NEW YORK (AP) — One of Maggie Gyllenhaal's favorite books is "Anna Karenina." So when she was asked to read the classic novel out loud for an audiobook, she didn't hesitate.
"I thought, 'This will be amazing. I'll just sit in a room and re-read 'Anna Karenina' out loud,'" Gyllenhaal recalled. "I just loved the book so much I thought, 'Yes, let's try and do it.'"
Cold, hard reality set in after her first recording session. Leo Tolstoy's masterpiece is over 1,000 pages and extremely complicated.
"A sentence will begin in one place and end really somewhere else. I couldn't cold read it. It just wasn't possible," said the star of "Crazy Heart" and "The Dark Knight."
So Gyllenhaal realized she'd have to do homework and put in long hours at the studio. The result is a moving and dramatic version, available Tuesday by audio seller and producer Audible Inc .
"It was amazing. I learned things about myself from reading the book in the way that I think a lot of people learn things about themselves from reading the book, whether its aloud or to yourself. And I learned different things about myself at 37 doing it than I learned when I was 25, which is also the mark of an amazing book."
Gyllenhaal recorded the book in lower Manhattan over the winter while her husband, Peter Sarsgaard, was filming a movie in Paris. The plan originally was for 10 six-hour sessions, but it turned into more like 30 four-hour sessions.
She prepared for each one by reading a different translation of "Anna Karenina" the night before, trying to stay 50-100 pages ahead so she could anticipate what came next in the recording studio.
"There were days when I got behind, but very few, because I found it was not really possible. There was one part when I got ahead of myself and I was cold reading in the room. I remember gasping at something I hadn't remembered."
One thing Gyllenhaal refused to do was adopt Russian accents to enliven the masterpiece about love, betrayal and death among the elite in imperial Russia.
"My skill really is not doing voices. I don't know how to do that. That seems silly to me. At the same time, of course, you want to create a world for people. But my skill is basically finding a deep kind of empathy for whomever I'm playing — everything from their point of view. And 'Anna Karenina' is the perfect book for that."
There was an added benefit: While she was reading the book, Gyllenhaal said she felt more engaged in life, going to three plays and an art exhibit.
"I found when I was reading the book that my brain was being exercised in the same way that when you're running a lot you all of a sudden feel the strength in your body."