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Dry Sherry

Maggie Gyllenhaal is a virtual Sundance fixture, having attended the film festival a multitude of times, including one stint on the jury.

PARK CITY, Utah — Maggie Gyllenhaal is a virtual Sundance fixture, having attended the film festival a multitude of times, including one stint on the jury. So it's hardly a surprise to see her here again, curled up on a white Ultrasuede sofa in one of several multimedia lounges along Main Street.

In the dramatic competition entry, "Sherrybaby," directed by Laurie Collyer, Gyllenhaal plays Sherry, a drug addict recently freed from a three-year jail sentence who returns home to try to raise her five-year-old daughter. It's her meatiest role since "Secretary." The film's emotional honesty, along with some cringe-inducing moments, may be typical of many Sundance entries, but it's not the sort that the actress comes across very often. "I read so many scripts and so few of them actually deal with the way that real human beings behave," she said, her voice hoarse from interviews. "After 10 pages, I knew this was it."

Though she's at the point in her career where top filmmakers have begun to come calling, Gyllenhaal hasn't abandoned her independent roots. "It's a gamble to get involved in a teeny-tiny film with a first-time feature director and no distributor," she said. "But if you love a film, this is the best way to be at the festival. It's exciting."

Dressed in a beloved high-necked cardigan she bought five years ago in Paris (the yarn is starting to show wear in the arms) and a pair of superdark denims, Gyllenhaal seemed happy and mellow. "This film was tough to disconnect myself from," she said. "When I finished, I was a mess. It took me a long time to get over it."

It also took her a long time to get over the battery of bad hairstyles she sported. "I dyed it blonde, cut it and got extensions. There was a lot of hair stuff going on," she recalled. "I'm not sure why my character did it, but when I was younger, whenever I got anxious, I would dye or cut my hair."

Now in the midst of shooting Oliver Stone's untitled 9/11 project, she's back to her natural, shoulder-length brown locks, which couldn't please her more. "It's good to feel like myself again."