John Peter Sarsgaard (/ˈsɑːrzɡɑːrd/; born March 7, 1971) is an American actor. He studied at the Actors Studio, before rising to prominence playing atypical and sometimes villainous roles in film and television.

Peter Sarsgaard
Sarsgaard in 2019
John Peter Sarsgaard

(1971-03-07) March 7, 1971 (age 53)
Alma materWashington University in St. Louis
Years active1995–present
(m. 2009)
RelativesJake Gyllenhaal (brother-in-law)

He made his film debut with Dead Man Walking (1995). He gained recognition for his role in The Man in the Iron Mask (1998), Boys Don't Cry (1999), and The Center of the World (2001). For his portrayal of Charles Lane in Shattered Glass (2003), Sarsgaard received a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor nomination.

Sarsgaard has acted in films such as Garden State, Kinsey (both 2004), Jarhead (2005), Elegy (2008), An Education (2009), Lovelace, Blue Jasmine (both 2013), Black Mass (2015), Jackie (2016), and The Lost Daughter (2021). He is also known for his performances in the blockbuster films Knight and Day (2010), Green Lantern (2011), The Magnificent Seven (2016), and The Batman (2022). For his performance in Memory (2023), Sarsgaard won the Volpi Cup for Best Actor.

Sarsgaard is also known for his television roles including in the AMC/Netflix crime series The Killing (2013) and the Hulu limited series The Looming Tower (2018) and Dopesick (2021), the latter of which earned him a Primetime Emmy Award nomination. Sarsgaard made his Broadway debut portraying Boris Alexeyevich Trigorin in the revival of Anton Chekov's The Seagull (2008). He is married to Maggie Gyllenhaal.

Early life and education edit

John Peter Sarsgaard was born at Scott Air Force Base in St. Clair County, Illinois, on March 7, 1971, the son of Judy Lea (née Reinhardt) and John Dale Sarsgaard.[1] His father was an Air Force engineer and later worked for Monsanto and IBM.[2][3] His surname originates in Denmark, where his paternal great-great-grandparents were born; it is pronounced [ˈsɑːsɡɔˀ] in Danish.[1]

Sarsgaard was raised a Catholic[4][5] and served as an altar boy. His family moved more than 12 times during his childhood, following his father's job.[6] At the age of 7, Sarsgaard originally wanted to become a soccer player and took up ballet to help improve his coordination.[6] After suffering several concussions while playing soccer, he gave up the sport and became interested in writing and theater.[7] He attended Fairfield College Preparatory School, a private Jesuit boys' school in Connecticut, where he became interested in film.[7]

Following his graduation from Fairfield Prep in 1989, he attended Bard College in New York for two years before transferring to Washington University in St. Louis (WUSTL) in 1991, where he co-founded an improvisational comedy troupe "Mama's Pot Roast".[7] While at WUSTL, Sarsgaard began performing in plays in an offshoot of New York's Actors Studio;[7] His first role was as the servant Laurent in Molière's Tartuffe. In 1993, he graduated with a bachelor's degree in history and moved to New York.[7][8]

Career edit

1995–1998: Early work edit

Sarsgaard branched out with guest roles in television productions filmed in New York City, with Law & Order in 1995,[9] and New York Undercover (1997) as well as an appearance in the 1997 HBO special Subway Stories.[10] He appeared in his first film role in Dead Man Walking (1995), where he was cast as a murdered teenager, killed by Sean Penn's character.[11][12]

In 1995, Sarsgaard made his theatrical debut in the Off-Broadway production of Horton Foote's Laura Dennis, which was directed by James Houghton.[13] Ben Brantley of The New York Times wrote: "Mr. Sarsgaard ... emerges as an actor to watch with a performance of breathtaking emotional conviction."[13] The following year he starred in Kingdom of Earth opposite Cynthia Nixon and directed by John Cameron Mitchell.[14] His performance in the play received favorable reviews amongst critics.[15]

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,[16] and In Desert Blue (1998), where he had a supporting role in the film.[17] He received a 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.[18] The film uses characters from Alexandre Dumas' d'Artagnan Romances, and is very loosely adapted from some plot elements of The Vicomte de Bragelonne.[19] The film received ambivalent reviews,[20] but was a success at the box office, earning $182 million worldwide.[21]

