Maggie Gyllenhaal is The Honourable Woman

At the heart of Maggie Gyllenhaal's new CBC spy thriller The Honourable Woman is the tumultuous conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

The American actress says the new spy thriller changed her political views on the Mideast

Maggie Gyllenhaal's new CBC spy thriller The Honourable Woman has its Canadian premiere tonight starring the Dark Knight actress as Anglo-Israeli businesswoman​ Nessa Stein.

As the 8-part miniseries opens, Nessa's day is about to go very badly.

The Honourable Woman airs on CBC Television
Tuesdays at 9 p.m. (9:30NT)
Beginning Monday, Sept. 29 at 9 P.M. continuing Sept. 30

In the morning, a crimson robe was placed around her shoulders and the heiress to the Stein family fortune was given the title Baroness of the British Empire, in recognition of her philanthropic efforts in the Middle East.

In the evening, she was planning to announce who won the contract from her company to put computers and phones in impoverished areas of the West Bank. It was to be the culmination of her vision: her Israeli family's money being used to foster goodwill between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Maggie Gyllenhaal stars as Nessa Stein in the new CBC-TV miniseries The Honourable Woman. (Drama Republic/CBC)
But something's gone wrong. The winner of the contract, a Palestinian businessman, is found dead in his hotel room, of an apparent suicide. Nessa's brother, Ephra, and his pregnant wife look uneasy at all times. The family's Palestinian nanny, Attica, is watching over her own little boy as though he's in an assassin's cross-hairs. And Nessa herself sleeps in a bullet-proof bunker and breaks down in tears in front of Attica, "What if they find out?"

Welcome to the first episode of The Honourable Woman, a series in which everyone harbours a secret. It's a world where Israelis and Palestinians in London may live in Hampstead Heath, but the violence and danger of their ancestral lands lurks in every corner of their well-heeled existence —and sometimes, they invite it in.

Complicated conflict and character

It's a complicated show that takes on a political conflict most movies and television series dare not touch, and it's the show Oscar-nominated actress Maggie Gyllenhaal chose for her TV debut.

In an interview with the CBC, Gyllenhaal said it was the character of Nessa that first drew her to the series.

"I think I'm interested in playing people who on some level I can relate to, and I think there's so many things about Nessa's circumstances that are different than mine,” said the 36-year-old actress.

“But she felt to me like a real woman who is both very intelligent and graceful and powerful and also really vulnerable and confused and broken, sexy and not sexy."

The more I learned, I found it more and more difficult to have a hard stance on either side.- Maggie Gyllenhaal on researching the conflict in the Middle East

Still, the show's political hot topics are impossible to ignore.    

In the world envisioned by the series' British writer/director Hugo Blick, both Israelis and Palestinians are the victims and perpetrators of violence.

In the show's opening scene, Nessa's father Eli is knifed in front of his young son and daughter.  The show's Palestinian characters, like Attica, have suffered just as much.

Gyllenhaal says researching the role left an imprint on her own political views.

"The more I learned, I found it more and more difficult to have a hard stance on either side. I think it did kind of grow compassion in me, learning about it and also doing it."

She says it also made the conflict more real to her.

The Honourable Woman was filmed before the onset of the most recent conflict in the Gaza Strip.

"With the new elements of the conflict that have arisen, I just feel more emotional about it than I think I would have before I made the show. I find it more difficult to depersonalize it."

Gyllenhaal says she hopes the show, which has already aired in Britain to critical acclaim, and is about to start in North America, will prompt more open conversations about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

She has especially high hopes for the show's Canadian viewers, as the series is about to premiere on CBC tonight.

"My sense, and this is totally just my instinct, is that there is a kind of openness there. That there is a kind of space to have a conversation."

Canadians will have their first chance to see The Honourable Woman when it premieres tonight at 9 p.m. (9:30 NT) on CBC Television settling into its Tuesday night time on Sept. 30.