"These are not normal circumstances"

Peter Sarsgaard on toughness, regret and playing Bobby Kennedy in Jackie.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Peter Sarsgaard on Jackie composer Mica Levi:
Peter Sarsgaard on Jackie composer Mica Levi: "She is incredible. She did the score for [Jonathan Glazer's] Under the Skin." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Natalie Portman is First Lady Jackie Kennedy in Pablo Larraín's Jackie, screenplay by Noah Oppenheim. The film, shot by the great Stéphane Fontaine (Paul Verhoeven's Elle, starring Isabelle Huppert), features Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup, John Hurt, Max Casella, John Carroll Lynch, Richard E Grant, Beth Grant and Caspar Phillipson as President John Kennedy.

On Pablo Larraín's Jackie:
On Pablo Larraín's Jackie: "You know, it's in the mind almost." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Peter Sarsgaard, who portrays Robert Kennedy told me: "Bobby was tough". He also had some thoughts on Michael Almeryda's Marjorie Prime which stars Lois Smith, Tim Robbins, Jon Hamm, and Geena Davis, after his role as Stanley Milgram with Winona Ryder in Experimenter.

Jeff Nichol's Loving, starring Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton, credits then United States Attorney General Robert Kennedy with connecting the ACLU to the Lovings and their eventual US Supreme Court case against the State of Virginia.

"What did we accomplish? We're just the beautiful people," Robert Kennedy reflects in Jackie on what he and his brother could have accomplished. "We could have done so much." Civil Rights and Vietnam is what he is talking about. Larraín's focus is on the intense days following JFK's assassination and shows us a family, a nation, a world in a state of shock. Dynamics that once seemed stable and constant are shifting. Portman's Jackie and Sarsgaard's Bobby perform a fascinating and dangerous dance where the public and private spheres have become fluid.

Jackie screened at this year's New York Film Festival as what was billed as a Special US première presentation.

Anne-Katrin Titze: You get to tell the President to sit down. Did you enjoy that?

Peter Sarsgaard as Robert Kennedy:
Peter Sarsgaard as Robert Kennedy: "We could have done so much."

Peter Sarsgaard: Oh, that was so gratifying, yeah. I would love to tell [Lyndon] Johnson [John Carroll Lynch] to sit down. Yeah, I think I had the same attitude toward him that my character does.

AKT: Was that one of those moments of saying things that people usually only think?

PS: Yeah, I doubt … I can't imagine that Bobby would have said that to him in front of a bunch of people. But that's the thing - this movie exists in a kind of just off. You know, it's in the mind almost. I mean the way the camera is and stuff. The only reality, the strongest kind of plain-jane reality exists with [journalist] Billy Crudup in those scenes …

Bobby was tough. Especially when he was young, he was like physically tough … It's difficult to play scenes where a character is expressing regret. Regret is a pretty passive, not active thing to play. And I play a decent amount of regret in this movie. What activates it, I think, is knowing that there isn't time.

Sarsgaard had no interest in making a Kennedy biopic.

First Lady Jackie Kennedy (Natalie Portman)
First Lady Jackie Kennedy (Natalie Portman)

PS: I used to tell my friends: I think we're making a post-traumatic stress syndrome thriller or horror movie. I think we are making something that is so in the mind of someone that had … like what someone at war would experience, like a head getting blown off somebody you love right in front of you. The way you are dealing with that - these are not normal circumstances. These are war circumstances.

The soundtrack impressed him very much.

PS: It's Mica [Levi]. She is incredible. She did the score for [Jonathan Glazer's] Under The Skin. After seeing that I was like, that score is incredible. She actually was going to score another movie that I was in but she couldn't do it. She's got a band, also. And she scored Michael Almereyda's last movie, with Lois Smith and Tim Robbins.

AKT: Have you seen Marjorie Prime?

PS: I haven't seen that one yet. It's based on a play [by Jordan Harrison].

AKT: I know, looking forward to it.

Jackie opens in the US on December 2 and in the UK on January 20, 2017.

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