NEW YORK (AP) — She absolutely adores Tom Stoppard. He has never been much of a fan. She fell in love with the playwright's words at 17. He once had a terrible audition for a Stoppard play and never went back for more.
Yet fate has somehow put Ewan McGregor and Maggie Gyllenhaal into the same New York revival of Stoppard's "The Real Thing" this month, both making their Broadway debuts playing lovers.
Gyllenhaal was an undergraduate at Columbia when she read the play and it blew her mind. She later saw Stoppard's "Arcadia" and "my life was changed." The chance to be in a new "The Real Thing" was "kismet."
What about McGregor? He had never read "The Real Thing" and he had never seen it: "I don't think I'd even heard of it. I'm not a great Stoppardian scholar, do you know what I mean?" he says, laughing.
McGregor's last encounter with the playwright's work didn't go well. He auditioned for a role in "Arcadia" back in London and "did one of the most toe-crunchingly embarrassing auditions of my life."
After the scene, McGregor felt the disappointment in the room. "You, the actor — knowing you've just crucified every word of it — are going, 'Don't ask me to do it again! And they're thinking, 'We'd better ask him to do it again.' It's one of those awful, awful moments."
Regardless of their different paths, the pair has joined a crackling revival of the play, a wise, witty meditation on the human heart. McGregor plays a romantically challenged playwright who may be too smart for his own good. Gyllenhaal is his lover and later wife who forces him to re-examine what real love is.
Though both actors are famous for their movies — her most famous credits include "Crazy Heart" and "The Dark Knight," while his are "Trainspotting" and "Star Wars Episode 1" — they've frequently returned to the stage.
Gyllenhaal, 36, was in a celebrated production of "Three Sisters" in 2011 off-Broadway and Tony Kushner's "Homebody/Kabul" in 2004, while McGregor, 43, was last seen on the London stage in 2008 in "Othello."
"The Real Thing" marks the third time McGregor and Gyllenhaal have worked together. The first was in the 2010 film "Nanny McPhee Returns," where they played husband and wife. The second was for an HBO pilot of an adaptation of the Jonathan Franzen book "The Corrections," which was eventually passed on.
Each time, McGregor and Gyllenhaal shared only a few scenes together but they both say they enjoyed each other's company. They knew they could communicate as actors, something neither take for granted.
"Why do this play unless you can have an actual communication and connection with the other character for real?" asks Gyllenhaal. "It would be hell — it would be awful — to have to just pretend every night in this play. This is a play about human hearts."
The Scottish actor and the Brooklyn-based actress are both happily married — she to actor Peter Sarsgaard and he to production designer Eve Mavrakis. Even so, doing the Stoppard play has made them re-examine how they look at love.
"It's complicated and it asks all sorts of questions that I think in a lot of marriages you don't want to ask because they hurt to ask," says Gyllenhaal.
McGregor agrees: "It's about real love and what is real love. We have this Hallmark, romantic idea of what real love is but the truth is real love is much harder and jaggier and dirtier and deeper and more painful."
Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits