INT: Peter Sarsgaard

Peter Sarsgaard, which sounds like the name of a character that would appear in FARGO, is one of the best young actors working today. While I’m sure he is given multiple opportunities to play typical granola leading man roles, he has chosen to steer away from that and instead embrace twisted creepy characters in movies such as BOYS DON'T CRY and THE SALTON SEA. Even in GARDEN STATE, my favorite movie of 2004 so far, he plays a funny, dissatisfied 20-something that digs graves for a living, and likes to steal valuable things off the dead bodies before they go six feet under. He is rapidly becoming the new Johnny Depp in my eyes—handsome, talented, and not afraid to take roles that will offend, appall, and strangely captivate members of the audience.

He is also, in my eyes, the quintessential scene-stealer. Often I remember his performance in movies, more than the stars who received top billing. I was very impressed by him in SHATTERED GLASS, and felt he deserved a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his work. In KINSEY, he continues to steal the limelight, with his intoxicating talent and Cheshire cat grin. Much to my surprise, he even appeared fully nude in a scene with Liam Neeson, a risky choice that apparently he made on his own. The guy has cajones, and in this film, he proudly displays them.

He was a lot of fun to interview, because he does not take himself seriously, and he is extremely laid back. He came into the room casually dressed, with a small patch of chest hair exposed above his collar, and he often rubbed his eyes while answering questions. I tend to notice little quirky habits celebrities have while being interviewed, such as Ethan Hawke’s tendency to rub his inner thigh when answering questions. But silly pointless things aside, Peter was a blast to interview and I look forward to following his movie career.

~~~ interview contains minor spoilers about the movie ~~~


You have played a lot of great roles that other actors your age would probably have killed for. Are they difficult to find?

Oh, God. You know, I think it’s natural selection. I think they choose you as much as you choose them, even when you have power. I mean, the great thing is that when you don’t have power, which I didn’t and still don’t in the grand Hollywood scheme of things, you get offered things that you wouldn’t ordinarily be given. You let people see in the part. Frequently, other people know what I can do more than I do, because if I had decided, it would have been much narrower. If you go in and audition for roles, rather that just be offered them, then you kind of get a chance to discover that you can do something that you didn’t know you could do. I think for a long time it was a curse, but it was also something that was good. I got a chance to discover my range versus intellectualize it.

Were you at all hesitant about taking the role, because of the nudity and the sexual ambiguity of the character?

There was no nudity in the script when I read it. The nudity was discovered on the day. No, because you go like, I’m taking a shower and I’m going to go to the bathroom to take a shower. Then I was like, ‘You know, I’m going to take my clothes off here and walk to the bathroom’, because I thought it would start the flirtation. And then when you come out of the shower, you’re like ‘Well my suitcase is on the bed, so I have to walk over and get my stuff’. I figured I could walk over and do this clothed, but I’m not going to do that, because this is the guy I’m about to ask to sleep with me. I wanted there to be that awkward moment before it all went down where, you know, there are just two men in a motel in the middle of nowhere and one of them has their clothes off. This is a situation that can happen all the time. I’ve taken my clothes off in front of a friend before but it doesn’t lead to that (laughs). But I wanted the tension of that.

So it was your choice to do the nudity?


Did you get a chance to meet the real Clyde Martin?

No. Clyde Martin didn’t want to have anything to do with the movie. After he left Kinsey, I think he went to John Hopkins and started a life that had nothing to do with that, and I respect his privacy. I think he’s in his 80’s now.

In movies that are based on true stories, a lot of research must be compiled to gain greater insight into the real life people and how to portray them. With Clyde Martin (and others), do you feel it is equally as important to just trust the script and bring the characters to life as they are written?

