HFPA in Conversation: Peter Sarsgaard on the CIA, 9/11 and Being a Dad

by Kirpi Uimonen Ballesteros June 27, 2018
Actor Peter Saarsgard

nicholas hunt/getty images

Golden Globe-nominated actor Peter Sarsgaard opened up to HFPA’s journalist Gabriel Lerman about what he learned from the Central Intelligence Agency while playing two different CIA employees: in  the Hulu limited series The Looming Tower he portrays Martin Schmidt, the head of Alec Station a section of the Counterterrorism Center that followed the steps of Osama bin Laden before 9/11;  in the Netflix docudrama Wormwood he plays a biological warfare scientist and CIA employee who dies under mysterious circumstances.

“I read this book called Like a Sea of Ashes which is also a book I really highly recommend just in terms of really understanding the CIA from its inception to now, which it’s nothing like it was at the beginning, it’s changed almost constantly I think throughout the years the way it’s organized and the way it works, because the threats have changed.”

When 9/11 happened Sarsgaard was on West Broadway and Canal Street in New York. “I was very close to it.  I lived in downtown Manhattan.  I remember being with a woman that I thought was a total hypochondriac in her telling me that the dust that was outside was dangerous and I shouldn’t go outside.”

Sarsgaard’s career spans more than 20 years in film, television, and theater. He started his film career along with Tim Robbins and Sean Penn in Dead Man Walking and has built an impressive resume that includes independent cinema as well as blockbusters like Boys Don’t Cry, Shattered Glass - which earned him a Golden Globe nomination, - Garden State, An Education, and Blue Jasmine among many others. At the moment he is in the movie Loving Pablo with Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem.

In high school, however, he thought that becoming a professional actor was not in the cards. “I had no interest in it.  I was interested in books.  I loved music, it was the main thing that I loved growing up.  I danced a lot in my room.  I also did ballet.  And I wanted to be a soccer player.  I traveled a lot as a kid because we moved a lot.  So I went to different places and there was a time in there where I was a fisherman, I tied my own flies.”

In this conversation, Sarsgaard talks about how he felt after 9/11, why he would like to work with Guillermo del Toro, when did he learn that real people are actors, what did his aunt say about Mel Gibson, what play he ended up doing partly naked, why he started to study modern dance, how being the only child and moving to different places affected him as well as growing up in a Catholic family and being an altar boy, how becoming a family man changed his life and work, how are family get-togethers with his in-laws,the Gyllenhaal family, how was making a movie with his mother-in-law and what his now wife told her then-boyfriend about Peter’s acting in Boys Don’t Cry.

Listen to the conversation here or, for immediate access to all of our podcasts, subscribe to HFPA in Conversation on iTunes.