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Peter Sarsgaard

Sarsgaard in St. Louis, Missouri, 2007
Born John Peter Sarsgaard
March 7, 1971 (1971-03-07) (age 39)
Scott AFB, Illinois
Occupation Actor
Years active 1995–present
Spouse(s) Maggie Gyllenhaal (2009–present)

John Peter Sarsgaard (born March 7, 1971) is an American film and stage actor. He landed his first feature role in the movie Dead Man Walking in 1995. He then appeared in the independent films Another Day in Paradise (1995) and Desert Blue (1996). In 1998, Sarsgaard received a substantial role in The Man in the Iron Mask (1998), playing Raoul, the son of Athos. Sarsgaard later achieved critical recognition when he was cast in Boys Don't Cry (1999) as John Lotter. He landed his first leading role in the 2001 film The Center of the World. The following year, he played supporting roles in Empire, The Salton Sea, and K-19: The Widowmaker.

For his portrayal of Charles Lane in Shattered Glass, Sarsgaard won the Online Film Critics Society Award in the category for Best Supporting Actor and was nominated for the 2004 Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor. Sarsgaard has appeared in an eclectic range of films, including the 2004 comedy Garden State, the biographical film Kinsey (2004), the drama The Dying Gaul (2005) and big-budget films such as Flightplan (2005), Jarhead (2005), and Orphan (2009).

Sarsgaard has also appeared in Off-Broadway productions including Kingdom of Earth, Laura Dennis, and Burn This. In September 2008, he made his Broadway debut as Boris Alexeyevich Trigorin in The Seagull. Sarsgaard appeared in the off-Broadway production of Uncle Vanya in January 2009. Sarsgaard has been in a relationship with actress Maggie Gyllenhaal since 2002. In 2006, the two became engaged and Gyllenhaal gave birth to their daughter, Ramona, on October 3, 2006. On May 2, 2009 Sarsgaard and Gyllenhaal were married in Italy.


Early life

Sarsgaard was born at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, where his father was an Air Force engineer and later worked for Monsanto Company and IBM.[1][2] His family moved over twelve times during his childhood, following his father's job.[3] At the age of seven, Sarsgaard originally wanted to become a soccer player, and took up ballet to help improve his coordination.[3] After suffering several bad concussions while playing soccer, he gave up the sport and became interested in writing and theater.[4]

Sarsgaard attended Fairfield Prep, a Jesuit boys' school in Connecticut, where he became interested in movies.[4] Following his graduation from Fairfield Prep, he attended Bard College, in New York, for two years before transferring to Washington University in St. Louis in 1991, where he co-founded an improvisational comedy troupe "Mama's Pot Roast".[4] While at Washington University, Sarsgaard began performing in plays in an offshoot of New York's Actors Studio;[4] His first role was as the servant Lawrence in Molière's Tartuffe. In 1993, he graduated with a degree in history and moved to New York.[4][5]


Early work

Sarsgaard branched out with guest roles in television productions filmed in New York City, with Law & Order in 1995,[6] and New York Undercover (1997) as well as an appearance in the 1997 HBO special Subway Stories.[7] He appeared in his first film role in Dead Man Walking (1995), where he was cast as a murdered victim, killed by Sean Penn's character.[8][9]

His next film roles were in a series of independent features: Another Day in Paradise (1997), part of an ensemble cast that included James Woods, Melanie Griffith, Vincent Kartheiser, and Natasha Gregson Wagner,[10] and In Desert Blue (1998), where he had a supporting role in the film.[11] He received his substantial role in the 1998 film The Man in the Iron Mask, where he played Raoul, the ill-fated son of John Malkovich's dueling Musketeer, Athos.[12] The film uses characters from Alexandre Dumas' d'Artagnan Romances, and is very loosely adapted from some plot elements of The Vicomte de Bragelonne.[13] The film received ambivalent reviews,[14] but was a success at the box office, earning $182 million worldwide.[15]

Critical success

In 1999, Sarsgaard earned critical recognition in Kimberly Peirce's Boys Don't Cry, where he was cast as John Lotter, a violent charismatic ex-convict. The film is based on the real-life story of Brandon Teena, a transman who was raped and murdered in 1993 by Lotter and Tom Nissen after they found out he had female genitalia. Boys Don’t Cry received overwhelmingly positive acclaim from critics.[16] Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly in his review of the film noted that Sarsgaard and co-star Brendan Sexton III are "ominously authentic as violent Midwestern sociopaths driven to annihilate what they can't control."[17] In the Seattle Post-Intelligencer review: "It's a marvelous performance supported ably by ... Sarsgaard as the unpredictable, sociopathic Lotter."[18] The film was screened at a special presentation at the 2000 Venice Film Festival.[19] The film was ranked as one of "The 25 Most Dangerous Movies" by Premiere magazine.[20] In regards to his character, as how Sarsgaard made him "likeable, sympathetic even" was because he wanted the audience "to understand why they would hang out with me. If my character wasn't necessarily likable, I wanted him to be charismatic enough that you weren't going to have a dull time if you were with him."[21] In another interview, Sarsgaard said he felt "empowered" by playing John.[22]

