The cast of ‘Won’t Back Down’ reflects on the state of education

Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal take on the system in “Won’t Back Down.”

Director Daniel Barnz recalls coaxing actress Maggie Gyllenhaal to star in his inner-city school drama, “Won’t Back Down.” “She was concerned about the long summer shoot and being away from her children — which is funny, because this movie is all about a great mom who sacrifices so much for her kid,” he says. “But I was like, ‘No, Maggie! Be a bad mother! Come be in this movie!’”

Gyllenhaal, who was eventually convinced, plays Jamie Fitzpatrick: the passionate mother of a dyslexic second-grader. Determined to transform her daughter’s failing Pittsburgh public school, Fitzpatrick joins forces with a frustrated teacher, Nona Alberts (Viola Davis). Together, the duo tackles a broken bureaucracy and gathers a cluster of progressive educators along the way — including the charming, ukulele-strumming Michael Perry (Oscar Isaac).  

“I come from such progressive lefties that I wouldn’t be allowed to go home for Thanksgiving if I made an anti-union movie,” admits Gyllenhaal, responding to a range of critics who have already claimed that “Won’t Back Down” unfairly attacks teachers’ right to organize. “It takes a certain level of education to hold two somewhat conflicting ideas in your mind at once,” she explains. “I fundamentally, whole-heartedly support unions. But at the same time, I feel it’s important to criticize the things that aren’t working in any institution.”  

“The film says that we, as people, need to challenge the status quo and not just live life by rote,” stresses Davis in her signature staccato. Davis looked to her sister, Deloris Grant, a long-time English teacher in her hometown of Central Falls, R.I. — “one of the top 10 cities in this country to go bankrupt,” according to Davis — for inspiration. “Deloris is Nona,” she claims. “She’s someone who goes that extra mile and validates you as a person.”

Both of the Oscar-nominated actors make multiple references to their offscreen children — while Gyllenhaal is the mother of two daughters, 6-year-old Ramona and 5-month-old Gloria Ray, Davis adopted a newborn girl, Genesis, last year. “Part of being a mother is teaching my daughter to live a life that’s bigger than her,” asserts Davis. “It’s a requirement, especially in this country where there are so many people who want it all but don’t want to work for it. So I kind of feel like that’s the best thing I can give her,” she says and considers it a moment. “That and Miss Jessie’s curl cream.”

Influences

Acting 101

“I had a teacher that inspired me in the fifth grade,” remembers Isaac. “She told us to write a paragraph from the perspective of an animal on Noah’s ark. So I went home and wrote this six-page production from a platypus’s point of view. Thanks to the teacher, we put on the play. That was my introduction to acting!”



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
National

Dogs are capable of feeling jealousy - U.S.…

By Curtis Skinner(Reuters) - Dogs are a man's best friend, and research released on Wednesday says canines want to keep it that way.Dogs are capable…

Local

G train riders brace for five-week shutdown

G train service will be suspended between Brooklyn and Queens between Friday, July 25, and Tuesday, Sept. 2.

International

Peaches Geldof's death was drugs-related, coroner rules

LONDON (Reuters) - The death of Peaches Geldof, the daughter of musician and Band Aid founder Bob Geldof, was drugs-related, a coroner ruled on Wednesday.The…

Local

Family, supporters gather in Brooklyn for Eric Garner…

Family members gathered on Wednesday for the funeral of Eric Garner, who died shortly after police put him in a banned chokehold as they arrested him.

Going Out

Where to go drinking on National Tequila Day…

Thursday is just close enough to the end of the week to make you envision yourself already sunning on a beach towel or lounging by…

Going Out

Things to do in NYC this week: July…

Performing arts A 70’s Summer Night Friday, 6:30 p.m. The Green Building 452 Union St., Gowanus $35, 347-529-6473 Party like it’s summer in the 1970s…

Going Out

5 must-try dishes at Edible Manhattan's Good Beer

Rooting out the exotic amid the New York City bar scene is noble quest. But if you’d like to have it all come to you,…

Books

Art imitates life (almost) in David Shapiro's new…

David Shapiro talks about his book, "You're Not Much Use To Anyone."

NFL

Jerry Reese confident with Giants, skipping countdown clocks…

Last year, Giants GM Jerry Reese installed a countdown clock in the locker room to inspire Big Blue to play in their own stadium for Super Bowl XLVIII.

MLB

Brandon McCarthy finds his calling on Twitter

Yankees starter Brandon McCarthy joined Twitter three year ago for the same reason many people do: to get news quickly.

Sports

NBA great LeBron James sends 800 cupcake apologies…

By Kim PalmerCLEVELAND (Reuters) - NBA star LeBron James, whose recent return to the Cleveland Cavaliers in his home state of Ohio sparked a frenzy…

NFL

Fantasy football: Johnny Manziel could give your running…

Fantasy football: Johnny Manziel could give your running game a boost

Food

Recharge with a post-workout smoothie from Nicky Hilton

Some people can roll out of bed right as their alarm goes off. And that alarm isn’t set for 20 minutes before they have to…

Education

Colleges are increasingly embracing the concept of gender-neutral…

  Northwestern University recently made headlines after announcing that it would be installing two gender-neutral bathrooms in the university's student center. “These are two gender-open…

Career

How to prepare to interview for your dream…

    Congratulations! You landed a job interview at your dream company! A lot of hard work has gone into determining which companies to apply…

Style

The shirtdress is a summer must-have

  We love throwing on our boyfriend’s shirt and a pair of jeans (no matter how much he grumbles that it’s his turn to wear the…