Peter Sarsgaard is the patron saint of Oscar bait that doesn’t quite make its mark. The hardworking actor’s frequent independent work has made him the talk of the town. However, Sarsgaard’s role in “The Magnificent Seven,” opening this weekend, won’t likely be the role the acclaimed actor gets his first nomination for. Yes, despite many well reviewed turns in plenty of Oscar bait films, the actor has yet to hear his name on Oscar nominations morning.
Sarsgaard picked up a great deal of hardware for his role in the 2003 drama “Shattered Glass.” The film follows an ambitious young journalist named Stephen Glass (Hayden Christensen) who quickly falls from prominence as colleagues discover his stories are fabricated. Sarsgaard plays Charles “Chuck” Lane, Glass’ new editor who first suspects something is up. Sarsgaard picked up the only Golden Globe nomination of his career for the performance. He also was able to net his first Independent Spirit Awards nomination for the performance. In many ways, Sarsgaard was the critical favorite of the season. The actor picked up award wins from the following groups: Boston Society of Film Critics Awards, Kansas City Film Critics, National Society of Film Critics, Online Film Critics Society Awards, San Francisco Film Critics Circle and the Toronto Film Critics Association Awards.
In many ways, Best Supporting Actor was made up of a lot of strange faces that year. Tim Robbins, the eventual winner, was always going to be in there for Best Picture nominee “Mystic River.” Ken Watanabe (“The Last Samurai”) was the blockbuster choice. The rest of the three nominees were actors in indies jockeying for a position. Sarsgaard was in the hunt, but lost out to Alec Baldwin (“The Cooler”), Djimon Hounsou (“In America”) and Benicio Del Toro (“21 Grams”).
Oftentimes, after a close call like that, it’s easier to get nominated the next time one steps up to the plate. Sarsgaard most likely thought the next year’s “Kinsey” would be his ticket to the Oscars. He took on the role of Clyde Martin, Alfred Kinsey’s bisexual colleague who helped him along with his sex research. During his tenure, he caused quite a shift in the Kinsey marriage. For his performance, Sarsgaard was able to reap a Critics Choice nomination. Again, the Indie Spirits, National Society of Film Critics and Online Film Critics Society all nominated him.
However, he came up short yet again on Oscar morning. Morgan Freeman (“Million Dollar Baby”) and Thomas Haden Church (“Sideways”) were the standouts of Best Picture nominees, so they were always going to be included. Jamie Foxx was the man of the hour. Spillover “Ray” love and category fraud got him in for “Collateral.” Meanwhile, Clive Owen goes from a long shot to nominee after winning the Golden Globe, despite a SAG snub. With many other long shots trying to lay claim to that last spot, Sarsgaard looked like a good bet. Unfortunately, Alan Alda slipped in at the last minute without a precursor to snag the nomination for “The Aviator.” Once again, Sarsgaard remains without a nomination.
Over the past decade, Sarsgaard has made a career doing great supporting work. My personal favorite performance of his came in a Best Picture Oscar nominee. In “An Education,” Sarsgaard plays David, a charming older man who attracts the affections of Jenny, a whip-smart British teenager. There is an unsettling undercurrent about Sarsgaard that informs his best performances. The way he refrains from making David a bald villain and dials up the charm only makes the rug pulling in the third act that much more devastating. The only major awards play he got was a Screen Actors Guild Ensemble nomination for the film. However, he deserved much more.
In many ways, Sarsgaard works best as part of an ensemble. As the homophobic, yet charismatic redneck leader John Lotter, Sarsgaard taps into something hauntingly ethereal in “Boys Don’t Cry.” Alongside “Kinsey,” Sarsgaard gained fans as the delightfully unhinged Mark in “Garden State.” This could have aided his bid for “Kinsey,” but unfortunately didn’t work out. A few years ago, Sarsgaard appeared in another Oscar player. In “Blue Jasmine,” he plays Dwight, a wealthy businessman who becomes enamored with the person he believes Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) is.
While “The Magnificent Seven” probably can’t bring Sarsgaard to the Dolby Theater, he may have another role that can. A much more likely prospect emerged out of the festival circuit this month in the form of “Jackie.” As Bobby Kennedy, Sarsgaard embodies the famously doomed President. The ambitious film is already attracting attention for Natalie Portman in lead actress as grieving Jackie Kennedy. If the film catches on in other races, Sarsgaard could find himself riding Portman’s coattails to a supporting actor nomination.
Top 5 Peter Sarsgaard Performances:
“An Eduction” as David Goldman
“Kinsey” as Clyde Martin
“Shattered Glass” as Charles “Chuck” Lane
“Garden State” as Mark
“Boys Don’t Cry” as John Lotter