He later appeared in the 2001 film The Center of the World, his first leading role, where he plays Richard Longman, a lonely young entrepreneur, who skips out on his company's big initial public offering and pays a stripper (Molly Parker) $10,000 to fly to Las Vegas with him.[23] Although the film was met with mixed reviews,[24] A.O. Scott of the New York Times, reported that the performances by both Sarsgaard and Parker "provide a rough grain of authenticity, capturing the blunted affect and aimless neediness of people in their 20's struggling to navigate a world of material abundance and impoverished emotional possibility."[23] Scott concluded with, "Mr. Sarsgaard ... makes Richard seem like a genuinely nice guy, too innocent to grasp the sleaziness of his bargain with Florence."[23]

In 2002, Sarsgaard starred in three features, K-19: The Widowmaker, Empire and The Salton Sea. In K-19: The Widowmaker, he portrayed a young Russian sailor lieutenant.[25] The film's budget cost was $100 million to make,[26] but upon release, it grossed $35 million in the United States and $30 million internationally,[27] qualifying it as a box office failure. His next role was in Empire, a crime thriller film, where he was cast in a supporting role.[28][29] Sarsgaard played a meth addict in D. J. Caruso's The Salton Sea.[30]

Worldwide recognition

2003 marked a significant turning point in Sarsgaard's career, when he starred in the feature film Shattered Glass. He depicted journalist Charles Lane, the lead editor of The New Republic. Shattered Glass is based on the real events of journalist Stephen Glass' career at the The New Republic during the mid-1990s and his fall when his widespread journalistic fraud is exposed. During promotion of the film, Sarsgaard noted of his portrayal of Lane: "I just wanted to get his perspective on the actual events. [...] I think that I tried to have some respect for myself and that way you're respecting the real person you're playing. I've done it a number of times. And it's always a little bit confusing. The best thing to do is just to ignore the fact, I think, that you're playing somebody who is a real life character."[31] According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, "Peter Sarsgaard is appealingly level, a stolid straight-shooter as Lane".[32] A reviewer from the Chicago Tribune noted that Sarsgaard plays Lane with "great subtlety and grace".[33] The newspaper concluded with, "The character doesn't seethe with personal resentment; when he does a slow burn, he conveys a much deeper sense of a man's value system being violated past the breaking point."[33] Sarsgaard's performance in the film earned him the Best Supporting Actor award from the Online Film Critics Society,[34] his first Golden Globe Award nomination and an Independent Spirit Award nomination.[35]

Following the success of Shattered Glass, Sarsgaard starred in several roles. In 2004 he starred in the comedy-drama Garden State, where he played Mark, the sarcastic best friend to Zach Braff's character.[36][37] In the same year, Sarsgaard portrayed Clyde Martin, in the biographical film Kinsey, a movie about the life of Alfred Kinsey, played by Liam Neeson.[38] Kinsey was Sarsgaard's first film role which featured full frontal nudity.[39] Paul Clinton of CNN reported that Sarsgaard's Clyde Martin "stands out" and "confirms that he's without doubt one of the best character actors of his generation."[38] When asked about his kissing scenes with Neeson in Kinsey, Sarsgaard said:

It wasn’t as hard as, say, running around with all my gear on in Jarhead. I’d rather go for an awkward moment than physical exertion any day. The only thing that I think [male actors] get freaked out about when they have to do something like kiss a guy in a movie—when to their knowledge they’re straight—is that they’re afraid they’re going to be turned on. And if you’re not afraid that you’re going to be turned on—meaning that you know what you like—then really it’s not that hard.[40]

In 2005, Sarsgaard starred in the drama The Dying Gaul, where he plays Robert Sandrich, a struggling screenwriter who has written a serious love story about a man and his terminally ill partner.[41] The film garnered favorable reviews.[42] In an interview, Sarsgaard said, he felt like he was playing a character based on Craig Lucas, the director, whom he describes as "elitist in a fun way".[43] Because his character, a screenwriter, is also "elitist," when he sells his soul by compromising his artistic vision, "...the conflict seems bigger. Anyone can sell their soul. Even people with integrity. There's always that temptation to guard against. Which is why it's best to keep as much as possible hidden."[43]

