Peter Sarsgaard Interview

The actor talks about working with Jodie Foster in the thriller, Flightplan

Peter Sarsgaard has had a busy year in 2005, The Dying Gaul, The Skeleton Key, the upcoming Jarhead, and his latest Flightplan. In Flightplan, Peter plays an air marshall on a plane where Jodie Foster's daughter goes missing.

That's about all I can say about his character and that's about all he'll say about his character. He sat down with us to kind of discuss his role in the film. He also talked about his last movie of 2005, Jarhead. Take a read:

So are you a better or worse flier now?

Peter Sarsgaard: I think I'm going to have more trouble flying after I've done this movie, maybe the beard will come in handy, maybe some sunglasses too. I'm not the worst flier. It's funny that I wound up in a job where I do it constantly. 'Cause I never enjoyed it. I like smaller planes actually better. It's the big ones that defy logic. Like how - we just go 600 miles an hour and that's what keeps us up in the air? We slow down a little bit [and] we go down? It seems unreasonable. With those little planes, you feel like you can almost glide down. I think you wouldn't know that I was a bad flier if you saw me on an airplane. You wouldn't be like ‘That guy is freaking out.' I keep it very much to myself, I meditate and try to dissociate. (quoting INXS's Mediate) Try not to hate, love your mate, quite irate, the number eight.

Now that you've done the research, how do guess who's an air marshal?

Peter Sarsgaard: I know who isn't. If they've got a tight t-shirt and jeans, they've got no place to put the weapon. They sit in first class. A certain attitude - a lot of them are former military. I can spot former military in my life fairly well. Former military sitting in first class, wearing a blazer not doing anything, and not talking to anyone is a pretty good sign. Also on a high-risk flight, New York to L.A. or on a big plane, that's more likely. Sometimes I'll look around and I'll guess.

What's the percentage of air marshals out there now?

Peter Sarsgaard: I know it's changing; it has changed. I don't know the exact number. I do know that the number of air marshals before 9/11 was in the three digits. And a couple of months after 9/11 it was in the four-digit area. A lot of people were hired very quickly after 9/11 - not the best way to hire people. I know there are a couple of mistakes and problems. But we're very lucky. It could be a lot worse.

Did you shoot this before or after Skeleton Key?

Peter Sarsgaard: Right after, I shot Skeleton Key, this, Jarhead. And now, I'm not working for a long time. I'm taking a very solid chunk of time off. The fact that they kind of came on the heels of each other obviously gave me pause when I was thinking about doing them. I've worked with Billy [Ray] before and I really liked Robert [Schwentke]. It seemed like it would be fun. The thing that Robert does - a lot of people who direct the big, fun movie that belongs in the summer - for an actor, he made doing that kind of movie fun, literally by bringing in music for me. And also in terms of getting me interested in what it means to act with a camera. The camera is a real active participant in this movie; it's a real presence in the movie - zooming down over people's heads, over the aisles. There's techno-cranes inside the airplane. The camera actually, could attach to the ceiling, and they would whip it around. So there are a lot of whip-pans in the movie like when I'll say something, and the camera goes to see what I see. So that's acting with a camera, and if you're sort of a stubborn, acting snob, you can take umbrage at that. But I learned sort of to get into it. I found it to be another kind of challenge. He made it fun for me. I really, really like the guy, and I really love his first movie, Tattoo; it's very good.

After Skeleton Key, was it hard to watch images of New Orleans?

Peter Sarsgaard: I doubt that it's any less hard for me than anyone else. It's hard for all of us. Seeing a father who just lost his wife, with his son with his face buried into his thigh on television. I don't care where he's from. He could be from someplace I've never been to. The human experience is common. That's one of the great things you realize about being an actor. That's the biggest lesson when you're an actor. Everyone feels everything. There's a part of everyone that can do everything. That's why I like realistic movies with realistic characters drawn from life specifically. I understood, but didn't agree with, but maybe it's because I'm Christian. I'm Catholic. I understood what John Lotter, why he did what he did when I did Boys Don't Cry. It makes emotional sense to me. It was like: he grew up this way; the only girl who ever loved him and wrote to him in prison is now dating this person who's a little strange. And when he finds out, all the feelings come up, and he can't control himself. I really am an empathetic person, I think we all. Sometimes it's too painful and we cut it off. I'm not interested in not cutting it off. A lot of people that worked on that movie are homeless. One of them moved back to Jamaica or was trying to. People have just lost the lives that they once knew. It's not their actual life, the people that they loved. It's really, really heartbreaking. But I don't think more so because I was there.

Is it challenging to work in such a confined space?

