Peter Sarsgaard in Lovelace
When DETAILS caught up with Peter Sarsgaard, so did the women in his life. Midway through our interview, the actor took a call from his wife, Maggie Gyllenhaal, who phoned in from the set of a UK film production to tell her husband to remove a Tweet he'd posted about Bradley Manning, whose defense the couple actively supports (apparently, Sarsgaard was overly optimistic about a misreported lowering of the whistleblower's sentence). Later, Amanda Seyfried, Sarsgaard's co-star in the new film Lovelace, burst into his suite at New York's Mandarin Oriental hotel to mull over hypothetical last meal options.
But more on that in a bit. Sarsgaard is having one hell of a moment. He can currently be seen wooing Cate Blanchett in Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine, he just wrapped a riveting and highly lauded run as condemned prisoner Seward on Season 3 of The Killing, and now you can catch him in Lovelace as the slimy Chuck Traynor, husband, mentor, and eventual enemy of Linda Lovelace (Seyfried), star of the legendary '70s porno Deep Throat.
The 42-year-old actor told us about his own adult-film diet, his weekly fitness regimen, why he likes to play the villain, and how his career has come full circle.
DETAILS: Since Woody Allen only gave you your portions of the script for Blue Jasmine, a film you reportedly landed after meeting with him for 45 seconds, I'm guessing you had a lot more homework to do while prepping for Lovelace.
PETER SARSGAARD: Yeah, I was more aware of my function in the story. I've always been interested in stories and writing, so I think I've always kind of approached acting as a storyteller. It's nice to be empowered that way. And the Woody Allen movie is just different. He's obviously very capable of making the story what he wants it to be, so he's just trying to get you to be alive in the individual moment, and not worry about it.
DETAILS: So how much of your prep for Lovelace involved actually watching Deep Throat, or pornography in general, for that matter?
PETER SARSGAARD: Very little. I'm trying to think of any real pornography watching I've done. In terms of this era, when I was in Oklahoma, as a kid, I used to watch the Playboy Channel, and they'd play this kind of thing. So I was aware of it. I was aware of Beyond the Green Door and Caligula and Emmanuelle but none of them stuck. I couldn't tell you who was what. I watched a little bit of Deep Throat before doing this just to get a sense of what the vibe was, but I didn't need to do much of that to gather what was going on.
DETAILS: Taking stock of the number of villains you've played is actually kind of alarming, since you don't give off the typical villain vibe. Is that ever discussed when you're landing roles like Chuck in Lovelace—that it's often the harmless-seeming, gentleman types who wind up being the creeps?
PETER SARSGAARD: I don't know why it's that way. I've played a number of villains, especially recently. I think I'm just looking to give myself the best chance of succeeding. When I look at material, I don't really go into whether the person's good or bad. Heroes are roles that everybody wants. And it's not like I'm getting offers like, "Do you want to play this character that everyone's going to love in this fantastic movie?" I'd rather play the antagonist in a movie, where I'm gonna have room to really create him, than be constricted and play somebody who's "good."
DETAILS: Having just seen Lovelace and Blue Jasmine, I kept thinking that if you merged Chuck with Dwight, you might wind up with David, your character from An Education—a manipulator who preys on young women, but in much better clothes.
PETER SARSGAARD: [Laughs] That character in An Education is so delusional. He's just a guy who compartmentalizes his life completely. I'm sure when he goes home to his wife and family, he's a great father. Morally, what he does is much less questionable and fucked up than what Chuck does. Chuck's mix of sex and violence is a lot more repugnant than somebody who just had a nice time with this young girl played by Carey Mulligan, and actually waited until she was of age to have sex with her. His only real sin was lying. But, yeah, if characters are close together, they can start to inform each other.
DETAILS: A colleague of mine pointed out that Dwight's hair in Blue Jasmine is similar to Frasier's from earlier seasons of the show.
PETER SARSGAARD: Frasier, wow! That's interesting. I thought that hairstyle was really wild. One of the least flattering I've had. My parents think I look great in that movie. I remember once being told by one of my first agents that it's bad news if your mother thinks you look fantastic in something. The headshot that your mother would pick is not the headshot that you should use. [Laughs]
Peter Sarsgaard and Cate Blanchett inBlue Jasmine
DETAILS: What are your go-to style choices like when it comes to clothes?
