“I felt powerful. Everyone always listened to me when I was wearing it!” Sarsgaard told CBR News.
In theaters on June 17 from DC Entertainment and Warner Brothers Pictures, “Green Lantern” tells the origin story of Hal Jordan, the first human to become a member of the intergalactic peacekeeping force known as the Green Lantern Corps. As if training on the planet Oa with Kilowog and Sinestro and learning about the threat posed by the fear-inducing Parallax isn’t enough for the rookie Corps member, Jordan has yet another more problem to contend with: the Parallax-infected Dr. Hector Hammond, played by Sarsgaard.
A dramatic actor who first burst on the scene in 1999 with a powerhouse performance in “Boys Don’t Cry,” Sarsgaard has led an eclectic career, starring in a variety of movies from “Jarhead” and “An Education” to “Garden State.”
“I never know what draws me to something,” the actor laughed when asked about his past roles. Touching on the reason he chose to take on the massive cranium of Hector Hammond, he explained, “I think because it seemed impossible. I was aware that there was a big chance people would just be repulsed the entire time I was on screen, or laugh at me instead of with me, so I knew it would require very strong acting choices. I would have to be powerful in it — the only way to silence a room that’s laughing at you is to sort of take over.”
Finding that power within Hector Hammond, the actor told CBR, was easier when he was wearing the character’s giant prosthetic forehead and neck, the marks of Parallax’s infection. “The beginning of the film was harder for me in some ways — the parts before he gets infected, or even before [Parallax] totally takes over. After it takes over it becomes somewhat comedic in places and I was more comfortable in that environment,” said Sarsgaard. He then compared his style of acting to tuning a guitar, hitting the extreme highs and lows before getting it pitch-perfect. “Because I’m in a comic book movie any scenes that felt akin to dramatic scenes like the ones I would act in a movie that was more concerned with the realism of a dramatic scene felt too close to something I was used to — getting totally far away was much easier,” said Sarsgaard.
Beyond the giant head, Sarsgaard said that his overall physicality was the key to getting into the character of Hector. “I’m about 35 pounds lighter then I was in ‘An Education,'” the actor told CBR. “I wore all these oversized clothes, I had the costume department make everything a little bit large so I was always pulling up my pants. I tried to give myself obstacles, things to overcome, things to act through even when I wasn’t in the prosthetic.”
Faced with a limited amount of screen time to establish who Hector was before the power of the Parallax began corrupting him, Sarsgaard also pondered how Hector acted on a daily basis. “I thought about a lot of what he did for a living, studying these creatures that live in hostile environments, and I thought, he must identify with them. A guy who’s interested in alien life forms must not want to be on this planet,” said Sarsgaard. “That kind of clued me in to what kind of person I was playing.”
Though familiar with the character from the comic books, the actor admitted he didn’t do a lot of actual research, mainly because the screenplay took Hector down a different path than the books. “I have a comic book shop around the corner from me and they gave me a few things to read; when I read them and I saw what we were doing, I saw the [movie] writers were already taking it in a different direction,” said Sarsgaard.
“Hector Hammond is depicted with a mustache; that’s about all I did to honor the past Hector Hammonds,” he added with a laugh.
Sarsgaard also balked at the first prosthetic head the special effects team tried for the film which, while closer to Hector’s appearance in the comic books, made it nearly impossible to see or act. “It was weighing me down, it was a sight gag. Like I said, I needed to take command in these scenes and have them be about something other than the fact I have a large head,” said Sarsgaard.
And as applying the prosthetics was a four-hour process, Sarsgaard also did not get a chance to see or hang out with co-stars Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively as much as he would have on other movies.
“To me, they were Hal and Carol, they were these impossibly good-looking young people who were probably at the gym as I was getting my forehead put on!” the actor laughed.
Joking aside, Sarsgaard told CBR he actually preferred that isolation, feeling it was something intrinsic to both Hector and himself. “I’m an only child. The idea of being alone, the lonely part, the loner aspect I think is something that is definitely in me and it’s definitely in many roles that I’ve played,” said Sarsgaard. While he believes audiences will be sympathetic towards Hector due to the fact that of all the villains in the movie, both Parallax and Hector’s father, played by Tim Robbins, were bigger “pricks” (the actor’s words), Sarsgaard found the role challenging in other ways.
“There’s no ‘me’ at the center of the Hector. Hector doesn’t know who he is. So when he blossoms to become his true self, there’s no person there. He didn’t have parents. You need parents in order to have identity. He has no identity,” said Sarsgaard. Thus, upon receiving the power of Parallax, “He’s like, ‘Great, now I’m going to be me! What the hell is that?’ He doesn’t know. He has no identity. When you take away scientist, there’s nothing,” continued Sarsgaard.
However, Sarsgaard believed that nothingness was ultimately freeing as an actor, allowing him to experiment with a range of emotions and performances without fear of getting it wrong. Which brings us back to the prosthetics. “You have to protect yourself as an actor. In order to be creative you have to protect your creativity. That [prosthetic] was a big protection for my creativity.”
In fact, just talking about it triggered Sarsgaard to slip into his Hector Hammond voice, growing more and more animated as he spoke. “I just felt like nobody could touch me, nobody could make me do anything. ‘Cause look at me. What are you going to make me do? I’ve already done it!” hissed Sarsgaard, before breaking off with a laugh. “It took a lot to be expressive in that thing. If I just relaxed my face and reacted normally, nobody could tell what I was thinking. It was like having a total poker face, or a — a…” he trailed off, looking for the word.
“Yeah,” agreed Sarsgaard. With an absent smile that would have made Hector proud, he added, “And it scared them. It was so real it scared people. That’s empowering.”
“Green Lantern” hits theaters nationwide June 17