1999–2002: Worldwide recognition edit

In 1999, Sarsgaard earned critical recognition in Kimberly Peirce's Boys Don't Cry, where he was cast as notorious killer John Lotter. The film is based on the real-life story of Brandon Teena, who was raped and murdered in 1993 by Lotter and Tom Nissen after they found out that he was a trans man. Boys Don't Cry received overwhelmingly positive acclaim from critics,[22] and his performance was critically well received. According to The Boston Globe, "Peter Sarsgaard ... makes the killer's terrible trajectory not only believable, but grounded in the most mundane clodhopper behavior. He isn't a drooling monster, he's a guy you wouldn't look twice at a bar or a convenience store."[23] A contributor from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer wrote "It's a marvelous performance supported ably by ... Sarsgaard as the unpredictable, sociopathic Lotter."[24] The film was screened at a special presentation at the 2000 Venice Film Festival.[25] 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."[26] In another interview, Sarsgaard said he felt "empowered" by playing Lotter.[27]

His first leading role was in the 2001 feature The Center of the World, 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.[28] The film received average reviews,[29] however, 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 20s struggling to navigate a world of material abundance and impoverished emotional possibility."[28] Scott concluded in his recap that Sarsgaard made his character "seem like a genuinely nice guy, too innocent to grasp the sleaziness of his bargain with Florence."[28]

In 2002, Sarsgaard starred in three films, K-19: The Widowmaker, Empire and The Salton Sea. In K-19: The Widowmaker, he portrayed a young Russian navy lieutenant Vadim Radchenko, a prototype of Boris Korchilov.[30] The film's budget cost was $100 million to make,[31] but upon release, it grossed $35 million in the United States and $30 million internationally,[32] qualifying it as a box office failure. His next role was in Empire, a crime thriller, where he was cast in a supporting role.[33] Sarsgaard played a meth addict in D. J. Caruso's The Salton Sea.[34] In October 2002, Sarsgaard returned to theater in a New York production of Lanford Wilson's Burn This, where he replaced Edward Norton.[35][36]

2003–present: Continued success edit

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 New Republic during the mid-1990s and his fall when his widespread journalistic fraud is exposed. During the film's promotion, Sarsgaard noted 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."[37] According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, "Peter Sarsgaard is appealingly level, a stolid straight-shooter as Lane".[38] A reviewer from the Chicago Tribune noted that Sarsgaard plays Lane with "great subtlety and grace".[39] 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."[39] Sarsgaard's performance in the film earned him his first Golden Globe Award nomination and an Independent Spirit Award nomination.[40]

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.[41][42] 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.[43] Kinsey was Sarsgaard's first film role which featured full frontal nudity.[44] 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."[43] 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.[4]

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.[45] The film received favourable reviews.[46] 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".[47] 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."[47]

Also in 2005, he had supporting roles in the suspense thriller films The Skeleton Key[48] and Robert Schwentke's Flightplan.[49] In the latter film, Sarsgaard played an air marshall, who is ordered to keep guard of Jodie Foster's character.[49] Flightplan was screened at a special presentation at the 30th annual Toronto International Film Festival in 2005.[47] Despite the mixed reviews,[50] the film was a financial success, earning $223 million worldwide,[21] making it his highest-grossing film to the end of 2008. Sarsgaard's next feature was Jarhead (2005), opposite Jake Gyllenhaal.[6] The movie is based on U.S. Marine Anthony Swofford's 2003 Gulf War memoir of the same name.[6][10]

Sarsgaard hosted Saturday Night Live (SNL) on January 21, 2006.[51] 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.[52] 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 facemasks.[52]

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.[53] 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.[54] Viewed as a sex symbol, Sarsgaard was named one of's Sexiest Man Living in 2007.[55] 2008 saw Sarsgaard star in the drama Elegy,[56][57] based on a Phillip Roth novel, The Dying Animal.[58] The film received favorable reception amongst critics.[59]

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.[60][61] 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".[60] Adam Feldman for Time Out praised the production but wrote of Sarsgaard's performance, "Some of the Americans struggle—notably Peter Sarsgaard, who plays Trigorin’s passivity so aggressively that his costars have nothing to work against."[62]

In 2009, Sarsgaard starred alongside Jon Foster and Sienna Miller in the drama The Mysteries of Pittsburgh.[63] It is an adaptation of Michael Chabon's novel of the same name.[64] 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.[65][66] Furthermore, in the same year, Sarsgaard starred as David in Lone Scherfig's coming of age film An Education.[67][68] The role required Sarsgaard to speak in a British accent.[67] An Education drew favorable reviews from critics.[69] According to Variety, "Sarsgaard ... marvelously expresses the savoir faire that has such an impact on Jenny [Carey Mulligan]."[70]

Sarsgaard with the cast of Green Lantern at the 2010 San Diego Comic-Con International.

