• Image about New York
Justin Stephens

Stranger than Fiction's MAGGIE GYLLENHAAL was overwhelmed by New York at first. But when she found the little shops and cafés that led her into the world inside the city, that changed.

I like the edges of New York," says Maggie Gyllenhaal, star of this month's Stranger than Fiction, a comedy about a novelist (played by Emma Thompson) who's struggling to complete her latest book - if only she can find a way to kill off her main character, a supposedly fictional IRS agent named Harold Crick (Will Ferrell). But Crick is actually alive and well in the real world and suddenly aware of the author's words and intentions. Fighting for survival, he enters an unlikely romance with a wild and crazy tattooed pastry chef, played by Gyllenhaal.

Though the part is a bit of a stretch for the big-eyed, apple-cheeked Gyllenhaal, the fairy-tale nature of the film isn't that different from her reality: She lives something of a storybook life amid the bakeries and bookstores of New York City. We're not talking about mainstream Manhattan but about what she calls the unlikely yet fascinating "edges"­ of the metropolis. She was born in NYC but moved at a young age to Los Angeles with her show business family. Her mother, Naomi Foner, is a screenwriter who was nominated for an Oscar for Running on Empty, and her father, Stephen Gyllenhaal, is a much-lauded television and film director. Her brother is, of course, Jake ­Gyllenhaal, who has starred in films like Jarhead, Donnie Darko, and last year's Oscar contender Brokeback Mountain. It wasn't until college that Gyllenhaal was able to return to New York, where she studied literature at Columbia University; she graduated in 1999.

But, Gyllenhaal says, "I always wanted to be an actress, and I think I imagined I would stay in New York." She's done both, starring in films ranging from her eye-opening breakthrough Secretary to Oliver Stone's World Trade Center to the recent Sherrybaby (where she plays an ex-con trying to reconnect with her daughter), all while putting down roots in the city that has always felt like home to her, even when it wasn't. Here's a glimpse of her New York City life, on the edges.