Peter Sarsgaard – Exclusive Print Interview, New Orleans, August 2005
The Skeleton Key
by Johanna Juntunen
Q: What can you tell us about this movie?
A: Nothing really (laughs). We can talk about my personal life, that's far more interesting...or about my hair.Q: What about your hair?
A: If you think about a session player at Sun Studios, the guy who played bass when Elvis came in or when Johnny Cash came through. A fellow of Southern black culture. Q: Do you prefer your hair done differently?
A: Oh, no, I liked it when I had it that way, I dig it. But that's what I was thinking, the Sun Studios. I think the guy's got a certain part of him that wishes that he was a musician. You know, I got a drum kit in my apartment so…estate law, that's what I do, but it's not what I want to do. I'd rather be a superstar.

Q: Do you play an instrument?
A: I do play guitar, I grew up playing piano but anything that you're made to play when you're a kid is difficult to play when you're an adult (laughs).

Q: Maybe at some point in your life you'll go back to piano?
A: Maybe. I'm not that great on guitar so I would probably have a better shot at the piano because I'm more trained on the piano but…the great thing about the guitar is that the first time I plugged it in, I realized that all I had to do was to step on a pedal and go "whooouuu". I was like "wow!".

Q: Is it very different than acting?
A: I don't believe in showing as little as possible in acting, because if you watch someone like Jack Nicholson in various pieces, it's not that he's showing as little as possible, he feels free, from being the most expressive to doing nothing. My favorite actors allow themselves the full range, there's plenty of people who exist red lining it over here. And there's plenty of people that do minimalist acting. I sort of prefer people who don't think about it like that and who play a whole scene just listening to someone and not "actively listening" but then do a whole other scene where they really try to entertain a group of people or yell at their neighbor through the window.

Q: But that also depends on the director?
A: Yeah, some directors are afraid of certain areas, and your job as an actor is to convince them that they shouldn't think of it that way (laughs).

Q: So you are a teacher as well?
A: We all are, hopefully. I mean, I've been taught by directors and I feel like I have taught directors a thing or two. I always hoped that we each learn something from the other, and it's not just a parasitic relationship which also happens all the time.

Q: What was Kate like?
A: I had met Kate before. We did a movie called Desert Blue when she was 18, I keep saying that, but I should figure out how old I was. I just remember her being 18 because her and Christina Ricci both turned 18 while we were doing the movie.

Q: Has she changed?
A: She has become a mother (laughs), that's how she has changed. I think something fundamental happens to you when that happens, and she's got married, but she's always been, I think, in her heart the same person. It's like any of us, you change, but the core of you stays the same.

Q: I guess it's the same when you become a father. Johnny Depp always goes on about how he's a changed man after becoming a father. What do you think about fatherhood?
A: That it sounds fantastic and intimidating at the same time (laughs).

Q: Are you going to wait a while?
A: I'm gonna wait...you never know.

Q: You've been too busy working instead of thinking about starting a family?
A: I can't imagine how actors do it. I did three movies in a row last year. I was home last year for a total of about one month, maybe a month and a half. It was from April to April, so it wasn‘t like a calendar year but from April of last year to April of this year I was home about a month and a half including Christmas. I have cats and I worry about them missing me, I come back to my cats and they are clearly pissed off for a good couple of days. Like they don't let me come to pick them up, I have to hang out and read a book or something, and they'll casually come by and do a drive by, rub off. God, if that was a kid and you had to gradually try to get them to warm back up to you again (laughs). I don't want to go through that.

Q: And then you would go away for your next film?
A: Or you'll bring them with you and they don't have any consistent friends of their own age. You're damned if you do and damned if you don't. I lived in so many different places when I was a kid…

Q: Why was that?
A: My dad was in the Air Force and later IBM. I've Been Moved, that's what IBM stands for. I lived in maybe 11 different places in 18 years or something. I really moved a lot, so the one thing I don't want for my child is …it's not that it was so bad, I also learned a lot of things. But there's something great about "I've known this person since I was 3" or they have a place they can go back to when they are older and say "this is my home". St. Louis is that for me, really. I went back to college in St. Louis out of nostalgia than anything else.

Q: When did you live there?
A: I lived in a number of different places in St. Louis until I was 10, something like that. Illinois across the river and St. Louis. In both of those places until I was 10.

Q: All these movies that you did the past year, were they all so good or are you just a workaholic?
A: (laughs) I think the role in this movie was too fascinating to…this one I knew pretty much immediately that I wanted to do. There was also something nice about the size of the role, and also what it does; I got to be like a romantic interest which I haven't had a chance to do, but I liked it, a very funky one. And The Dying Gull, I know that I'm going to work again with Craig in January, I just think he's fantastic, I'd do anything with him. We're doing this movie Small Tragedies. And Jarhead, there's something interesting about working with Jake, dating his sister and knowing him.

