Sarsgaard talks on The Mysteries of Pittsburgh
Peter Sarsgaard, Andrew Zuckerman, director and Ebon Moss-Bachrach ask each other questions on moviefone's "Unscripted"
"I think it's more interesting to play someone who is out of touch with who they really are," said Sarsgaard, 38. "I think that's pretty common. And they create a fantasy, either by lying or acting out, that they and everyone else believe in. I'm very interested in people who construct their personalities.
"I call it the Blanche DuBois syndrome," he continued. "For the whole play [A Streetcar Named Desire], she can speak in a funny voice and wear crazy clothing and talk about crap, and then there's one moment where she suddenly talks in her own voice and seems her age, and we see who she really is. As long as you have that moment, even if it's only 30 seconds long, then all the rest of the fabrication will seem interesting. So that's what I'm always fighting for: Give me a chance to express, in any way that's interesting, what the flip side is."
There's a wonderfully subtle flip-side moment in Sarsgaard's new film, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, and it was his idea. Based on an early novel by Michael Chabon (Wonder Boys), it's a coming-of-age story in the tradition of The Great Gatsby and Sophie's Choice: One restless, mid-1980s summer, a naive yearner named Art (Jon Foster) falls under the sway of a glamorous, volatile couple, Jane and Cleveland (Sienna Miller and Sarsgaard). Cleveland, a small-time hood with a motorcycle and rebel hair, is a man of great appetites for short durations. There's no sexual partner, drug or activity he won't try, and for a time he's happy to have Art around as a witness.
The Mysteries of Pittsburgh film shoot.
"Art gives Cleveland a kingdom to be the king of," Sarsgaard said. "If you think of Cleveland by himself, he suddenly deflates somewhat. But around Art, he's got a better sense of his fabricated self. He's like, 'Ahh, I am this, because you see me as this.' " But Sarsgaard made sure to throw in a moment where Cleveland freaks out when he can't find his keys. "I didn't want to show him opening his heart directly, just something to reveal a crack."The Mysteries of Pittsburgh is part of a growing trend in 1980s entertainments, including the films Adventureland, 17 Again (which flashes back to 1989) and the upcoming Lymelife (set in 1979), and the new Broadway musical Rocj of Ages, whose score consists of eighties-hair-band power ballads.
Though Mysteries was shot in only a month, Sarsgaard frequently flew back and forth between Pittsburgh and New York, because Gyllenhaal was nine months pregnant with their first baby. "It was this very small airplane, a Seneca, just me and the pilot," Sarsgaard said. "The producer really helped me make it work, because it's very difficult to leave your spouse when she's having Braxton-Hicks contractions." Daughter Ramona was born in October, 2006, three days after Mysteries wrapped.
Sarsgaard finds fatherhood "a lot more fun" than he thought it would be. "But you only get out what you put in, and they [children] know when you're not putting in - and it doesn't go over well," he said, laughing. "But then I'm a hero, because I made dinner," he said.
Sarsgaard's pretty content with his career, which this past year included an acclaimed Broadway run of The Seagull with Kristin Scott Thomas, an off-Broadway production of Uncle Vanya opposite Gyllenhaal, the upcoming horror thriller Orphan with Vera Farmiga, and the new Nick Hornby movie, An Education. "I don't know if people get me," he said, "but in my latest forays into theatre, I felt like I was doing as much acting as I had ever dreamed of doing. I feel completely satiated at the moment. I certainly have gone through periods where I was disappointed, and periods where I couldn't find an opportunity, or express myself fully. But this latest one, Maggie and I just created it, in a 200-seat East Village theatre, with a fantastic director, Austin Pendleton, and it was so much fun. So that's all I need."
He planted the periwinkle, by the way. "It's excellent ground cover; it'll grow anywhere and it's got pretty little flowers," he said. "It looks great."