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April 17, 2009.
like her character in Mysteries In Pittsburgh – the alluring
classical violinist Jane Bellwether – Sienna Miller is a compelling,
straightforward person who makes no bones about what she's about and how she
handles her life in the spotlight. Her fellow cast member Peter Sarsgaard is
also like his character, the seductive Cleveland Arning. Sarsgaard can be
this wry – almost snarky – individual who, in a rapid-fire manner, replies
playfully to questions as much as he answers them.
In a sense, they replicate the experience of meeting their cinematic
alter-egos in this celluloid approximation of Michael Chabon's debut novel
The Mysteries of Pittsburgh. While novice director Rawson Marshall
Thurber makes a valiant, though flawed, attempt to render this story of
just-graduated college student Art Bechstein – played by Jon Foster [who
wasn't available for this interview] – the son of gangland boss Joe The Egg
Bechstein (Nick Nolte), who struggles to break away from his father's
suffocating demands before he's forced into a job he doesn't want. During
that summer in 1983, he works in a bookstore, repeatedly screws his
attractive but clingy boss Phlox (Mena Suvari) and then meets the
provocative Jane and Cleveland in this coming-of-age story set in Pittsburgh
– all against his dad's wishes.
Thanks to the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Chabon's support, Thurber (who
wrote Dodgeball) fulfilled a 10-year obsession to get this novel
adapted as a film. For Sarsgaard, he got to play the meaty role of a doomed,
off-beat provocateur; he understands such parts. After all, the 38-year-old
Illinois-born actor has tackled such difficult, or even nasty, characters in
Jarhead, Rendition and Boys Don't Cry.
For Miller, this film's release adds to a cycle of films she made one after
another (Alfie, Layer Cake, Factory Girl and more),
that she hopes, will deflect attention away from her celeb status and place
it squarely on her career efforts.
In a world fraught with such dire events as the Taliban executing a couple
for trying to elope, a film that offers a touch of enlightenment is worth
talking about (with a small crew of journos) and writing about as well.
you have your beard – but this was shot more than two years ago.
Peter Sarsgaard: This is [because] I just went canoeing in the
Everglades and just got back and I didn't shave down there.
Does canoeing in the Everglades save the Everglades?
Peter Sarsgaard: Do you think it saves the Everglades if I canoe in
them and talk about it?
Did you see tons of alligators...?
Peter Sarsgaard: And crocodiles and sharks and dolphins and bald
eagles and spoonbills and flamingos. I saw two bald eagles.
Have you been to the Everglades as well?
Sienna Miller: I have not been to the Everglades, no. It sounds
amazing, but I've been to Pittsburgh. We both have.
What was it like shooting in Pittsburgh?
Sienna Miller: It was great.
Peter Sarsgaard: Totally great. Pittsburgh is obviously a city that's
undergoing huge changes in the last couple of years since the mills closed.
It's really become this extraordinary city. It's so clean. I was never there
when the air was not clean, but it's just this gorgeous city if you love
green and rivers...
Sienna Miller: The bridge when you go in is stunning.
Peter Sarsgaard: It's fantastic. It kind of opens up this whole
Can you explain about your characters' relationship in this film; is it
doomed even before one of you is doomed?
Peter Sarsgaard: Well, it's only doomed if you have expectations for
what it might be, I guess. They're doomed to get married...
Sienna Miller: It's a destructive relationship.
Peter Sarsgaard: Oh, it's not that destructive.
Sienna Miller: No, but the character of Cleveland is one of those
people that's very magnetic and very drawn to you, but ultimately can't be
tamed in a way.
your character conscious of that and just couldn't let go?
Sienna Miller: Well, she talks about it.
But was she honest with herself about it?
Sienna Miller: I think she was very in love and very blinded by that.
What about his bisexuality? Do you think it really matters in their
relationship? Is she bisexual, too?
Sienna Miller: I don't think she is. I think from the scene where she
discovers it, it's obvious that she was hurt. I don't think that I alluded
to being bisexual in the film as a character or in life, but hopefully that
scene says it all. Her reaction to seeing that is one of hurt.
Peter Sarsgaard: Cleveland's bisexuality, it even seems like a funny
word to call it that, but it is.
Peter, you can call it something else?
