Peter Sarsgaard has created many memorable roles in such movies as Boys Don’t Cry, Kinsey, Orphan, Elegy, Rendition and An Education.
In his new movie Green Lantern, he gets to create another unforgettable character, Hector Hammond. Hector is a professor at a community college, who is presented with the chance of a lifetime when government officials take him to a secret bunker to examine an alien body, the first to ever be found on earth. But despite every precaution, he’s exposed to the greatest evil the universe has ever known: Parallax – changing him forever.
What did you know about Green Lantern before you started this movie?
I knew nothing about it. I don’t know the world of comics that well. I grew up in a rural area where we did stuff outside all the time. We pretended to be superheroes, but they weren’t based off of actual ones.
Who were you?
Actually, I was frequently Captain America, but I didn’t know anything about Captain America, I’d just seen a picture of him. I was patriotic.
Did you find it was important to you to dive into the comic book to prepare for this?
I wanted to know about it. There’s a comic book shop around the corner from my house in Brooklyn, and the guy who runs it set me up. He said, ‘You need to know this one and this one,’ the ones that were the defining ones.
What was it about the character of Hector that intrigued you?
I was very interested in the world and in terms of the character, it was like, ‘choose your adventure.’ I immediately felt that there were at least 50 different ways that I could play this guy, and to me, that’s really motivating. He lives alone, has a terrible relationship with is father and no other real connections to speak of, but he seems strangely content in his misery, until everything … changes.
When you read the script and realized what was going to happen to Hector Hammond, did you worry about what you would have to endure each day?
I really didn’t think about it until the first make up test! (he laughs) In terms of the application process, it took about 4 hours and without it I looked pretty alien also, because I’d lost a lot of weight and I’d shaved my head bald, and so I looked alien to me.
Every morning I would shave my skull, and then we’d put alcohol over it which is a great way to wake up in the morning. (he laughs) And then they applied the glue and put it on piece by piece. It’s made up of several pieces because they made it so it could really move with my face.
People have said, ‘Why didn’t they just put dots on your face?’ But there’s a thing about wearing this whole thing, it has a weight to it, it makes you feel a certain way and everyone treats you a certain way.
I put it on, I walked outside and it gave me license to be somebody a lot different than myself, which is I think what it does to Hector in the movie. He’s given license to be his more expressive self because of what’s happened to him.
So the fact that you were essentially obscured from us throughout the film with the make up liberated you?
It definitely liberated me. The thing about the appliances, if you talked on the cell phone it was kind of amazing looking. If you drank a cup of coffee it was kind of incredible. I didn’t have to do much, and yet I could do anything. And so I really felt like after my transformation I could do anything in a scene, partly because I think Hector feels like it’s his right and his time, and he’s going to have a good time, and I felt that way.
What was the wirework like for you?
They had me [train] before production to get ready for the wirework, they called it being ‘aerial aware,’ so when you’re flipping and turning and spinning you kind of know where your body’s at in relation to the ground. So I wasn’t expecting that.
My third day of shooting they fired me up in the air a couple of hundred feet, at 60 feet a second. It was just a mind-boggling experience. It was so funny, because thank God my character gets to be terrified when I do it, because it was just genuine each time I did it.
One day I hope they release the DVD of the outtakes of that because I get to the top and right when you arc at the very top of this ride, I’ll call it, your weightless for a couple of seconds because you’re slowing down and you’re not really going up or down.
Do you think it would be a good thing to read someone’s mind and hear what people are saying?
No, I think it would be horrible (he laughs). I think people are constantly judging and I think it would be very bad. And I’m very intuitive as a person, and I try to shut my intuition down.
What was it like working with Ryan Reynolds and why do you think he made a perfect Hal Jordan?
Ryan’s very smart, he’s very direct and simple in the way he approaches things and I think that that’s what we think of as being noble.
He’s like an incredibly handsome guy who doesn’t just stand there and be handsome; he’s self-effacing.