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.[71][72] The cast also included Maggie Gyllenhaal, Mamie Gummer, Denis O'Hare, and George Morfogen.[71][72] The production, directed by Austin Pendleton, began previews on January 17 and ended its limited run on March 1.[71][72] 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".[73] 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."[74]

Sarsgaard played a federal agent in the action comedy film Knight and Day, released in June 2010, in which he appeared alongside Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz.[75] In May 2010, it was reported that Sarsgaard would star in Chekhov's play Three Sisters. The production began in January 2011, and Sarsgaard was reunited with Uncle Vanya director Austin Pendleton.[76] In February 2010, it was announced that Sarsgaard had been cast as villain Hector Hammond in the superhero film Green Lantern.[77] The film was released in 2011.[78] He played a supporting role in Woody Allen's drama Blue Jasmine (2013).[79] Sarsgaard also appeared in the American TV series The Killing (2013) as a man on death row perhaps wrongfully convicted for the brutal murder of his wife, a performance which he said included "some of the best acting I have ever done in my life."[80] Sarsgaard appeared in a 2015 Classic Stage Company production of Hamlet in the title role.[81] He portrayed Robert F. Kennedy in Pablo Larraín's Jackie (2016).

Sarsgaard then took a role as Martin Schmidt in the Hulu limited series The Looming Tower (2018), earning a nomination for the Critics' Choice Television Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Movie/Miniseries. He returned to television in another Hulu miniseries Dopesick (2021) playing Rick Mountcastle, for which he received a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie nomination.[82] Sarsgaard appeared in The Lost Daughter (2021), directed by his wife Maggie Gyllenhaal, and the following year played the role of District Attorney Gil Colson in The Batman (2022). In 2023, he starred opposite Jessica Chastain in the Michel Franco film Memory which premiered at the 80th Venice International Film Festival. Sarsgaard portrayed a man riddled with dementia. He stated, "A lot of time when we see dementia in movies, it's the most extreme stage at the very end and it paralyses us all with fear, and I really didn't want to depict that." For his performance he won the Volpi Cup for Best Actor.[83]

Personal life edit

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

In an interview with The New York Times, Sarsgaard stated that he followed Catholicism, saying: "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."[7]

Among his most notable romantic relationships, Sarsgaard dated burlesque dancer Dita Von Teese[84] and model and actress Shalom Harlow.[9] Early in his film career, he dated photographer Malerie Marder, a close friend from his days attending Bard College,[7] who had featured Sarsgaard in some of her early work.[85]

Sarsgaard began a romantic relationship with actress Maggie Gyllenhaal, the sister of his close friend Jake Gyllenhaal, in 2002.[86] In April 2006, they announced their engagement, and on May 2, 2009, they married in a small ceremony in Brindisi, Italy.[87][88] They have two daughters, born in October 2006 and April 2012.[89][90]

Sarsgaard is vegan, but says he cooks meat for his children.[91]

In June 2013, Sarsgaard and numerous other celebrities appeared in a video showing support for Chelsea Manning.[92][93]

Filmography edit

Film edit

Year Title Role Notes
1995 Dead Man Walking Walter Delacroix
1998 The Man in the Iron Mask Raoul
Minor Details Scott
Desert Blue Billy Baxter
Another Day in Paradise Ty
1999 Boys Don't Cry John Lotter
2000 The Cell John Tracy Uncredited
Housebound Tom
2001 The Center of the World Richard Longman
Bacon Wagon Cowboy Zombie Victim Short film
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
2004 Garden State Mark
Kinsey Clyde Martin
2005 The Dying Gaul Robert Sandrich
The Skeleton Key Luke Marshall
Flightplan Gene Carson
Jarhead Cpl. Alan Troy
2007 Year of the Dog Newt
Rendition Alan Smith
2008 Elegy Kenneth Kepesh
The Mysteries of Pittsburgh Cleveland Arning
2009 An Education David Goldman
In the Electric Mist Elrod Sykes
Orphan John Coleman
2010 Knight and Day John Fitzgerald
2011 Green Lantern Dr. Hector Hammond [78]
2012 Robot & Frank Robot (voice)
2013 Lovelace Chuck Traynor
Very Good Girls Fitzsimmons
Night Moves Harmon
Blue Jasmine Dwight Westlake [79]
2014 Pawn Sacrifice William Lombardy
2015 Experimenter Stanley Milgram
Black Mass Brian Halloran [94]
2016 Jackie Robert F. Kennedy
The Magnificent Seven Bartholomew Bogue
2017 Loving Pablo Shepard
2018 The Lie Jay Logan
2019 The Sound of Silence Peter Lucian
Mr Jones Walter Duranty
Human Capital Quint Manning
2020 Best Summer Ever Camera Man Also executive producer
2021 The Lost Daughter Professor Hardy
The Guilty Henry Fisher (voice)
The Survivor Emory Anderson
2022 The Batman District Attorney Gil Colson
2023 Pet Shop Days TBA
Memory Saul
Coup! Floyd Monk
2025 The Bride! TBA Filming