Peter Sarsgaard: It's like he's an omnivore. If someone else went and
filled up my plate and put whatever they wanted on it, I would eat the
entire thing. It's about appetite. And the beautiful thing about him is that
he doesn't have any shame about any of it. It's just the way he is and it's
just the way he wants to live. In his head, he might even think that all of
his behavior, including his bisexuality, is pretty mythic, pretty awesome,
pretty rock-and-roll because he's living in his own fantasy of a thing. It's
like, did his heroes have bisexual relationships? Sure. Did they have
heterosexual ones? Sure. They did all those things.
Sienna, was your character aware that he was bisexual prior to seeing him
with another man?
Sienna Miller: I don't think she was or if she was I don't think she
chose to acknowledge it.
She's trying to warn the other friend, Art, though, that he has an
Sienna Miller: Yeah, I think she warns him that you can't change him,
this is who he is and he's very much staying with his own personality. But
again, when the image she's confronted with, that image of them in bed is, I
think, [is of] massive hurt. Not necessarily because he's with a guy, but
[it's] hurt because the two people she loves the most in the world have
betrayed her. Also, he sleeps with other women. I think she's not naïve
Peter Sarsgaard: If it had been another woman would Jane have been
upset the same amount or more upset?
Sienna Miller: Well, there was also the scene where you [Cleveland]
are sleeping with another woman. I don't think it was necessarily about –
I'm sure she was probably shocked that you two were in bed together – but it
was more the betrayal of the two people she loved and trusted most [who] had
done this to her.
you think we're living in a time when it's impossible to be shocked at
anything we see onscreen anymore?
Peter Sarsgaard: Oh, if your goal is to shock people with your movie
then, you know…like [see] I Stand Alone. Did you ever see that movie?
I found it pretty harrowing and shocking.
Sienna Miller: Or Irreversible.
Peter Sarsgaard: Irreversible. That's by the same director
[Gaspar Noe], I think.
Sienna Miller: Yes, exactly. Oh, my God. I couldn't watch it. I was
traumatized. I think that people like to feign shock because it's what
you're supposed to do, but actually deep down it's not that shocking.
Irreversible and I Stand Alone is shocking, brutal and brilliant.
But two men in a scene is actually not shocking.
find that you guys used the [Michael] Chabon book or that you wanted to stay
away with it?
Peter Sarsgaard: My character had been so combined between two
characters that the book was confusing to me. I read the book out of
curiosity, but I read it after I'd read the script and decided to do the
movie. So it was like, "Oh, I wonder if there is anything in there." But
sometimes I would think, "Oh well, I guess anything is okay to use." But if
you read the book, it's unclear who Cleveland is exactly in [it].
Sienna Miller: After I'd agreed to do the film, I read the book
again, and I loved it and I actually did get some more insight into who
[Jane] was from Chabon's point of view. But then he was very much involved
in the film process and the script. So any evolutions that it made he'd
approved and was content with.
What did you get out of playing this character? What was the appeal?
Aren't you doing a big summer movie like GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra
Sienna Miller: I've historically always been drawn towards and
gravitated to the smaller movies, independent films. That's kind of where
I've always been and that's my comfort zone. Doing something like GI Joe
was just a new experience and after that I'm going on Broadway in the fall.
I think for me it's the ability to hop between all different types of genres
to figure out what I love. I think honestly I'm more comfortable doing these
roles and that they tend to be the films that I prefer watching personally,
but the experience of making a film like GI Joe is so different and
fun in it's own way.
you play a soldier in that?
Sienna Miller: No. I play a villain.
So you're a bad girl?
Sienna Miller: Well, I'm a villain with guns, rifles, black leather,
black wigs and gadgets.
Peter Sarsgaard: I'm first [one] in line!
Did you work out your characters together before each scene or did that
happen more spontaneously?
Peter Sarsgaard: There was no working out of anything.
Sienna Miller: We tend to approach [it] the same way. Show up and
There's a fourth character in the book. Did you find that the movie
changed a lot by not having that character?
To be honest with you the book is kind of a distant memory for me. Rawson
[Marshall Thurber, the director] took liberties with the book. Michael
Chabon, it's huge of him; [he] was very agreeable to that. It really was
about the script and not the book.
Sienna Miller: But in essence you come away from the film and the
book with the same feeling.
Which is... sadness or astonishment?
Sienna Miller: Which is a nostalgia and sadness, yeah. I cried at the
end of the book. I haven't [yet] seen the film.
Peter Sarsgaard: I was about to go into a reverie that no one would
find very interesting [laughs].
your character is described at the very onset as a lunatic and you've just
referred to him as an omnivore. Did you take the hint that he's kind of
crazy and self-destructive?
