Peter Sarsgaard on the one role he'll never play

Before you go, we thought you'd like these...
Before you go close icon
Peter Sarsgaard Discusses "Experimenter"

BY DONNA FREYDKIN

You want to see the normally unruffled Peter Sarsgaard worked up? Sit him down in front of bowls of candy.

He eyes the assortment in front of him. "My dream candy as a kid was the Gatorade gum," he says.

Sarsgaard is starring in "Experimenter," as famed social psychologist Stanley Milgram, who in 1961 tested humans' willingness to follow orders.

"I knew it wasn't going to be a straight biopic. I knew I'd be able to sing. It was about a heavy subject but it was not done in a heavy way. There was a buoyancy to it. It could have been done as a horror movie," says Sarsgaard.

Playing Milgram was a cakewalk compared to his other project, the massive remake of "The Magnificent Seven," which co-stars Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt and Matt Bomer.

"I just filmed off and on over the summer. I had a great gig because I was the bad guy. It was nice to not be one of the seven," he says. "It was very tough. We were filming in Louisiana and there was lightning and you have to stop for half an hour every time there's a lightning strike within seven miles. You know how many times there's a lightning strike within seven miles? Every thirty minutes."

Which meant copious amounts of downtime, in debilitating heat, with over-eager mosquitos. Not that Sarsgaard is complaining. He and wife Maggie Gyllenhaal, who wowed in and won a Golden Globe for last year's "The Honourable Woman," are both working actors who try their best to make sense of dual careers.

"We try to take turns working. If that doesn't work out, we come up with plan B. We are based in New York. If my wife is working, we tend to go where she is working. If I'm working, I tend to go off alone," he says.

Their daughters are 9 and 3. "You can't drag your family around the world. If they both went with us, no one would ever be home. As it is, I'm never home," says Sarsgaard.

Sarsgaard is open to just about anything, except playing iconic historical figures. He graduated from Washington University in St. Louis, and since then, has segued from theater to Woody Allen's lauded "Blue Jasmine" to NBC's miniseries "The Slap." When he reads a script, he pretty much instantly knows whether it hits home or not.

"I can sense if I can do it or not. I feel like the more powerful I've gotten as an actor, the more thankful I am for knowing what I can or can't do. The parts I'm not interested in most of the time are extremely famous people in history. I don't want to play Winston Churchill. There's too much surface stuff you have to get right to get people into it. Once you've done that, it's very difficult to add the rest of it," he says.

In 1999's "Boys Don't Cry," Sarsgaard's John shoots Teena Brandon (Hilary Swank) after he and a friend discovered she's transgender. It was the role that changed the course of his career.

"After I did that part, I felt the confidence that I had been enough of an impact on that movie storywise that there was dramatic tension. Lovely guy," says Sarsgaard.

21 PHOTOS
maggie gyllenhaal
See Gallery
Peter Sarsgaard on the one role he'll never play
Maggie Gyllenhaal accepts the award for outstanding female actor in a leading role in a drama for "The Honorable Woman" at the 40th Anniversary Gracies Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Tuesday, May 19, 2015, in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)
Honoree Maggie Gyllenhaal speaks at the 34th annual Muse Awards presented by New York Women in Film & Television (NYWIFT), Thursday, Dec. 11, 2014, in New York. The Muse Awards recognize the outstanding vision and achievement of women in film, television and digital media industries.(Photo by Diane Bondareff/Invision for New York Women in Film & Television/AP Images)
Actress Maggie Gyllenhaal arrives for the Burberry Womenswear Autumn/Winter 2015 show at London Fashion Week in Kensington Gardens, west London, Monday, Feb. 23, 2015. (Photo by Joel Ryan/Invision/AP)
Maggie Gyllenhaal arrives at the 16th annual InStyle and Warner Bros. Golden Globes afterparty at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Sunday, Jan. 11, 2015, in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Photo by Matt Sayles/Invision/AP)
Maggie Gyllenhaal arrives at the 40th Anniversary Gracies Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Tuesday, May 19, 2015, in Beverly Hills, Calif. The event supports the AWMF's many educational programs, charitable activities, public service and scholarship campaigns that benefit women in media. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)
Actress Maggie Gyllenhaal and her husband Peter on arrival for the 40th anniversary of the Gracies Awards in Beverly Hills, California on May 19, 2015, presented by The Alliance for Women in Media. AFP PHOTO/ FREDERIC J. BROWN (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 29: Actors Maggie Gyllenhaal (L) and Liev Schreiber speak during Variety Studio Actors on Actors presented by Autograph Collection Hotels on March 29, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. on March 29, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images for Variety)
Actress Maggie Gyllenhaal holds the award for Best Actress - Mini-Series or TV Movie for her role in 'The Honourable Woman', in the press room at the 72nd annual Golden Globe Awards, January 11, 2015 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California. AFP PHOTO / FREDERIC J BROWN (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 30: Actors Ewan McGregor and Maggie Gyllenhaal attend the opening night of 'The Real Thing' on Broadway at American Airlines Theatre on October 30, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 15: Actress and star of SundanceTV's 'The Honorable Woman' Maggie Gyllenhaal speaks at the 2014 Women in Cable Telecommunications Touchstones Luncheon on September 15, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images for Women in Cable Telecommunications)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 04: Maggie Gyllenhaal attends the Lexus Design Disrupted: Gareth Pugh fashion show during MADE Fashion Spring 2015 at Pier 36 on September 4, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Mireya Acierto/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 08: Actress Maggie Gyllenhaal attends the 68th Annual Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall on June 8, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 04: Actress Maggie Gyllenhaal attends the first annual Village Fete at Pioneer Works on May 4, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 06: Peter Sarsgaard and Maggie Gyllenhaal attend the Costume Institute Gala for the 'PUNK: Chaos to Couture' exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 6, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images for People.com)
ROME, ITALY - OCTOBER 29: Actress Maggie Gyllenhaal attends the 6th Rome Film Festival at Lancia Cafe on October 29, 2011 in Rome, Italy. (Photo by Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images for Lancia)
ROME, ITALY - OCTOBER 28: Actress Maggie Gyllenhaal attends the 'Hysteria' Premiere at Auditorium Parco Della Musica on October 28, 2011 in Rome, Italy. (Photo by Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images for Lancia)
TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 15: Actress Maggie Gyllenhaal arrives at the 'Hysteria' Premiere during the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival held at the Roy Thomson Hall on September 15, 2011 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - AUGUST 16: Actress Maggie Gyllenhaal attends the Meet The Filmmakers: 'Nanny McPhee Returns' at the Apple Store Soho on August 16, 2010 in New York City. (Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 24: Actress Maggie Gyllenhaal attends the 'Nanny McPhee And The Big Bang' world film premiere at the Odeon West End on March 24, 2010 in London, England. (Photo by Ian Gavan/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 09: Actress Maggie Gyllenhaal attends the Gen Art & Soy Joy Presents 'Fashionably Natural' fashion show to kick of Los Angeles Spring 2009 Fashion week hosted by Maggie Gyllenhaal, on October 9, 2008 at the Petersen Automotive Museum, Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE
SHOW CAPTION +
HIDE CAPTION

Read Full Story

From Our Partners