Also in 2005, he had a supporting role in the suspense film The Skeleton Key.[44] His next film role was in Robert Schwentke's thriller Flightplan (2005).[45] In the film, Sarsgaard played an air marshall, who is ordered to keep guard of Jodie Foster's character.[45] Flightplan was screened at a special presentation at the 30th annual Toronto International Film Festival in 2005.[43] Despite the mixed reviews,[46] the film was a financial success, earning $223 million worldwide,[15] making it his highest grossing film to the end of 2008. Sarsgaard's next feature was in Jarhead (2005) opposite Jake Gyllenhaal.[3] The movie is based on U.S. Marine Anthony Swofford's 2003 Gulf War memoir of the same name.[3][7]

Sarsgaard hosted Saturday Night Live (SNL) on January 21, 2006.[47] In his introductory monologue, he tried to point out that he was a nice guy despite his sometimes macabre roles. Video clips were then played of Sarsgaard scaring the SNL cast.[48] One sketch featured the Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) global scare, which was still fresh in many minds, and one of the skits included a promotion for the Peter Sarsgaard "SARS-Guard", a reference to the mania of facemasks worn in public by those fearing infection.[48]

Sarsgaard attending the European premiere of The Dark Knight in 2008

In 2007, he starred in supporting roles in Year of the Dog and Rendition. Year of the Dog is a dark comedy about a lonely middle-aged woman, played by Molly Shannon, who finds that animals are the only beings she can truly rely on. Sarsgaard plays Newt, an androgynous dog trainer, and love interest for Shannon's character.[49] He starred alongside Meryl Streep, Alan Arkin, Reese Witherspoon, and Jake Gyllenhaal in Rendition, a Gavin Hood-directed political thriller about the US policy of extraordinary rendition.[50] Viewed as a sex symbol, Sarsgaard was named one of's Sexiest Man Living in 2007.[51] 2008 saw Sarsgaard star in the drama Elegy,[52][53] based on a Phillip Roth novel, The Dying Animal.[54] The film received favorable good reception amongst critics.[55]

In 2009, Sarsgaard starred alongside Jon Foster and Sienna Miller in the drama The Mysteries of Pittsburgh.[56] It is an adaptation of Michael Chabon's novel of the same name.[57] In the movie, Sarsgaard plays Cleveland, the rebellious bisexual boyfriend of Miller's character. The Mysteries of Pittsburgh premiered at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival. His next film appearance was in the thriller Orphan, where he and Vera Farmiga play a married couple who lose a baby and adopt a nine-year-old girl, who is not as innocent as she claims to be.[58][59] Furthermore in the same year, Sarsgaard starred as David in Lone Scherfig's coming of age film An Education.[60][61] The role required Sarsgaard to speak in a British accent.[60] An Education drew favorable reviews from critics.[62] According to Variety, "Sarsgaard ... marvelously expresses the savoir faire that has such an impact on Jenny [Carey Mulligan]."[63] Sarsgaard has signed on to appear as a federal agent in the film Knight & Day and will appear alongside Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz.[64][65] In February 2010, it was announced that Sarsgaard had been cast as villain Hector Hammond in the superhero film Green Lantern.[66] The film is set for release in 2011.[67]

Stage career

In 1995, Sarsgaard made his theatrical debut in the Off-Broadway production of Horton Foote's Laura Dennis, which was directed by James Houghton.[68] Ben Brantley of The New York Times wrote: "Mr. Sarsgaard ... emerges as an actor to watch with a performance of breathtaking emotional conviction."[68] The following year he starred in Kingdom of Earth opposite Cynthia Nixon and directed by John Cameron Mitchell.[69] His performance in the play received favorable reviews amongst critics.[70] In October 2002, Sarsgaard returned to theater in a New York production of Lanford Wilson's Burn This, where he replaced Edward Norton.[71][72]

In 2008, Sarsgaard made his Broadway debut at the Royal Court Theatre of Anton Chekhov's adaptation The Seagull alongside Kristin Scott Thomas, Mackenzie Crook and Carey Mulligan. In the production, he plays, Boris Alexeyevich Trigorin, a tortured writer who drives a rival to suicide and a young lover to ruin.[73][74] For the role, Sarsgaard had been required to speak in a British accent, in which he wanted it to be "less liked by an American audience".[73]

Sarsgaard played Mikhail Lvovich Astrov, a country doctor and philosopher, in the Classic Stage Company's 2009 off-Broadway production of Anton Chekhov's Uncle Vanya in New York City.[75][76] The cast also included Maggie Gyllenhaal, Mamie Gummer, Denis O'Hare, and George Morfogen.[75][76] The production, directed by Austin Pendleton, began previews on January 17 and ended its limited run on March 1.[75][76] Joe Dziemianowicz of the New York Daily News gave the production one out of four stars, but complimented his performance, writing that Sarsgaard does a "credible job as the doctor".[77] In the Bloomberg review of Uncle Vanya, John Simon, wrote: "Sarsgaard can't find the right tempi or emphases: shuttling between colorless rattle and silence-studded rallentandos, he fails at both infectious enthusiasm and self- effacing charm."[78]

Personal life

Sarsgaard and Maggie Gyllenhaal at the New York premiere of An Education in October 2009.