He and I already had a relationship going, it was a complicated, interesting relationship. I mean, the thing about he and I is that we are close enough that we can argue. Even actors that I get to know well, rarely do you get to know them well enough that you can bicker. And Jake and I had that right away so it definitely made its way into the movie and I think it's a rare quality. I'm interested in what that movie is about. And Flightplan, Robert Schwentke is able to communicate with an actor who works like I do in my specific way. He's very good at dealing with all these different personalities, yet there's something about him, he is kind of a technical wizard with the camera. And obviously Jody was in the movie and that seemed kind of fascinating, so... I'm happy with all the ones I did. It's not that I had a good time on all of them but good times don't necessarily make good movies. Some of the best times I've had were in a movie that was terrible (laughs), but I did learn something about myself from each one, each experience and that's all that I really require.

I never require that the movie be great, that's something you can't try to do, it just happens in my experience. It's kismet. Obviously, on paper Jarhead has all this on paper; Walter Murch editing it, Roger Deacan shot it, it's got Jamie, Jade and Sam, Tom Broyles wrote it. I mean, perfect movie, but it doesn't mean anything (laughs).The other special ingredient has to happen.

Q: How did you come to that realization?
A: I really realized that after Boys Don't Cry because doing it I had a great time, but I didn't really know that it was going to be a movie that people reacted to like they did. I didn't get the sense when I was doing it. I didn't have much experience, but then just seeing it "oh, oh, wow!" or Garden State even more so. I worked on this little movie in New Jersey, I thought "this is going to be fun; I go out hang with these people and make this movie," I had no expectations and then that movie like, overnight, does what it does. You just can't predict these things. It's worthless to try to do it, that's the job of the studio executive. I just kind of go on instinct, don't worry about it.

Q: How did this movie change you?
A: I think, living in the South, doing this movie in New Orleans, like I said both my parents are from Mississippi, just being down there reminded me of when I was a kid. I realized that it feels comfortable down there for me. And exploring this part of me, because I've been on the East Coast, on Manhattan since 1992 or 1993, I visit my relatives but it's not the same as living here. So you go "all right, I'm a little Southern." (laughs) I am.

Q: In what way?
A: Just that the culture makes sense to me, the way people talk to each other makes sense to me. I'm used to people in Manhattan, the way people deal with each other on the street is very different from the way people in New Orleans deal with each other on the street. People know each other here. It's really a small town in that way, even though it's a city. There's a lot more "oh, yeah, I know that guy who works in that bookstore" (laughs), like I walked into a bookstore here with a friend of mine, and she introduced me to the guy who owned it.

We talked for a little bit and then it turned out that he had a copy of Spring Storm by Tennessee Williams which is the first play he ever wrote, and I am the first person who ever performed it and my name was in the thing and I was like "oh, my god". I just did it like in Ensemble Studio Theatre on Manhattan and somehow I got listed on playing the lead role. I signed it for him and I was just like "wow!" But it wasn't a matter being famous either because he knew my friend Mary...you just kind of piece some stuff together. I like that.

Q: Do you believe in ghosts and stuff?
A: No. I'm a Catholic, so.

Q: What do you think about Mexican and Latin American cinema?
A: There have been so many good films coming from that area. I wish I were able to participate in them as "a Mexican" (laughs). It just seems so raw and awesome. I love Alfonso Cuaron, Y Tu Mama Tambien, Amores Perros, and Central Station, Walter Salles as well. I get to do the big Hollywood movies and make money, but like sometimes you look at other countries and you go "oh, man, it looks so alive there". I really wish I were Danish for example.

Q: Do you speak Danish or Spanish?
A: I only speak some curse words in Danish. I am Danish but I am not really Danish. And obviously Denmark and Scandinavia have awesome films coming out of there. I wish I could work with a lot of European directors that only direct their movies in their own language.

Q: But don't you find that in other countries they also make films about brothers and family dramas?
A: Yeah, but they are drinking things and that I don't know what they are. I'm like "look, they're drinking Aquavit, wow!", "look, they crush a little berry on it before they drink it". It's that kind of stuff that's interesting to me. American culture is so difficult for me to see because I'm an American, that I almost feel we don't have any. I know we do but it's just invisible to me.

Q: Have you been to Scandinavia?
A: I have been to Scandinavia, near Copenhagen.

Q: Haven't you thought about living overseas since you see all these subtleties?
A: I have but you know…the state my country is in right now, I think it's important to stay here and vote and be part of it and not abandon it. I want to help turn it around.

Q: You don't think that you can live abroad and still support your country?
A: I think it's harder. I know actors who live abroad and people look at them like "Oh, he lives in Paris, he's not part of this country". I'm like "I live in Manhattan, I'm a part of this country". I don't agree with everything but I want my disagreement to be accepted and listened to. I try to convince people of my opinion, I just don't disagree for the sake of it.

