Maggie Gyllenhaal on what she learned from coaching child actors for The Kindergarten Teacher

Maggie Gyllenhaal went back to school for her new film The Kindergarten Teacher — literally.

The actress stars in Sara Colangelo’s drama as a kindergarten teacher who becomes fixated on one of her students, after he shows signs of being a poetry prodigy. As Gyllenhaal explained in an interview at People and Entertainment Weekly’s TIFF studio on Saturday, she bonded with the children who play her students by actually teaching them classes.

“All of the kindergarten stuff, we shot as if I were their teacher,” she explains. “So they knew of course that I wasn’t actually their teacher, but I would teach classes. We’d be singing those songs, we’d be doing projects, they’d be really painting pictures, they’d be really doing the letters. And [cinematographer Pepe Avila del Pino], who shot it, would shoot us almost documentary style. So I made a relationship with all the kids that way. If they needed to go to the bathroom, they would ask me. If they were uncomfortable about something, they would ask me.”

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Gyllenhaal treated the experience as a chance to learn from her tiny costars, and she wanted to make sure to always treat her them as the children they were — especially Parker Sevak, who plays the gifted student her character obsesses over.

“We didn’t demand of him that he be more than a 5-year-old,” she says. “And then there were moments where we just put the camera on him and let him be the incredible thing that a 5-year-old child is.”

The Kindergarten Teacher will hit theaters Oct. 12, 2018.

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