Television edit

Year Title Role Notes
1995 Law & Order Josh Strand Episode: "Paranoia"
1997 New York Undercover Donald Jones Episode: "School's Out"
1997 Subway Stories: Tales from the Underground Boy #1 Television movie
1999 Freak City Cal Jackson Television movie
1999 Cracker Spencer Trent Episode: "The Club"
2005 Statler and Waldorf: From the Balcony Himself (cameo) Web series
2006 Saturday Night Live Himself (host) Episode: "Peter Sarsgaard/The Strokes"
2010 Saturday Night Live Boogerman Episode: "Amy Poehler/Katy Perry"
2013 The Killing Ray Seward 10 episodes
2015 The Slap Hector Apostolou Miniseries; 8 episodes
2017 Wormwood Frank Olson Miniseries; 6 episodes
2018 The Looming Tower Martin Schmidt Miniseries; 10 episodes
2020 Interrogation Det. David Russell 10 episodes
2020 Homemade Frank Episode: "Penelope"
2021 Dopesick Rick Mountcastle Miniseries
2024 Presumed Innocent Tommy Molto Upcoming miniseries

Theatre edit

Year Title Role Venue Refs.
1995 Laura Dennis Harvey Griswold Signature Theatre
1996 Kingdom of Earth Performer Greenwich House
2002 Burn This Pale Union Square Theatre [95]
2008 The Seagull Boris Trigorin Walter Kerr Theatre [96]
2009 Uncle Vanya Astrov/Mikhail Lvovich Classic Stage Company [97]
2011 Three Sisters Vershinin Classic Stage Company [98]
2015 Hamlet Hamlet Classic Stage Company [99]

Awards and nominations edit

Year Award Category Film Result
2000 St. Louis International Film Festival Emerging Actor Award N/A Won
2003 Boston Society of Film Critics Awards Best Supporting Actor Shattered Glass Won
Village Voice Film Poll Best Supporting Actor Nominated
Southeastern Film Critics Association Awards Best Supporting Actor Nominated
Seattle Film Critics Awards Best Supporting Actor Nominated
San Francisco Film Critics Circle Best Supporting Actor Won
Toronto Film Critics Association Awards Best Supporting Performance – Male Won
Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association Best Supporting Actor Nominated
2004 Independent Spirit Awards Best Supporting Male Nominated
Dallas–Fort Worth Film Critics Association Best Supporting Actor Nominated
Central Ohio Film Critics Association Best Supporting Actor Nominated
Kansas City Film Critics Circle Awards Best Supporting Actor Won
Chlotrudis Awards Best Supporting Actor Won
Chicago Film Critics Association Awards Best Supporting Actor Nominated
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
Online Film & Television Association Best Supporting Actor Nominated
Golden Globe Awards Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture Nominated
International Cinephile Society Best Supporting Actor 2nd place
Stockholm International Film Festival Best Actor Garden State Won
Golden Schmoes Awards Best Supporting Actor of the Year Nominated
Satellite Awards Best Actor in a Supporting Role – Drama Kinsey Nominated
2005 Critics' Choice Awards Best Supporting Actor Nominated
Dallas–Fort Worth Film Critics Association Best Supporting Actor Nominated
Glitter Awards Best Supporting Actor Won
Independent Spirit Awards Best Supporting Male Nominated
Online Film Critics Society Awards Best Supporting Actor Nominated
Chlotrudis Awards Best Supporting Actor Nominated
Online Film & Television Association Best Supporting Actor Nominated
Satellite Awards Best Actor in a Supporting Role Garden State Nominated
Best Actor in a Supporting Role – Drama Jarhead Nominated
Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association Best Supporting Actor Nominated
Women's Image Network Awards Actor in Film Flightplan Nominated
2009 Alliance of Women Film Journalists Best Depiction of Nudity, Sexuality, or Seduction
(shared with Carey Mulligan)
An Education Won
2010 Screen Actors Guild Awards Outstanding Cast in a Motion Picture Nominated
Santa Barbara International Film Festival Cinema Vanguard Award Won
2013 Satellite Awards Best Supporting Actor – Television The Killing Nominated
2014 Critics' Choice Television Awards Best Supporting Actor – Drama Series Nominated
Gold Derby Awards Best Supporting Actor – Drama Nominated
Ensemble Cast Blue Jasmine Nominated
2015 Gotham Awards Best Actor Experimenter Nominated
Village Voice Film Poll 4th place
2019 Critics' Choice Television Awards Best Supporting Actor – Limited Series The Looming Tower Nominated
2021 Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie Dopesick Nominated
2023 Venice International Film Festival Volpi Cup for Best Actor Memory Won

References edit

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Further reading edit

External links edit