary thrown in for good measure.

The film's lightness is somewhat surprising given its historical topic: the invention of the first vibrator by Joseph Mortimer Granville, MD (Dancy), which was designed in England in the 1880s to be used as a cure for "female hysteria."

To help jump start his medical career, young Granville goes to work for Dr. Robert Dalrymple (Pryce), London's foremost specialist in "women's medicine." In addition, Dalrymple has two daughters and Granville becomes engaged to the more traditional sister, Emily (Felicity Jones). However, when he loses both his job and Emily, it's Charlotte (Gyllenhaal), the free-thinking social reformer who ultimately wins Granville over to a more modern partner-like relationship.

"The concept for the film was so outrageous, but I immediately liked Charlotte, she's so alive and she doesn't care about consequences when she believes in something," says Gyllenhaal, who gave birth to her second child, Gloria, last month. "I'd like to be more like her sometimes. I'm in my thirties now, and some of my earlier roles like Secretary or Sherry Baby were much more sexual than what I do now. For example, in Crazy Heart, my character, Jean could have been a friend of mine."

Hugh Dancy and Jonathan Pryce in Hysteria
(© Sony Picture Classics)
Pryce also recalls being very concerned when he first got the script. "I first got the script four years ago -- there wasn't even an actress attached yet -- and I wasn't sure which way it would go," he says. "Would it be a social tract on women's issues or some sort of sex romp-slash Carry on Vibrator film?"

In addition, Pryce was concerned how the film would be received by one of his family members. "Four years ago, I still had a teenaged daughter at home and I didn't want to embarrass her because her friends would see it and say, 'Oh your dad's up there mucking about.'" he notes. "But she's an adult now, and she even worked on the film in the locations department. Oh, and she's Maggie's legs in the bike riding long shots."

For Dancy, who will star later this year on NBC's Hannibal as a brilliant criminal profiler and who played a cancer patient last year on The Big C, the film was a chance to do a little more laughing. He notes that it was hard to stay serious while filming because he and Pryce "didn't really know what they were doing" as doctors.

Moreover, one of his favorite parts of the film was working with Rupert Everett, who plays his friend Edmund, a kind of 19th-century techno-geek. "Rupert and I got on great," says Dancy. "He's even funnier offscreen, but I can't ever repeat anything he says for print!"

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