Actor Peter Sarsgaard has portrayed his share of intense, dark characters, from a homophobic murderer in "Boys Don't Cry" and a death row inmate in the TV series "The Killing" to his latest role as a sleazy hustler in the new biopic "Lovelace."
The Illinois-born actor doesn't search for the offbeat roles. They seem to find him. But he believes there is something worth paying attention to in all of them, including Chuck Traynor, the abusive husband of 1970s adult film star Linda Lovelace he plays in the film about exploitation and betrayal.
"I look at what comes in front of me and try to pick the best material," Sarsgaard, 42, said in an interview before the film opened in U.S. theaters on Friday.
"I'm usually attracted to roles where I think I will have room to carve out someone that has some degree of reality to who they are," added the actor, who has also had leading roles in "Shattered Glass" (2003) and "An Education" (2009).
"Lovelace" stars Amanda Seyfried, 27, who appeared in the 2008 musical "Mamma Mia" and as Cosette in 2012's "Les Miserables," as an innocent girl-next-door lured into the adult film industry.
She gains fame and notoriety and becomes a poster girl for the industry after appearing in "Deep Throat," the first scripted feature porn film that went on to become one of the most profitable movies of its kind.
But through flashbacks the film reveals a much more sinister story about an unwilling participant who was charmed at first and then exploited and prostituted by her husband.
Lovelace eventually escaped from Traynor, wrote about her life and became an ardent campaigner against domestic abuse and pornography before dying at age 52 from injuries sustained in a car accident.
Sarsgaard, a father of two young girls with his actress wife Maggie Gyllenhaal, was initially reluctant to play the part, and knew he had to create a character that a young woman would have been attracted to when they first met.
"So he is going to have to be charming. He is charming and despicable," he explained. "That's about five feet of wiggle room there for me and I know I can make a character there."
It was the first time Sarsgaard and Seyfried worked together and he said the pair had an "immediate chemistry."
The all-star cast includes an almost unrecognizable Sharon Stone, with curled hair and dressed in polyester pant suits, as Lovelace's uptight, religious mother, along with four-time Emmy-winner Frank Azaria and Tony-nominee Bobby Cannavale as a pair of unsavory porn filmmakers with backing from Chris Noth, of TV's "The Good Wife," and "Sex and the City."
Sarsgaard said he thought of Traynor as someone whose morality fit whatever circumstances he found himself in, not a person who set out to do something bad. Sarsgaard admits his Roman Catholic upbringing informs his characters on some level.
As an only child who moved around a lot with his family, his religion was a constant for him, and he said there were many good things he learned from being a Catholic.
"I was always looking for miracles in places you wouldn't expect them. I was always thinking that the downtrodden and the underdog, and even the criminal, was perhaps the person that not only deserved the most salvation and needed salvation, but also could be learned from the most," he said.
Sarsgaard also appears in Woody Allen's newest film "Blue Jasmine."