In a recent interview, the actor said connecting with his audience feels like a reward. "It's like, 'Yay, I did a good job! That's fantastic.'"
In "Lovelace," which opens Friday, Sarsgaard is Chuck Traynor, husband of the "Deep Throat" star Linda Lovelace. As Lovelace later alleged, the film shows Traynor coercing his wife into the pornography business and physically and emotionally abusing her, even forcing her to have sex with other men.
Amanda Seyfried, who plays Lovelace, called Sarsgaard's Traynor "malicious and selfish." Cast mate Debi Mazar said when in character, Sarsgaard was "terrifying and creepy" on set.
In TV's "The Killing," which had its season finale Aug. 4, Sarsgaard played Ray Seward, who swings from fits of uncontrollable rage and maliciously gleeful taunts to surprisingly vulnerable and sympathetic displays while on death-row for killing his wife.
While both characters are violent, to Sarsgaard they are "wildly different." ... "Ray would not hang out with Chuck for 5 minutes and would have no respect for him whatsoever."
To Sarsgaard, Chuck is a "lost" man who thinks he's found something real with Lovelace and then turns violent when he "feels like he's losing her" and becomes jealous of the attention she gets. Sarsgaard described Ray as "very disciplined" with "a kind of inner nobility" and "strong ideas about what's right and wrong."
Finding the nuances in seemingly seamy, broken characters is already a specialty for Sarsgaard, who gained notice with his portrayal of such edgy characters as the homophobic John Lotter in "Boys Don't Cry."
Sarsgaard said he thinks seeing the dark and light in a character is "being like a realist" because if "you look at people every day, you see both things all the time."
Sarsgaard said he's been observing people's behavior since childhood, when he was exposed to a variety of environments because his family moved around a lot. "I was an only child. I lived in 12 different places. I absorbed people constantly," he said.
Follow Lauri Neff on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/lneffist