I’ve played a lot of people who were a kind of Unabomber,” Peter Sarsgaard says. “I don’t feel like that’s me.”
If Sarsgaard’s roster of upcoming films is any indication, casting directors are starting to feel the same way about the actor, whose sleepy features and measured, brooding delivery have made him something of a go-to guy for playing what he calls “self-sufficient loners” in films from Boys Don’t Cry to Shattered Glass. Sarsgaard is currently attached to no less than five films, including this November’s Kinsey, Bill Condon’s biopic of Alfred P. Kinsey, the taxonomist turned legendary sex researcher.
Sarsgaard portrays Clyde Martin, research associate and lover of both the good doctor (played by Liam Neeson) and his wife. His assured performance, casual full-frontal nudity, and long, melting kiss with Neeson (“It was mostly weird when no one would call ‘Cut,’ ” Sarsgaard says of filming the scene) will undoubtedly fuel more next-big-thing whispers. It’s a refrain that has accompanied almost every role Sarsgaard has played since his debut as one of Sean Penn’s victims in Dead Man Walking. But the actor remains unfazed. “It’s just a kind of praise,” he says. “I don’t expect it to translate into anything material, like a higher wage. I just take it as meaning ‘We liked your performance.’ ”
Whether Hollywood can see the man who played an awkward computer geek in The Center of the World and a grave-robbing pothead in Garden State as romantic-comedy-lead material (“I would love to do something like that,” Sarsgaard admits) remains to be seen. Should leading-man status loom, Sarsgaard, who has been dating Maggie Gyllenhaal for almost three years, will have at least been schooled in the finer points of life in the public eye. “I would prefer to reveal the most intimate parts of myself on the screen rather than in life,” he says. “But there is something satisfying about exposing yourself to the media. It feels kind of good, like sharing. But,” he adds ruefully, “I’m learning.”