I’ve never met him, but I’m sure Peter Sarsgaard is a nice guy. However his film persona has caused me to be a little cautious if I ever see him at a party. He has a tendency to play darker characters rather convincingly. He’s not as worrisome as Glenn Close, who I believe is the most frightening person alive, but he’s getting there.
His latest film is Knight and Day where he plays the major villain. His type of villain is not the crazed psychopath but the intelligent man in the suit. He’s very good at playing the calculating guy who knows how to remain emotionless. I think he’s effective in these roles, but I think he has more talent than just playing the standard villain in thrillers like this, Flightplan, and the upcoming Green Lantern.
His most menacing role was the one that became his breakthrough role. He played John Lotter in Boys Don’t Cry. This is the Hilary Swank movie where she played Brandon Teena, a transsexual who moves to a new city and starts an affair with Chloë Sevigny. What makes the movie tragic is what happens when John Lotter finds out the truth about Brandon’s identity and things become unrelentingly violent. It’s a masterful performance that becomes terrifying near the end because of how realistic he plays it.
It’s because of these roles that I think he was great casting in An Education. In this movie he plays the older exciting romantic interest to Carey Mulligan. It’s a very difficult performance because he has to balance a lot of things at once. The audience has to believe that he is this charming guy who would woo Mulligan with his world full of art and luxury. Yet he also has to be the man who is not the white knight; the guy a father would be cautious to let go on a date with his daughter. Sarsgaard’s performance really gave the movie the relevancy that allowed the film to earn all of its moments.
As I alluded to, I don’t want him to be typecast. I first took note of Sarsgaard in the independent film Shattered Glass. He plays a newspaper editor who is the only one who believes Hayden Christensen may be making up his articles. He’s also very good as the best friend in Zach Braff’s Garden State and as Liam Neeson’s assistant in Kinsey. He has a presence of respectability and uses that to interesting film choices. Unfortunately those interesting choices are in the smaller films that not many people have a chance to check out.
I would like to see him branch out more in the future on a larger scale. He can pull of being a leading man. Perhaps even in a romantic movie that’s not…Orphan. There’s not too much evidence of this, but I think he could pull off a really dry comedy. For now his IMDb page only has Green Lantern has his next project and maybe I’m judging that role prematurely. Maybe it is a villain full of depth, not just a business-like foil to spur CGI battles. Maybe.