That’s all I ever do. I’ve played so many real characters. Real people. And to me, if they’re not in the public eye in a significant way, then I don’t have to worry about all the superficial details. I can just trust my reaction in the specific moment, because if it’s human it will somehow be connected to what his reaction was. And if it’s not, Oh, well. I think it’s hopeless to be how they were. Like if you’re playing Truman Capote—I guess Phil Hoffman was playing Truman Capote—(imitation) Obviously he hath to talk like thith for the movie becauthe everybody talkth like that (laughs). That’s why I don’ t like playing real people a lot of the time, especially ones that had such an affect as that, like you know, Nixon…watching Anthony Hopkins play Nixon. Even though he was great, it’s like you want more Anthony Hopkins in the role. You know what I mean? You want to see the full Anthony Hopkins thing.

You played Charles Lane in Shattered Glass. Did you associate with him before shooting the movie?

I talked to him on the phone. I didn’t meet him in person before we started. I just tried to get his perspective on the events, and some of the things he told me were just utterly not useful for the film, so I didn’t use them. Like he said “I knew he was lying the second it all started to happen.” And well, that would be the end of our movie (laughs). In our movie, I’m not going to know. I’m going to not play dumb for the whole movie—that was a valuable piece of information in that I knew that I could be suspicious right away. I think the scope of the lie was big and it just keeps getting bigger. They’re movies. We would write a book if we were after that kind of truth. The kind of truth that I think a movie can tell is a more emotional truth, a more visceral truth. To get after that, you have to find ways to have the scenes and the story be dynamic.

The same is true with like, John Lauter of Boys Don’t Cry. The real John Lauter did things in his life that we couldn’t use in the movie for legal reasons, so then that all changed, and his whole motivation changed for what he had done, and I had to come up with a different reason. And the reason became: there was only one girl who wrote to me while I was in jail and it was Chloe’s character, and I had really only felt love from this one person, and so it was all done through love. I don’t know if that’s why he did what he did, but that’s why I did what I did in the movie. I feel like as long as I’m human, I’m respecting them, because there’s no getting the details right. They don’t even know the details. Nobody can really remember why they did what they did.

Were you at all disappointed that Shattered Glass wasn’t seen by more people, even though journalists and critics liked it?

It was seen by more people than I thought it would be seen by while I was making it, so I was pleasantly surprised with the attention the movie got. We made it for very little. We made it on a little soundstage in Montreal. It certainly has legs on video. It’s exceeded my expectations from when I made it.

What do you think it was that drew your character, Martin, into Kinsey’s inner circle?

I think it had nothing to do with the ideas at first. The thing that drew me to Kinsey, was just his drive, like anyone who’s like that in the world. He’s the person who wakes up in the morning, and is immediately doing things. The guy just was focused, focused all the time, like a train and you want to get on and be a part of that no matter where it’s going.  And as I became a part of it, I slowly discovered that I was interested in the ideas also, but in that classroom scene when I’m looking at him, it’s what he’s saying, it’s the way everyone is reacting to it, but it’s also the way he’s saying it.  With any powerful leader like that, that’s the way sometimes people get involved with powerful leaders that are up to no good, because the force of that is overwhelming. The force of somebody who’s got that much energy is very powerful.

Do you think Kinsey’s data is still useful?

I think the reason Kinsey’s data is useful is that I think before him, people were acting like these things didn’t exist. Basically, he just provided information that they existed. Nobody really read these books. People read their Readers Digest synopsis of these books, so it’s all second and third hand information. I think with the 9/11 Commission Report, more people have read it. Maybe if it wins a National book award, everyone will read it, but a lot of the information I personally have from that comes from second and third hand sources. I think a lot of these books that are supposed to be books that have a profound effect on our time, that are very meaningful, frequently go unread and are really more discussed from the Readers’ Digest synopsis. So Kinsey got people talking and I think that’s his main contribution-- to just get people talking about stuff.

Bill Condon was saying that the Kinsey detractors are still out there, with increasing amounts of vigor. Can you comment on the enduring controversy of Kinsey?

I think a lot of things have been distorted, talking about getting your information from second and third hand sources. I don’t know. There are people that say that Kinsey did things to children and stuff like that. I mean, so far as I’ve read—and I don’t know where they’re getting their information—none of that is true. I think whenever you have someone that has such a large effect, it gets people talking about something that nobody is comfortable talking about or that certain people are not comfortable talking about. A lot of disinformation gets spread. I think that Kinsey did not invent homosexuality. Kinsey didn’t invent deviant behavior. He was a taxonomist.