Sarsgaard was raised Catholic[40] and served as an altar boy. In an interview with the New York Times, when asked if he still had Catholic faith, Sarsgaard said: "I like the death-cult aspect of Catholicism. Every religion is interested in death, but Catholicism takes it to a particularly high level. [...] Seriously, in Catholicism, you're supposed to love your enemy. That really impressed me as a kid, and it has helped me as an actor. [...] The way that I view the characters I play is part of my religious upbringing. To abandon curiosity in all personalities, good or bad, is to give up hope in humanity."[4]

Among his most notable romantic relationships, Sarsgaard dated burlesque dancer Dita Von Teese and model/actress Shalom Harlow.[79][80] Early in his film career, he dated and lived with photographer Malerie Marder, a close friend from his days attending Bard College, who had featured Sarsgaard in some of her early work.[4] Sarsgaard has been in a relationship with actress Maggie Gyllenhaal, and is a close friend of her brother Jake Gyllenhaal, since 2002.[81] In April 2006 they announced their engagement.[82][83] They have a daughter Ramona, born October 3, 2006,[84] and live in Brooklyn, New York.[85] On May 2, 2009, they married in a small ceremony in Italy.[86][87]


Year Film Role Notes
1995 Dead Man Walking Walter Delacroix  
1997 Subway Stories: Tales from the Underground Boy #1 TV
1998 Minor Details Scott  
The Man in the Iron Mask Raoul  
Desert Blue Billy Baxter  
Another Day in Paradise Ty  
1999 Freak City Cal Jackson TV
Boys Don't Cry John Lotter  
2000 The Cell Julia Hickson's Fiancee Uncredited
Housebound Tom  
2001 The Center of the World Richard Longman  
Bacon Wagon Cowboy Zombie Victim  
2002 Empire Jack  
The Salton Sea Jimmy the Finn  
K-19: The Widowmaker LT Vadim Radchenko  
Unconditional Love Window Washer  
2003 Death of a Dynasty Brendon III  
Shattered Glass Charles 'Chuck' Lane Golden Globe nomination
2004 Garden State Mark  
Kinsey Clyde Martin  
2005 The Dying Gaul Robert Sandrich  
The Skeleton Key Luke  
Flightplan Gene Carson  
Jarhead Cpl. Alan Troy  
Statler and Waldorf: From the Balcony himself guest appearance in episode 8
2007 Year of the Dog Newt  
Rendition Alan Smith
2008 Elegy Kenneth Kepesh
The Mysteries of Pittsburgh Cleveland Arning
2009 An Education David
In the Electric Mist Elrod Sykes
Orphan John Coleman
2010 Knight & Day Fitzgerald forthcoming film
2011 Green Lantern Dr. Hector Hammond[67] filming


Year Award Category Film Result
2000 St. Louis International Film Festival Emerging Actor Award Won
2003 Boston Society of Film Critics Awards Best Supporting Actor Shattered Glass Won
San Francisco Film Critics Circle Best Supporting Actor Won
Toronto Film Critics Association Awards Best Supporting Performance - Male Won
2004 Chlotrudis Awards Best Supporting Actor Nominated
Independent Spirit Awards Best Supporting Male Nominated
Kansas City Film Critics Circle Awards Best Supporting Actor Won
Las Palmas Film Festival Best Actor Won
National Society of Film Critics Awards Best Supporting Actor Won
Online Film Critics Society Awards Best Supporting Actor Won
San Francisco Film Critics Circle Best Supporting Actor Won
Golden Globes Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture Nominated
Stockholm International Film Festival Best Actor Garden State Won
2005 Satellite Awards Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Comedy or Musical Nominated
Outstanding Actor in a Supporting Role, Drama Jarhead Nominated
Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Drama Kinsey Nominated
Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards Best Supporting Actor Nominated
Chlotrudis Awards Best Supporting Actor Won
Glitter Awards Best Supporting Actor Won
Independent Spirit Awards Best Supporting Male Nominated
Online Film Critics Society Awards Best Supporting Actor Nominated
Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association Awards Best Supporting Actor Jarhead Nominated
2010 Screen Actors Guild Awards Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture An Education Nominated


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Further reading

External links

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