PETER SARSGAARD: I always gravitate toward denim on denim, but that's just the Oklahoma boy in me. My own personal style usually involves comfort, so I'll find one thing, a pair of jeans, and I'll wear that pair of jeans for seven days a week with seven different pairs of underwear. A lot of other stuff I end up wearing is just things I've acquired along the way. Every once in a while I'll allow myself to buy one really nice thing, and I'll usually buy it from rby45rpm downtown [in SoHo]. The store is Japanese, and it appeals to the part of me that's sort of like a monk. I'll walk around barefoot in 45rpm jeans, which are, like, the baggiest, painter-pant jeans. They're so comfortable.
DETAILS: Did you keep any part of your Lovelace wardrobe? The red briefs, perhaps?
PETER SARSGAARD: Oh, the briefs are so bizarre. I loved wearing that clothing. What's wild is I thought I looked good in it. I had it in my head that I looked great. Now, when I watch it I don't necessarily think that…. I can't dress in a way that's referencing something like that. I've never been able to have the guts to dress in a style that's that identifiable, like "I'm dressing '70s today," or "I'm dressing goth." I've always admired those kids who are able to perfectly do a style, and walk down the street with their head held high. That's ballsy. My style is more like, "Don't notice what I'm wearing, please."
DETAILS: I read that, a few years ago, when asked about any awkwardness during kissing scenes with Liam Neeson in Kinsey, you said you'd take that over the physical exertion of something like Jarhead any day. But surely you must have some regimen of staying fit?
PETER SARSGAARD: I run 40 to 60 miles a week. Regarding Jarhead, it wasn't just the physical exertion that was hard, it was how dehumanizing being in a war can be. I just got the slightest taste of it. But by the time we hit that scene at the end, when my character can't take the shot, I'd been filming for so long, cleaning my rifle and trying to eke out character with so many obstacles, that I was just ready to blow up.
DETAILS: Do you think immersing yourself in that type of role and getting to know that type of person played any part in your support of the Bradley Manning case?
PETER SARSGAARD: No, but I consider myself a patriot, in a lot of ways. And I think a lot of people who are involved in causes like that are. And even if they disagree, as long as everyone's on the same page of wanting this country to be a better place, I can deal with people having dissenting opinions. The thing with Bradley Manning is, I was just so moved by his bravery, because I knew he didn't really have anything to gain. I know what he did was illegal, but I think the sentence needs to fit the crime, and I don't know anyone that thinks the guy deserves 130 years in prison.
DETAILS: You and Maggie acted together on stage in 2009's off-Broadway production of Uncle Vanya, but we've never seen the two of you share the screen. Can we expect to anytime soon?
PETER SARSGAARD: We're more likely to act together on stage. If what we want in acting together is not just to show off what a great, cool couple we are, but to actually act, there's nothing that beats the stage. Every night we'd be able to do it. Also, there aren't a lot of parts we'd love to do together on film. I mean, I'm not gonna play her sibling, and to play a married couple seems like something no one would want to watch. I would love to play, like, prosecution and for her to be the defense. [Laughs]
DETAILS: On that note, I just caught your final episode on The Killing, which, I must say, was devastating, and one of your finest moments as an actor. I'm assuming you made the connection that you've come full circle here, as your first film role was as the—
PETER SARSGAARD: The victim in Dead Man Walking. Yeah, I definitely thought about that when I was doing it. And when I was offered the part, I thought, "Right, this'll be nice. I'll come all the way back around." That's the thing: When I first started acting, I did play a lot of victims. And one of the reasons you end up playing the perpetrator or the victim is because the lead role is neither one of those. The lead role is the person investigating the crime. So this is what it means to be a working actor in films. These are the parts that are more available.
DETAILS: The character you played in The Killing, Seward, keeps talking about wanting salisbury steak as his last meal. As a New York guy, if you had to pick a place and dish for your last meal, where and what would it be?
PETER SARSGAARD: Oh wow. Well, I'm vegan. [Laughs] Why don't we just say Pure Food & Wine Pure Food & Wine [in Union Square]?
DETAILS: And what would you get?
PETER SARSGAARD: I don't know! What should I have? It's my last meal, I'm not hungry. [Amanda Seyfried enters] What would your last meal be?
AMANDA SEYFRIED: My last meal would be a sesame-seed bagel, toasted dark, with cream cheese and hot chocolate.
PETER SARSGAARD: Can I have that be mine? Fuck it, I'll take that.
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