His first approach to human sexuality was totally as somebody who was used to taking a slide and putting it under a microscope and just recording what was there. He tried to do that in the best way that he could. Obviously, trying to get into someone’s personal sexual life and figure out what they’re really doing, is very difficult and not 100% accurate. I don’t think there’s any way for it to be. Certain people might be more prone to lying. He tried to catch people in lies. He had ways of doing it, where he would ask different questions in different ways but in the end, it’s not important. The important thing is the information. The important thing from my point of view is that all of that behavior got out of the closet, not just homosexuality but all of that, and it became something that we all admitted that we were doing in one way or another.

What was it like working with Liam Neeson again? Did he make it easier to do those sexual scenes?

Yeah, easier and harder. It’s like I spent five months with him on a submarine (laughs) so it wasn’t really the same thing. The thing that was good is that I still have a real reverence for him. As an actor who grew up watching him, he’s from a generation where I had nothing to do with movies and he’s still very much a movie star to me, even though he’s a friend to me also. The combination of those two things is very good. No matter what, if I had been cast in this movie and never known him, I would have had looked up to him as just a mentor. If I hadn’t known him from that other film, it would have been very hard for me to have that scene where I go up and say, ”Where do you think you might be on that personal level?” and having the guts to stand up and go like, “What’s going on with you?” Sometimes you act with a movie star and the light is too bright and you just can’t get in there.

After the kissing scene, was there any consideration about shooting the scene further and

portraying the sexual moment between them?

No, it always ended with the kiss. But Bill didn’t call cut for a very long time with that kiss (laughs). I mean a very long time, and so, at a certain point when we were kissing, I remember…we’re kissing, we’re kissing…it occurred to both of us that at this point, something else would start happening. But I think what he was looking for was the first stage of us kissing, where we’re going through one set of feelings as actors. He wanted to find all the colors that could be in there, including I think, at a certain point, being uncomfortable kissing each other. At first, it wasn’t uncomfortable. At first, it was just like, “Okay, we’re doing this” and then it gets uncomfortable and then you start getting in your head about it. So by letting it play for a long time, you gradually get more comfortable and realize it’s not such a big deal. I think he was just trying to let it play out and get as many colors as he could.

I loved the scene in the kitchen, where you asked Laura to sleep with you. Was your character just experimenting, or did he really have feelings for both of them?

Oh, I think I was doing it for a lot of reasons. I think for me, some of the reason I made that proposal and the way that I made it was kind of a way of getting back at a man that was not paying enough attention to me. I’ve just been talking to his wife and she’s talking about how he’s all caught up in his work. He’s not going to be home until later. You know, all that kind of stuff. So I’m commiserating with somebody that I feel is in the same position that I am, and wouldn’t it be a lovely way to get even?

What role do you play in the upcoming film Flight Plan with Jodie Foster? Has filming concluded?

I play an air marshal, who is not sure whether or not this woman who has lost her child on a plane is just freaking out because her husband is dead, or if she actually has somehow lost her child on the airplane. There’s no documentation of her kid having been on the plane, so it’s a kind of Hitchcockian psychological thriller on an airplane. I’m still filming. I filmed Friday before I came out here and then I’m filming Monday.

What kind of horror movie is Skeleton Key?

Voodoo. Catholicism scares me more than anything. To me, the only horror movies that really get to me, have to do with conventional religion that is in our lives all the time and that I see everywhere. That’s the kind that gets to me personally. This one’s about voodoo and hoodoo and stuff like that. I play an estate lawyer, Kate Hudson plays a hospice worker, and Gena Rowlands and John Hurt play an elderly couple who live in a plantation house. I’m working things out for them and she’s helping them because John Hurt just suffered a stroke. John Hurt is amazing in that. He’s in a wheelchair and stuff and he’s mute for much of the movie, because of the stroke. I always think of him as an actor who has like, the most amazing voice of any actor, but it turns out that he can do a lot without the voice.

Source: JoBlo.com



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