Peter Sarsgaard stated that his generation was obsessed with icons such as Pacino and De Niro, leading to them mimicking others.

Peter Sarsgaard stated that his generation was obsessed with icons such as Pacino and De Niro, leading to them mimicking others.


Peter Sarsgaard, a 52-year-old American actor who has been nominated for both a Golden Globe and an Emmy, first appeared on screen in the 1995 movie Dead Man Walking. He has also acted in The Batman, An Education, Jackie, and The Lost Daughter, which was directed by his wife, actress and director Maggie Gyllenhaal. The couple has two daughters together. In the upcoming film Memory, directed by Michel Franco, Sarsgaard plays the character of Saul, who struggles with early-onset dementia. He recently won the Volpi Cup for best actor at the 2023 Venice Film Festival for his role in this film opposite Jessica Chastain.

Congratulations on your achievement of winning the award for best actor at the Venice Film Festival. Do you enjoy participating in awards season as a part of your career?
No [laughs]. It’s a necessary part of my job in the way that there are parts of everyone’s job. It’s especially good for bringing attention to a small movie like this one. But I’ve learned that it’s a machine that is well beyond my control, and it’s never been about the best thing. These days, the movies that are getting the attention of awards already have probably made a billion dollars, and have people campaigning for them to win.

During your acceptance speech for best actor, you discussed the potential impact of AI on your industry, particularly in relation to the recent writers’ strike. What are your primary worries?

I believe that AI has a role in our daily lives, but I don’t think it belongs in the realm of art. For instance, I know someone who attempted to impress me with the capabilities of AI by saying, “Watch, I can request a painting of my dog catching a Frisbee in the style of Cézanne!” While I now have this painting, it lacks the human element that comes from someone learning and honing their skills. The act of creating is what makes us human and gives purpose to our lives. I truly believe that humans crave engagement, while AI creates disengagement.

Peter Sarsgaard and Jessica Chastain in Memory.

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The individual you portray in Memory is a male of your same age who suffers from early-onset dementia. Your relative also experienced this condition. Did this have an impact on your portrayal?

I am aware that dementia has a greater long-term impact on friends and family than on the individual who has it. In portraying the character of Saul, my goal was to focus on him as a person rather than his condition, as dementia was a significant aspect of his life but not his defining characteristic.

Who is your maternal or paternal uncle?
He was really smart and ebullient. I’d love walking into a room when he was in it when I was a young boy – he was a fireman, he played football and was always up for a rumble. After his diagnosis, he still greeted everyone as if he knew and loved them, just in case he did. We think he had CTE [chronic traumatic encephalopathy] which developed into dementia from playing contact sports.

Did you also participate in competitive soccer when you were younger? Do you still follow the sport?

I stopped participating in university-level games due to head injuries, but my passion for the sport remains. I am a fan of Liverpool and I admire players like Dominik Szoboszlai and Trent Alexander-Arnold, who have moments of vulnerability but also moments of brilliance. I have found myself getting caught up in the excitement of a game while working out and imagining myself as part of the action. On weekends, I sometimes listen to games on my earphones while having breakfast with friends, and if they seem occupied with something else, I sneak off to watch on TV.

Who are some actors that you look up to currently?
Paul Mescal is a captivating and confident actor, and I am completely convinced by his portrayal on screen. He exudes authenticity. His performance in the film Aftersun, alongside Saoirse Ronan, was a showcase of exceptional acting. I also admire Ronan’s talent. I find that the emerging actors in their age group have a distinct style compared to those of my generation.

Sarsgaard with his wife, Maggie Gyllenhaal.

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Perhaps growing up watching real things on YouTube or Instagram feeds has given younger people a taste for reality. My generation was fixated on male legends like Pacino and De Niro, and actors used to base a lot of their acting on other movies, so we were imitating others, which made what we did less real. That’s not the case any more, which is great.

Your spouse, Maggie, directed you and Jessie Buckley in a sexual encounter for The Lost Daughter. You have expressed that you would highly recommend this experience to others. Why do you feel that way?

The experience wasn’t necessarily alluring. It simply removed the controlling force that we often believe drives us constantly. It felt personal and intimate, but not in a sexual way, as the three of us collaborated. I greatly enjoy working with Maggie because she empowers me to voice my thoughts and opinions, both in my career and in my personal life. My next project is a film called “The Bride,” which Maggie will be directing. It’s an epic romance about a couple on the run, and I am excited to act alongside Penélope Cruz once again.

How do you unwind?

I have experience writing screenplays, but recently I have been working on shorter, comedic pieces. In addition to writing, I also have a passion for ice skating. My dream is to visit Scandinavia and try out the unique activity of skating on thin ice after it first freezes. This involves wearing long blades and skating at high speeds, with the ice cracking beneath you. For safety, skaters must go in groups to ensure someone can help if anyone falls.

In the past, you have expressed your political opinions. What are your current thoughts as we approach the US presidential election?

We must begin to appeal to younger individuals in regards to politics by presenting it as a functional system. Currently, the role seems absurd and comical. During my youth, there were politicians who were favored and disliked, but there was a belief that they had good intentions. Politics should strive to draw in more idealists rather than those who are corrupt.

What roles are you still interested in portraying?

I have a strong desire to portray a musician or showcase my singing and dancing abilities. During my initial time in New York, I was involved in a production called American Archeology with Meredith Monk on Roosevelt Island. Even though I am now at a different stage in my life, I would still be willing to take on the role of an older choreographer.

  • The film “Memory” will be shown in UK and Irish movie theaters starting on 23 February.