Peter Sarsgaard: It's challenging for me just because I start looking around, I realize there's 500 people on the airplane and there's just that door and that door. That's the challenge for me, body odor and heat, a lot of people who are very bored and anxious sitting around me. I cannot imagine the experience of the people who sat on Row 26, Seat A for three months while we did this movie. Actually at one point during the movie, I looked over at the woman next to me. She was out of frame, but she was sitting right next to me during the shot. I looked over during the scene, and I saw that she had one of those DVD players. She was watching Panic Room; I was like ‘Huh, ok.' I totally dropped my line. I couldn't - it was too weird.

What was it like working with Jodie?

Peter Sarsgaard: It was great; I've always been a big fan, she's such a pro. She really is ‘more cow, less moo,' as she would say. She's not a lot talking about it, she's not a dilettante about it, she just does it, she comes in, she does it, doesn't make a fuss about it. She pieces it together in the most logical way and then you just do it. It's so freeing because I still consider myself a young actor, I'm 34; I still view it as the beginning of my career. You can get infatuated with acting in a way that makes you less an actor than an acting appreciator. The great thing about Jodie is that she spends very little time mulling over how she does her craft or talking to you about it or anything like that. I think there's really something to doing that. To talk about it is to make it less urgent to do it. Just do it. It's so much better than talking about it.

She said the same thing about you. Are you like that too?

Peter Sarsgaard: I think I am like that, maybe that's why I like that. I get a little frustrated sometimes when people, just before doing a scene - breaking it down, talking about this, talking about that. In this one I had to figure out what the camera needed to see. It's a little bit more choreographed than other movies that I've done. So it's like ‘We're going to see you through the thing. You're going to go to the bathroom, and the camera will dip down.' That kind of stuff, but once I kind of got that into my body twice, I was like, ‘Let's do it.' I would say that Jodie, what she's saying about me is also something that the minute I met her sensed and realized the value of. And so, almost immediately, I maybe copped her style. Maybe that's why we got along so well.

Did you ever got clocked by one of the cameras?

Peter Sarsgaard: Yes, definitely; I got hit by a little C-stand once and I had to get stitches in the back of my neck. Not on this movie, but on another one. Equipment in movies frequently is something that I'm fighting with. Like ‘Ahh, cables on the ground, I can't.' On this one, I tried not to fight them too much because they were so omnipresent.

So when you're offered roles now, are you just turning them down or are you even reading them?

Peter Sarsgaard: For a while I didn't even read them really because I didn't want to fall in love with one. Because I knew I didn't have the energy to do one, so why read? I just recently started reading again, just in case something spectacular comes along. I've read some things I've liked, and I can think of one thing in particular I would have done a year ago, but I just don't feel ready. I think I'm trying to start part 3 or 4 of whatever it is of my career. I'm not talking about bigger roles or heroes. I'm sort of reached the end of the line with some things. And I'm interested in starting now. I think you have to do that every once in a while.

Do you do any traveling for research?

Peter Sarsgaard: Sometimes, like Dubrovnik, it's a combo thing. I'm probably going to go to Tibet coming up. I'm going there because I want to see it before it disappears, Katmandu and Tibet. So there's an urgency to going to that place. I think you've got to see it before the Mao, Chinese take over.

What do you want to see in Dubrovnik?

Peter Sarsgaard: Dubrovnik I've heard is really turned around [from] all the trouble and is incredibly beautiful. And there's good windsurfing there. My old soccer coach is from there. So I'm going to hang out with him. And then I'm probably going to take some little trips up to Bosnia and the surrounding area, but steer clear of landmines.

So why are you taking a break?

Peter Sarsgaard: The way that I felt after finishing Jarhead. I felt tapped out. I'm very, very proud of my performance in Jarhead and in Dying Gaul and in a lot of these movies. It's not a matter of that or shame or something. It's a matter of I don't have anything left of whatever that was. There was something that I was exploring in a lot of these roles that I feel like I'm done with, I don't feel like I can do again with any amount of energy if my life depended on it. It's like Jarhead actually fits the movie the way I was feeling because I was just trying to put one foot in front of the other. It was about endurance for me. Being a Marine in Iraq is in large part about putting one foot in front of the other and about endurance. I think my character on the page was just a little bit probably more deeply infatuated and gung-ho about being a Marine. I think my character is still deeply infatuated with being a Marine as I am with being an actor, but is also just trying to put one foot in front of the other. The minute that somebody else starts talking about what a hard time they're having or anything like that on that movie, I would just snap at them and go ‘Shut the f*ck up, put one foot in front of the other. I can't handle the fact that we're in month three. We're not done yet. I don't want to hear anyone talking about complaining. I'm on my third movie in a row. I am just going to make it.' And so I think that's something very interesting that wound up in my performance that I'm very proud of. I think that works in a lot of roles that happens. I need to pay attention to that part of myself that's feeling exhausted.

Do they listen to you told them?

Peter Sarsgaard: (laughing) No, none of them, especially not Jake [Gyllenhaal].

Flightplan thrills audiences at 30,000 feet when it hits theaters September 23rd; it's rated PG-13.