Peter Sarsgaard Talks Antihero Worship

Actor Peter Sarsgaard on the allure of playing bad guys

Photo by David Slijper; Trunk Archive

Photo by David Slijper; Trunk Archive

“I don’t get offered many hero roles,” Peter Sarsgaard says. The sly-eyed 42-year-old actor has become a sort of bizarro-world sex symbol by playing the jolly rapist-murderer in Boys Don’t Cry and the seductive bounder in An Education with an unsettling intelligence and weird charisma that makes you forgive his on-screen sins.

“I think [villains] have to be appealing in some way, whether it’s their intelligence or charisma or sex—there has to be some quality that makes us want to be with them… I got more attention from women after I played John Lotter in Boys Don’t Cry than any other role I’ve ever played. And that guy raped and killed people.”

Sarsgaard’s back at the dark arts in a slew of summer projects, starring as death-row inmate Ray Seward on the new season of The Killing and in the upcoming film Lovelace opposite Amanda Seyfried as the titular porn star’s abusive boyfriend, Chuck Traynor. Rounding out his rogues’ gallery, he’ll play an eco-terrorist in Night Moves, directed by Kelly Reichardt (acclaimed for Meek’s Cutoff and the sadcore Michelle Williams vehicle Wendy and Lucy).

Sarsgaard (with wife Maggie Gyllenhaal at The Met Ball); Courtesy of Keystone Press

Sarsgaard (with wife Maggie Gyllenhaal at The Met Ball); Courtesy of Keystone Press

We don’t know whether Sarsgaard plays good or bad in his other summer project, Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine, which follows rich housewife Cate Blanchett’s post-divorce decline into middle-classhood, and also stars Alec Baldwin and Sally Hawkins. While his role is shrouded in Allen’s usual secrecy, we can reveal that it came the old-fashioned way: “Woody sent a very formal note, typewritten,” says Sarsgaard. “[Going on-set] was intimidating. But it was also the way I like filming. He shoots minimal takes.”

Sarsgaard’s next role is off-screen: He and his wife, actress Maggie Gyllenhaal, and their daughters, Ramona, 6, and Gloria Ray, 1, will be journeying to Jordan, London and Israel for Gyllenhaal’s next shoot. “She believes what I believe, which is that we all have darkness in us at all times. The nice thing about playing these roles is that, when you reveal it, when you’re not pretending that it doesn’t exist anymore, you’re able to keep it in check.”

Peter’s Proclivities:

Photography by Melanie Marder

Photography by Malerie Marder

Photographer: Malerie Marder

 “Her work is in the Met. I’m naked in some of it.” (She’s an ex-girlfriend of Sarsgaard’s.)

Courtesy of Getty Images

Courtesy of Getty Images

Home: Antiques

A ceiling fan from the 1900s, and andirons: “I love fires.”

Courtesy of

Courtesy of Everett Collection

Movie: Lawrence of Arabia

“A movie to see now, considering what’s going on in Syria and the Middle East.”

Courtesy of

Courtesy of Istock

Flower (for Maggie): Poppies

“(There are) all these associations when you look at a poppy.”