WEIRDLAND: Peter Sarsgaard, unravelling his secret

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Peter Sarsgaard, unravelling his secret

"The prickly friend in “Garden State”, the assistant-turned-lover of “Kinsey,” the distant husband of “Orphan” — all seem to have something they’re not sharing with the other characters.
“Do my characters all have secrets?” Sarsgaard repeats, grabbing some time during the Toronto International Film Festival for an interview in an empty ballroom. “I don’t know. The secret may be that they’re all me.”Still, there’s something in the character actor’s screen image — a slyly ambiguous smile, a slightly heavy-lidded glance — that has served him well in movies from “Boys Don’t Cry” to “Jarhead.”

And it makes him the perfect choice for Friday’s excellent ‘60s-set “An Education,” in which he plays the dangerously charming older man who takes the precocious teenage heroine to bed.
Peter Sarsgaard with newcomer Carey Mulligan in the new film "An Education" (2009).

The part has already drawn sharp attention, and will probably, unfairly, come under even more scrutiny when the film opens, in the wake of Roman Polanski’s arrest. (Although in this story, the girl is completely sober, and of the age of consent.)Then, in 1999, he was cast as the vicious, redneck rapist in “Boys Don’t Cry.” The true, tragic story of a young woman trying to live her life as a man, it landed on many top 10 lists, and won an Oscar for new star Hilary Swank.Hayden Christensen and Peter Sarsgaard in "Shattered Glass" (2003).

He had a good meaty part in the excellent “Shattered Glass”, as an editor faced with a fabricating journalist, and a pivotal one in “Kinsey” as Liam Neeson’s between-the-sheets collaborator. Both movies garnered good reviews. Neither found its audience.
Jake Gyllenhaal, Sam Mendes and Peter Sarsgaard, "Jarhead" world premiere, on 27th October 2005.

Nor, unfortunately, did “Jarhead”, a smart picture about the frustrations of pumped-up soldiers kept from going into battle — which only frustrated audiences pumped up for a war movie that wasn’t.
What was fun was getting to work with co-star Jake Gyllenhaal, a long-time friend — and the brother of Sarsgaard’s girlfriend, Maggie Gyllenhaal. The actress and actor later set up house in New York, and began a family; they married this spring, and Sarsgaard proudly shows off his ring.Reese Witherspoon and Paul Rudd shooting "Untitled James L. Brooks Project" (2009).

His good friend Paul Rudd has done a bunch, while still doing Neil Labute plays. And, true, Sarsgaard once hosted “Saturday Night Live,” and had a very funny comic turn in “Year of the Dog”, playing a hyper-sharing, oversensitive boyfriend. But he doesn’t often get the chance to be funny on-screen.
He had two movies last year, including the excellent “Elegy” with his long-time idol Ben Kingsley. This year, in addition to the fine “An Education,” there was “In the Electric Mist” (which went straight to DVD) and the briefly controversial horror film “Orphan”, which drew protests from an adoption advocacy group — and still draws an exasperated sigh from one of its stars.“Boys Don’t Cry” and “Garden State,” and now, “An Education,” where his characters slip through life with a mysterious half-smile, a coolly appraising glance and some secret they keep all to themselves.

“If I only did movies and plays that were coming from a meaningful, artistic place — not even just, ‘This is a quality cast and director,’ but ‘This means something to me, in my own life, right now’ — I’d only have worked about four times in my career,” he says. “You just look at what’s out there. A lot of the time, I know I don’t have the pick of the litter. But then I’ll look at the script, and I’ll think, hmm, maybe I can turn this into something reasonable. Maybe not something great — but something reasonable.”

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