“I was in New York on 9/11. I was at West Broadway and Canal Street, and that time will always be a very emotional time to me,” says actor Peter Sarsgaard when discussing his role as CIA analyst Martin Schmidt in the Hulu limited series “The Looming Tower,” which explores the conflicts between the CIA and FBI during the years leading up to the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001. The series is based on the 2006 Pulitzer Prize-winning book of the same name by Lawrence Wright. Watch our exclusive video interview above.
“I actually don’t think this show could have been made [soon after 9/11],” Sarsgaard adds. “I don’t think many of us were ready for self-reflection: thinking about the ways we might have made mistakes … It’s important at some point after we’ve had some time to think about the ways in which we contributed to this happening, which it’s obvious that we did. This could have been prevented.” Those mistakes included a lack of inter-agency cooperation in the investigations of al-Qaeda and foreign policy decisions that helped foment anti-American sentiment in the Middle East.
Sarsgaard’s character could be seen as a personification of those mistakes. A composite of real-life figures featured in the book, Martin Schmidt is intransigent in his militaristic approach to international conflicts, his lack of concern for any civilian casualties who aren’t American, and his stubborn refusal to collaborate with his FBI counterparts. He’s “incredibly myopic,” but “if you think you’re a genius it becomes very difficult to trust other people.”
However, Sarsgaard “believed in some of the things my character believed in,” though there was much about Schmidt that the actor “very vehemently didn’t believe in.” That was actually part of the appeal for Sarsgaard, who is “frequently interested in characters I don’t understand when I first read them … He was somebody that I didn’t quite have a handle on, so if I’m asking questions that usually makes me do it.”
But while Schmidt is certainly an antagonist in “The Looming Tower,” Sarsgaard doesn’t view him as a simple villain. “I’m not very interested in playing the Lex Luthors of the world who have no motivation for what they’re doing, just twist their mustaches,” he explains. He prefers roles “where the writers are after real human behavior … It’s very interesting to step into the shoes of someone who is an isolationist, like our president sometimes is, and try to understand that belief.”
“The Looming Tower” premiered its first three episodes on Hulu on February 28, with the remaining seven episodes set to premiere in subsequent weeks.
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