Contrary to popular belief, Peter Sarsgaard has had his share of intense movie make-up. His character was dramatically burned for a good portion of Kathryn Bigelow’s “K-19: the Widowmaker.”
“I did that for weeks on end,” Sarsgaard says as we sit on a large patio at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. “I did this for months on end.”
That latest endeavor would be Martin Campbell’s “Green Lantern” where the acclaimed actor plays Hector Hammond, a legendary villain from the Emerald Crusader’s comic book rogues gallery. Hammond’s origin has been changed a bit (he has more of a connection to our hero, Hal Jordan), but his over-sized head and telepathic and telekinetic powers remain.
Sarsgaard admits he was concerned before meeting Campbell that Hammond would have the gigantic head seen in the comics, but for practical reasons, it was decided to make it appear more realistic on the big screen. Best known for his roles in “An Education,” “Jarhead” and “Kinsey,” Sarsgaard gives a frighteningly horrific turn as Hammond. So much so, in fact, you think he’s in another movie. One of the more impressive aspects of his performance is how he uses Hammond’s mutation to effect his performance. If you listen carefully in a number of scenes, you’ll hear Hammond having problems breathing.
“I went through the whole thing of thinking about what it would be like to have this happen to you,” Sarsgaard says. “So, you know, dealing with the weight. I was very thin at the time, so the body couldn”t hold [the head] up and that would affect the breathing. That would affect the tone of your voice. And you know, I think all those details because what is happening to him is so physical. That was almost 50% of my performance is just making sure I obeyed the laws of what was happening. And when I started breathing like that at first, I just did that and Martin after awhile…maybe like a couple days later Martin would start to ask for it. He”d go like, ‘Oh that was so great.’ [But] I didn”t want it to be something that was annoying either.”
Sarsgaard adds, “I didn”t want it to totally [expletive] with my performance, but you know I have so many other things [expletive] with my performance I might as well add another one.”
The 40-year-old recently completed a run opposite wife Maggie Gyllenhaal in a revival of “Three Sisters” on Broadway which was his big job after shooting “Lantern” last summer. Even with such a long break, he’s mixed on whether he’d consider return as the big brain.
“I would do it again if I were asked to, but it”s also really hard, mentally and physically,” Sarsgaard says. “And, you know, I don”t want to look like a dog fish in movie after movie.”
He’s prepping to start shooting the indie “Very Good Girls” this fall, but Sarsgaard eyes lit up when the topic of his passion project, an adaptation of “Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen,” came up. Sargaard just finished his first draft of the script the night before and was ecstatic about the possibilities of his directorial debut.
Working with producers Kathy and Frank Marshall among others, the book tells the story of author Chris McDougall who journeyed to find the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico’s Copper Canyons, a tribe of Indians who have mastered techniques that allow them to run hundreds of miles without rest. His adventure also finds him meeting the mysterious loner Caballo Blanco as he trains for, according to the book’s synopsis, “a fifty-mile race through the heart of Tarahumara country pitting the tribe against an odd band of Americans, including including a star ultramarathoner, a beautiful young surfer, and a barefoot wonder.”
“We”re going to try to make, you know, a kind of wild dirt magazine sort of version of ‘Born to Run’ that honors the true free spirit of what a lot of these people are like,” Sarsgaard says. “I was drawn to it because I wanted to play Caballo Blanco and then I got drawn into directing it and now I don”t feel comfortable [doing both].”
Aiming for a winter shoot, the indie “Run” is looking at alternative offers for financing. Sarsgaard says, “There”s a lot of different ways of financing this movie because it”s such a popular book and all those kind of companies like Terra Plana and other shoe companies. There”s a lot of different people that even like running/training groups that has nothing to do with the book. So, we have a number of options which is nice. If the movie were just an original screenplay, not based on anything, it would be a lot tougher to make. It”s got sort of a built-in core audience which is a big advantage.”
An avid runner himself, Sarsgaard is seeing the action in the story within the races which he views almost as traditional “chase” scenes.
“There”s something out there that you”re trying to get. It”s the guy who”s in front of you. And then there”s all sorts of different narratives within the run because there”s different races going on. There”s the race within the race, you know? And because these races are very long, you know they”re 100 miles and stuff, there”s all the stuff that happens. So, it”s not just a boring drama about the running.”
To say Sarsgaard is passionate about the project is an understatement. I joked with him, “You”ve actually pitched me on the movie. I”m actually very excited about it.”
“It”s going to be really cool,” Sarsgaard says. “And I”m going to find a way…I”m working with some people in finding a way to really make the running dynamic and wild, you know, for Sierra Madre can be running through incredible country.”
“Green Lantern” opens nationwide on Friday.
For year round entertainment commentary follow Gregory Ellwood on twitter @HitFixGregory