Peter Sarsgaard

Active - 1960 - 2022  |   Born - Mar 7, 1971 in Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, United States  |   Genres - Drama, Thriller, Comedy Drama, Crime

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Biography by Rebecca Flint Marx

An actor who has demonstrated a fearless capacity for exploring the darker side of human nature, Peter Sarsgaard became synonymous with the term "edgy young performer." With looks that allow him to either play soft-skinned pretty boys or greasy-haired white trash refuse, Sarsgaard has used his malleable features and brooding charisma to great effect in such films as Kimberly Peirce's Boys Don't Cry.

A graduate of St. Louis' Washington University, where he was a co-founder of the improvisational group Mama's Pot Roast, Sarsgaard studied at the Actors' Studio in New York. After he completed his studies, he was cast in the off-Broadway production of Horton Foote's Laura Dennis, and, as a member of Douglas Carter Beane's Drama Department, he appeared in John Cameron Mitchell's off-Broadway production of Kingdom of Earth.

Sarsgaard made his screen debut in Tim Robbins' Dead Man Walking (1995) but had his first substantial role in The Man in the Iron Mask (1998), which cast him as the ill-fated son of John Malkovich's dueling Muskateer. He then appeared in a series of largely unseen independent features, including Larry Clark's Another Day in Paradise and Morgan J. Freeman's Desert Blue (both 1998). In 1999, Sarsgaard broke out of obscurity with his role in Kimberly Peirce's Boys Don't Cry. Cast as a violent yet charismatic ex-con, the actor managed to stand out in a film saturated with strong performances, and the film's unanticipated success provided him with an introduction to a wide audience. His increased profile was reflected in the number of projects he was involved with the following year, including P.J. Hogan's Unconditional Love, a drama about a woman (Kathy Bates) who joins forces with the lover of a dead pop star to track down the star's murderer.

Sarsgaard reached a new level of critical acclaim with his supporting performances in two little-seen but highly praised features: 2003's journalist drama Shattered Glass and 2004's biopic Kinsey. In the former, he played dedicated, soft-spoken New Republic editor Chuck Lane, who becomes increasingly more agitated as he catches hotshot reporter Steven Glass fabricating stories. Racking up scores of Best Supporting Actor nods from critics' groups and the Golden Globes, it seemed inevitable that the Academy would recognize Sarsgaard, but he was passed over. A similar fate occurred with Kinsey, in which the actor convincingly played the curious, bisexual assistant - and occasional lover - of the sex researcher.

Though ignored by the Oscars, Sarsgaard found his profile rising with powerful casting directors, and in turn, the public. After memorably essaying the role of a stoner gravedigger in the popular 2004 indie Garden State, the actor broke through to mass audiences in 2005 with a trio supporting performances in big-budget genre films: the supernatural thriller The Skeleton Key, the blockbuster Flighplan, and the war memoir Jarhead. Bringing his distinctively low-key delivery to a range of parts that were by turns mystical, sinister and conflicted, Sarsgaard secured his place in the pantheon of great Hollywood character actors.

Saarsgard delivered solid performances in Year of the Dog and Rendition (both 2007), and co-starred with Dennis Hopper and Patricia Clarkson for the psychological drama Elegy in 2008. The following year he played the role of a man who becomes increasingly concerned about the behavior of his adoptive daughter for The Orphan, and took on the part of the much-older boyfriend of a 16-year-old girl (Carey Mulligan) for the coming of age drama An Education. Saarsgard joined Cameron Diaz and Tom Cruise for a supporting role in the action comedy Knight and Day (2010), and joined the cast of The Green Lantern in 2011.

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  • Wrote a play called The Greatest and Most Exciting Gratuitous Exhibition Ever Exploited, which was staged in New York in 1993.
  • Took up acting in his senior year of college and moved to New York (where he attended the Actors Studio).
  • Made his film debut as one of Sean Penn's murder victims in Dead Man Walking (1995). Break-out performance was as a rapist-killer in Boys Don't Cry (1999).
  • Played a love scene with Liam Neeson in Kinsey (2004); received an Independent Spirit Award nomination for his supporting role in the film.
  • Made his Broadway debut in 2008 in an adaptation of Anton Chekhov's The Seagull.