Q: But don't people tend to think the same in New York?
A: I wouldn't say so. I think it's more true in L.A. where it's all actors. My friends are not all actors, my friends have real jobs. I have a friend who is a dean in a high school and she's not particularly liberal. I'm not the most liberal but I can be convinced by conservative arguments sometimes.

Peter Sarsgaard – Exclusive Print Interview, New Orleans, August 2005
The Skeleton Key
by Johanna Juntunen
Q: What can you tell us about this movie?
A: Nothing really (laughs). We can talk about my personal life, that's far more interesting...or about my hair.Q: What about your hair?
A: If you think about a session player at Sun Studios, the guy who played bass when Elvis came in or when Johnny Cash came through. A fellow of Southern black culture. Q: Do you prefer your hair done differently?
A: Oh, no, I liked it when I had it that way, I dig it. But that's what I was thinking, the Sun Studios. I think the guy's got a certain part of him that wishes that he was a musician. You know, I got a drum kit in my apartment so…estate law, that's what I do, but it's not what I want to do. I'd rather be a superstar.

Q: Do you play an instrument?
A: I do play guitar, I grew up playing piano but anything that you're made to play when you're a kid is difficult to play when you're an adult (laughs).

Q: Maybe at some point in your life you'll go back to piano?
A: Maybe. I'm not that great on guitar so I would probably have a better shot at the piano because I'm more trained on the piano but…the great thing about the guitar is that the first time I plugged it in, I realized that all I had to do was to step on a pedal and go "whooouuu". I was like "wow!".

Q: Is it very different than acting?
A: I don't believe in showing as little as possible in acting, because if you watch someone like Jack Nicholson in various pieces, it's not that he's showing as little as possible, he feels free, from being the most expressive to doing nothing. My favorite actors allow themselves the full range, there's plenty of people who exist red lining it over here. And there's plenty of people that do minimalist acting. I sort of prefer people who don't think about it like that and who play a whole scene just listening to someone and not "actively listening" but then do a whole other scene where they really try to entertain a group of people or yell at their neighbor through the window.

Q: But that also depends on the director?
A: Yeah, some directors are afraid of certain areas, and your job as an actor is to convince them that they shouldn't think of it that way (laughs).

Q: So you are a teacher as well?
A: We all are, hopefully. I mean, I've been taught by directors and I feel like I have taught directors a thing or two. I always hoped that we each learn something from the other, and it's not just a parasitic relationship which also happens all the time.

Q: What was Kate like?
A: I had met Kate before. We did a movie called Desert Blue when she was 18, I keep saying that, but I should figure out how old I was. I just remember her being 18 because her and Christina Ricci both turned 18 while we were doing the movie.

Q: Has she changed?
A: She has become a mother (laughs), that's how she has changed. I think something fundamental happens to you when that happens, and she's got married, but she's always been, I think, in her heart the same person. It's like any of us, you change, but the core of you stays the same.

Q: I guess it's the same when you become a father. Johnny Depp always goes on about how he's a changed man after becoming a father. What do you think about fatherhood?
A: That it sounds fantastic and intimidating at the same time (laughs).

Q: Are you going to wait a while?
A: I'm gonna wait...you never know.

Q: You've been too busy working instead of thinking about starting a family?
A: I can't imagine how actors do it. I did three movies in a row last year. I was home last year for a total of about one month, maybe a month and a half. It was from April to April, so it wasn‘t like a calendar year but from April of last year to April of this year I was home about a month and a half including Christmas. I have cats and I worry about them missing me, I come back to my cats and they are clearly pissed off for a good couple of days. Like they don't let me come to pick them up, I have to hang out and read a book or something, and they'll casually come by and do a drive by, rub off. God, if that was a kid and you had to gradually try to get them to warm back up to you again (laughs). I don't want to go through that.

Q: And then you would go away for your next film?
A: Or you'll bring them with you and they don't have any consistent friends of their own age. You're damned if you do and damned if you don't. I lived in so many different places when I was a kid…

Q: Why was that?
A: My dad was in the Air Force and later IBM. I've Been Moved, that's what IBM stands for. I lived in maybe 11 different places in 18 years or something. I really moved a lot, so the one thing I don't want for my child is …it's not that it was so bad, I also learned a lot of things. But there's something great about "I've known this person since I was 3" or they have a place they can go back to when they are older and say "this is my home". St. Louis is that for me, really. I went back to college in St. Louis out of nostalgia than anything else.

Q: When did you live there?
A: I lived in a number of different places in St. Louis until I was 10, something like that. Illinois across the river and St. Louis. In both of those places until I was 10.