Peter Sarsgaard talks 'Lovelace' role, playing unlikable characters

Peter Sarsgaard and Amanda Seyfried in "Lovelace." Peter Sarsgaard and Amanda Seyfried in "Lovelace." Photo Credit: Dale Robinette

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Peter Sarsgaard is a father of two who lives in Brooklyn and is married to Maggie Gyllenhaal. He's a mild-mannered, generally low-key guy, but the 42-year-old actor is probably best known for the tough-as-nails roles he's played. The killer in "Boys Don't Cry." A Marine in "Jarhead." The no-nonsense magazine editor in "Shattered Glass." On the TV show "The Killing," Sarsgaard was a convicted killer who was gruesomely executed, even though he was probably not guilty of the crime. He's now in Woody Allen's "Blue Jasmine." And in his latest film, "Lovelace," he's Chuck Traynor, the real-life, and very sleazy, husband of "Deep Throat" star Linda Lovelace. Frequent Newsday contributor Lewis Beale spoke with Sarsgaard by phone.

You seem to be really adept at these parts that are not at all like your real self, and are often really unlikeable. How come?

I'm interested in portraying people that could be in the world we live in. I have become known as a guy who does certain things, but I'm looking for some bandwidth in terms of behavior. I'm not like a lot of the uneducated ---- I've played. I'm just curious about people. Anyone written as a heroic character in a good movie, I'm not gonna get that part.

So what is it about the Chuck Traynor character that attracted you? Because he's sure not an admirable guy.

It was just a chance to play a person that had more than one side. It was written in that he wasn't just going to be an ----, otherwise why would she be with him? And it's tough to find a movie that's interested in human behavior of any kind, and it's something I feel I'm good at doing.

Had you seen "Deep Throat" before you made the film?

I saw little clips, and it didn't look that interesting to me. He's only interested in it selling, in the business, he's not interested in the film. He loses not just financially but emotionally in the end. This guy was so vacuous and superficial, it all crashes in the end.

Your dad was in the Air Force, which means you moved around a lot as a kid. How did that affect your life?

I've met a lot of different kinds of people. My dad was also with IBM, which stands for "I've Been Moved." When I met people, I was observing them, and I've always had a fascination with people. I could see a place for what it was sometimes better than the people who grew up there.

So how did you get interested in acting?

I was a soccer player, and I got too many head injuries, and I needed something to take up my spare time, and I audited an acting class. I performed a scene from "Bent" , and when I finished, everyone in the room looked like they followed me, and I felt the power of communicating your interior life to people, and I found it a way to communicate with people.

You've guest-starred on TV shows before, but this season on "The Killing" was the first time you've actually had a recurring role on a series. What was that like?

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It's like doing an independent film; it's the same. We were doing two hours in 25 days on an independent film, and on "The Killing" they were doing maybe three hours . What's nice about it is there are fans watching it every week, and they are way more connected. I really felt how people got caught up in the story on Seward on Sunday night, when I got phone calls, Twitters, very passionate reactions, and I felt they've been living with the character.

You, your wife and several other celebrities recently recorded a video defending Bradley Manning, the soldier who gave thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks. His sentence came down today, just before we talked [on July 30], and he was found guilty of most charges, but not of aiding the enemy. How do you feel about that?

In order to aid the enemy, there has to be intent, and I think it's clear his intent was not to aid the enemy. I'm very pleased. I feel like this is somebody who was very hopeful, and I think he knew he would go down, but I do think he thought there was a huge need for us to see, to know what we're getting involved with.

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