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Peter Sarsgaard on His First Regular TV Role and His Big Moment on 'The Killing': 'I Actually Blacked Out'

By Scott Neumyer | http://www.scottwrites.com July 29, 2013 at 1:15AM

Peter Sarsgaard talks about this week's major episode of "The Killing," why he decided to give a regular TV role a try and the only time he's chosen to act in a project based on pay instead of quality.
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Peter Sarsgaard in 'The Killing'
Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC Peter Sarsgaard in 'The Killing'

After a controversial first two seasons on the air, there weren't a lot of viewers out there that expected AMC's "The Killing" to get another shot. Despite being darker and more unflinching than most similar shows on TV, despite the critical praise and despite, perhaps, an unfair reception for her treatment of the Rosie Larsen case, series developer and showrunner Veena Sud stuck steadfastly to a vision that proved very different than most by-the-numbers procedurals. So when word came down that Netflix would help AMC finance the cost of a third season, fans of the show rejoiced.

Flash forward to this past Sunday's superb tenth installment, and not only are critics hailing this season as the series' best yet, but this particular writer would call the episode one of the best of 2013 so far. If this episode alone doesn't garner Peter Sarsgaard an Emmy nomination for his role as death row inmate Ray Seward, there's something seriously wrong with the system. The show that had once been written off is now back in the critical spotlight -- a light that fans of the show hope is big enough to propel "The Killing" towards a fourth season pickup. Indiewire spoke with Sarsgaard about playing Ray Seward, why he decided now was the time to move into TV and what happens when you forget to breath. Spoilers through July 28th's episode "Six Minutes" follow.

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Had you seen the first two season of "The Killing" before you signed on to play Ray Seward?

A couple. I'd probably seen four or five episodes from the first season and maybe two or three from the second. I liked them. I just don't follow anything religiously.

Did you know about any of the misconceptions or controversy surrounding the first two seasons of the show?

People told me about them when I was considering the part. They were like, "Oh, oh, that was the thing that had the big riff raff," and that actually made me more interested. A show that was drawing people in enough to piss them off is always a good sign. I was pissed off by the finale of "M.A.S.H." I remember watching it as a kid and just going, "What?! No..." It's hard to say goodbye.

The emotional journey that you take throughout this season is crazy. You go from almost cocky to stoic to terrified and to resolved. How did you prepare yourself to get inside of Ray's head for those kinds of emotions?

When I agreed to do the part, I think two episodes were ready. The whole arc had been described to me, but not in fantastic detail, so there were always surprises. I was really forced to just do it scene by scene. At the beginning, I knew that I wanted to project to everyone around me that I could potentially rip someone's ear off -- because, you know, I didn't want to be fucked with. The best way to protect yourself in jail (if you're not like Vin Diesel) is to be terrifying. Then it became a matter of letting things affect me -- letting things knock around a little bit. There were punches that came out of nowhere. I'd let them land and let them turn me a little bit.

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I was aware that I was putting something together that people (even if they binge-watched it) would view as taking place over 30 days -- a reduced amount of time -- and that they would feel the time also because the scenes would never be stacked on top of each other. We visit Ray here and there. I was able to film most of my scenes per episode in two consecutive days and then go back to New York. There's no bullshit time with Ray. Every single thing had to mean something. I knew, in the end, that my son would have something to do with both the thing that cracks me and the thing that saves me -- at least the idea of him.

That moment in episode 10 when you see Adrian (Rowan Longworth) through the window, the emotion on your face is fantastic. You go from this terrified man to this resolved man in seconds. Tell me about that moment was like for you.

All that episode, I was having to make sure I remembered to breathe, because every time I thought about the circumstances, I would actually have a little trouble -- right up on the way to that walk, as I'm walking up to that window, on one take I actually blacked out, just being a bad actor. [laughs] I forgot to breathe and I think it was Aaron [Douglas] who pointed down at my mark to me. That was the thing that brought me back -- I thought, "Oh, oh, I'm in a movie and Aaron's telling me what I need to do. I'm supposed to stand there. Right! Shit, they're filming this." [laughs]

So I don't know if that's the take that they used, but the circumstances of the episode are so massive. I was hoping that my character would disassociate more. Before we did this final episode, I told the director Nicki [Nicole Kassell], "I'm not going to cry. I'm going to let the audience cry. I'm not going to feel the fear. I'm going to let them feel the fear. I'm going to be cavalier." I had seen "Into the Abyss" where the prisoner was disassociating like mad and it's so tragic. I saw that and I said, "I want to be like that!" And... I'm not.

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The other moment that absolutely destroyed me was the one in episode nine where your neighboring cellmate breaks you down and you just kind of crumble.

That guy is such a cocksucker. [laughs] Okay, I mean, what is his deal? He's the biggest psychopath in the entire place. I mean, ho-ly Jesus. Really crazytown, right?

Did Veena Sud give you a clear answer, going in, whether Ray did, in fact, kill his wife? We don't necessarily get the answer. We get some good ideas, but nothing set in stone.

That's what I like about it. In my mind, I'm guilty. To this day, when I think of playing Ray Seward, he's a guilty man. What he's guilty of is up to you. To me, it's irrelevant whether or not I really slit her throat. I created the circumstances under which that could happen. There's all sorts of other shit that I'm guilty of.

I don't really, in my heart, think that I deserve to die, but a big part of Ray wants other people to suffer. I want to die because they're going to make me die, but I want to die in a way that hurts other people. He's just unable to stop doing that. So he's not a totally reformed guy in the end. The thing that he comes to, in the end, is that he feels a human connection. In a way, the last day of his life was the first day of his life.

This article is related to: Television, TV Interviews, Interviews, Peter Sarsgaard, The Killing, AMC