Peter Sarsgaard on the one role he'll never play

Peter Sarsgaard Discusses "Experimenter"
Peter Sarsgaard Discusses "Experimenter"


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.

Originally published