Since making his screen debut in Dead Man Walking, actor Peter Sarsgaard has carved out a career playing distinctive and peculiar characters that leave a lasting impression on viewers. In his latest role, in Veena Sud’s THE LIE, Sarsgaard plays a father who must grapple with the consequences that unfold after his daughter confesses to murdering her best friend. For the release of the film, which is part of the “Welcome to the Blumhouse” series, I had the opportunity to chat with Sarsgaard who discussed everything from how he approached his role as a father, reuniting with Veena Sud, and how guilt can manifest our worst fears.
In THE LIE, when their teenaged daughter confesses to impulsively killing her best friend, two desperate parents attempt to cover up the horrific crime, leading them into a complicated web of lies and deception.
Can you talk a little bit about your character and how you approached the role, especially as a father?
Peter Sarsgaard: Yeah, I’m a way different type of father than this guy is (laughs). It’s like his own fears because of guilt at being a bad father become manifested. It’s like the way you can manifest the devil because you’re afraid of the devil. I think he feels like he’s been a terrible parent in one way or another and I think he feels some sort of responsibility towards his daughter. Kids do really crazy things sometimes and it’s our job, as a parent, to sort of weed out what is the truth and what isn’t and teach them to live in the world. This guy just hasn’t done [that].
For this film, you reunited with director Veena Sud and actor Mireille Enos, who you worked with on the series, The Killing. How was it working with them once again?
Peter Sarsgaard: That was why I did it. I had such a great time working with both of them on The Killing that when this project came along before I even read it, I knew I was going to do it. If you met Veena, you would…it’s so surprising that this and The Killing come from her mind. People keep asking me about working with a woman or a POC or different perspectives, but like this is the Veena Sud perspective. It’s not like it’s a female perspective or anything like that, it’s Veena. There’s something very peculiar and wonderful about her mind.
Veena’s work always seems to have this cold feel to it which brings me to my next question. There is a moment where we see you running through a stream in the dead of winter. How was that experience?
Peter Sarsgaard: It was terrible (laughs). I mean, I’m Scandinavian, I don’t typically have a problem with [the] cold, I have more of a problem with the heat. I’m doing a movie with my wife [Maggie Gyllenhaal] that she’s directing and in August when we were [shooting] it was so hot and I just can’t stand the heat. Obviously, it was a frozen river and everyone was really concerned about it. They did all kinds of things to try to help me out. I’m actually wearing a kind of thin wetsuit underneath my clothes so that helped. They also had warm water standing by, but it was still cold. It was cold, real cold.
How was it working with Joey King and forming that complicated father/daughter relationship?
Peter Sarsgaard: One of my big concerns when we were going to do the movie…so much of the movie depended on that performance. When they were going through all the different actors that could play it and everything, it was just very hard to imagine what that role would be. My wife had worked with her so when her name came up, it just kind of made sense. She really seemed like somebody that could deal with all…I mean that role is just so hard. It’s like one of the hardest roles I’ve read.
Expanding on that, who do you think had the greatest influence on her character, you or your ex-wife (played by Mireille Enos)?
Peter Sarsgaard: A fractured home, a dad that is…it’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy. If somebody says, don’t be scared and it will all be okay, all you can do is be scared (laughs). I think…I’m sure that I’ve totally fucked up my daughter’s life; I’ve kind of made it happen in a way. Really, in a situation like that a kid says something like that happened to her, the normal reaction is not the one that I have. The normal reaction from a parent that knows they’ve been a decent parent and knows that they know their child and what they’re capable of and what they’re not capable of…I’m like, take me down there, let’s see what happens. I’m the problem (laughs).
Lastly, what do you hope people end up taking away from this film?
Peter Sarsgaard: In the case of a thriller, you sort of hope that everyone is just really engaged with the film. Our job as actors is to sort of hold all the fears and worries and feelings of people…that’s what actors have done since the beginning of time. You don’t have to feel all this stuff, we do it for you and you can live vicariously [through it]. I don’t think there’s like a moral lesson in terms of what you should do and shouldn’t do in your life. But these feelings of guilt and being a parent and also these feeling in the world right now, of what is the truth and what isn’t the truth, I get the feeling like we’re on a dance floor of marbles every day of our lives and certainly for these characters. We can help you get a lot of those feelings out.
THE LIE is now available on Amazon Prime. For more on the film, check out our review here.