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Illustration: Rob Kelly

The Hot Seat: Peter Sarsgaard

Undaunted by his piratical-sounding last name, the actor readies himself for Broadway.

By John Sellers
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Whether you know him as the character actor from Kinsey and Garden State, the Saturday Night Live host whose name was mercilessly ridiculed in a pirate accent, or simply Mr. Maggie Gyllenhaal, it's hard not to like Peter Sarsgaard. The 37-year-old—who last year relocated to Park Slope with his actor wife and their baby girl, Ramona—is about to unleash that scene-stealing charisma in a production of The Seagull at the Walter Kerr Theatre, opening September 25. A few weeks before his Broadway debut, Sarsgaard spoke to us over the phone from his Brooklyn townhouse.

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Time Out New York: It sounds like you're multitasking. What have I caught you doing?
Peter Sarsgaard:Right now I'm making some meatballs. I have the mixture put together and I'm thinking I'm going to make the balls a little bit smaller than usual. I'm thinking Ping-Pong size.

TONY: Mmm...meatballs. Not a bad way to spend your free time.
Peter Sarsgaard: In my free time—that's a phrase that doesn't really exist. Most of what I do in my free time these days is, you know, be a father.

TONY: How are you liking Park Slope so far?
Peter Sarsgaard: Very much. The West Village, where I had lived, paid a price when the Gansevoort Hotel and all those things went in. A lot of taxi traffic and a lot more paparazzi.

TONY: Why not use a disguise? Ape suits are pretty cheap these days.
Peter Sarsgaard: Whenever I see somebody in sunglasses and a hat I always assume they're famous. [Pauses] An ape suit? That would really throw them off.

TONY: Totally. Speaking of costumes, I assume this production of The Seagull finds you in bird garb, shouting, "Caw! Caw! Caw!"
Peter Sarsgaard: Absolutely. And dropping clams onto rocks to see if they split open.

TONY: Your Tony Award awaits. Do you have any preshow superstitions?
Peter Sarsgaard: Am I superstitious? I mean, I'm Catholic—so yeah, deeply. But I have done things that were a little OCD, yes.

TONY: Like what?
Peter Sarsgaard: I'd have to say something a certain number of times. Sometimes I'd say it loud enough so I could be overheard. And then I couldn't explain it to anyone.

TONY: Has it ever freaked out your costars?
Peter Sarsgaard: The only person who commented on it was Chlo Sevigny. She tells people it's something I do all the time. I don't think it is, but I certainly did it around her on Boys Don't Cry.

TONY: What was it you were doing?
Peter Sarsgaard: I'd say "motherfucker" five times. And then, if I was asked about it, I would act like it didn't happen.

TONY: Awesome. Did you do anything to prepare for your big make-out scene with Liam Neeson in Kinsey?
Peter Sarsgaard: We did a movie together called K-19: The Widowmaker. That's how we prepared for it. You know, it's funny. You constantly end up in strange situations with people as an actor—and you just do it. God knows they're paying you enough.

TONY: But as a straight guy, wasn't it hard to go through with it?
Peter Sarsgaard: It wasn't as hard as, say, running around with all my gear on in Jarhead. I'd rather go for an awkward moment than physical exertion any day. The only thing that I think [male actors] get freaked out about when they have to do something like kiss a guy in a movie—when to their knowledge they're straight—is that they're afraid they're going to be turned on. And if you're not afraid that you're going to be turned on—meaning that you know what you like—then really it's not that hard.

TONY: After the SNL appearance, has it become difficult for even you to say your last name the right way?
Peter Sarsgaard: You mean without a pirate accent? My name has always seemed very normal to me. And it's not hard to say. It's phonetic. Whereas Gyllenhaal, for example, it's perfectly understandable that you wouldn't come out with that.

TONY: Yeah, it's sort of like, "Buy a vowel!"
Peter Sarsgaard: I mean, there's loads of consonants right in a row at the beginning—G-Y-L-L, still no vowel. The double a at the end is just to let you relax after going through all those consonants.

TONY: You hooked up with Maggie just because she also has a double a in her last name, didn't you?
Peter Sarsgaard: [Laughs] Yeah. I don't know. No.

The Seagull opens Sept 25. Broadway.

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