Peter Sarsgaard: I didn't take any of it that literally at all. To be
honest with you, when I thought about playing this character the things that
came to mind were like the image of Julian Schnabel holding onto like a big
piece of chicken and sitting in front of a huge fireplace.
Sienna Miller: In like his dressing gown.
Peter Sarsgaard: In his dressing gown. The jazz musician Ornette
Coleman wears these blazers that always have primary colors on them. He just
has this style that I've always been fascinated with. I don't wear things
like that in the movie though I did wear one blazer in honor of that. But I
was searching for this guy that had transcended even what it meant to live
in Pittsburgh, that there was no relationship between him and that time. The
way that I look in the movie came from something that he had really dreamed
up, that he was trying to become something that was in his mind. There have
been a lot of great artists like that. It's too bad he didn't play an
instrument or something because a lot of great artists are like that. Like
Andy Warhol came from Pittsburgh, but where did he get the whole thing? It
came from his mind.
Sienna Miller: Do you know actually, about Warhol, that his mother
used to feed him on Heinz baked beans and in every cupboard there were rows
and rows of beans. This is true. I've studied a lot [about] Andy Warhol. He
got inspiration from the mundane.
Peter Sarsgaard: His hair. Where did he come up with the style and
the whole thing? That's from his mind.
You've both played bohemian characters before. What's your attraction to
that type of character?
Sienna Miller: I don't know if Jane was that bohemian in this film. I
think she's in love with someone who's very bohemian and she's experimenting
as people do when they're growing up and discovering things about
themselves. But in essence she plays the violin. She wants to go to college.
She's trying to setup her own life and isn't a bohemian. I have played
Peter Sarsgaard: I wouldn't call her bohemian at all.
Sienna Miller: No, I wouldn't either, but maybe we just bring an
element of being bohemian into our characters because we are.
bohemian-ism seems to inform the characters.
Peter Sarsgaard: With internet isn't everyone bohemian now? Everyone
knows everything. I mean, my dad grew up in West Point, Mississippi, a town
of just a few thousand people on the border of Alabama and my dad has been
doing this photo project of people in the East Village that he calls
bohemians. So my dad says, "I'm photographing bohemians." To him it's like
going to the zoo. It's like amazing. It's like, "A bohemian. A poet. Look at
this person." You would have to be that sheltered to not have ever been
exposed to that stuff and think that it was other. I think it's been so
incorporated into the way that we live that every kid knows of Allen
Ginsberg if they want to. But it's not even Allen Ginsberg. Look at their
heroes, they're all bohemians.
What was your attraction to this role?
Sienna Miller: I went through this year of working back to back to
back and I didn't want to stop.
What did you start that year with?
Sienna Miller: I started that year with… Oh, God, I can't even
remember. I just know that I think I'd done, or no Factory Girl was
Peter Sarsgaard: You'd just done Factory Girl or it was just
being cut as we were filming.
Sienna Miller: Was it? Oh, yes. I'd done Factory Girl,
Interview, something else I don't remember, this and it was just this
crazy year of work and I just wanted to keep on working. I'd always really
admired Peter. I had actually read an interview with Peter in The New
York Times Magazine and thought that he was extraordinary as an actor
and as a person. So I really wanted the opportunity to work with him.
Peter Sarsgaard: And I respond extremely well to that kind of
What about the erotically-charged film you did with Keira Knightley?
Sienna Miller: That was after, yeah. I think that I did something
after this. The Edge of Love was a year and a half ago. This was two
and a half years ago.
Was Casanova before GI Joe?
Sienna Miller: It goes... Layer Cake, Alfie,
Casanova and then Factory Girl into something else, this [I
think]. I'm just trying to work it out. I can't remember. It's awful.
Peter Sarsgaard: It's not awful. Nobody remembers anything.
you feel like you've gotten the focus back on you, Sienna Miller, the
actress, rather than the tabloid stuff?
Sienna Miller: It's very hard for people. I think the media comes up
with what they want you to be and there's very little you can do to change
that. I can do several other things in my life that won't be documented
because it doesn't sell newspapers. So they will document or create [what
Peter Sarsgaard: They won't take pictures of me being an ass. They
just won't print them. It doesn't matter. I can walk down the street,
pushing the baby carriage, smoking a cigarette, propositioning a hooker and
no one takes a picture of it.
Sienna Miller: Your irony or sarcasm will actually translate to
print. Mine somehow gets very lost in translation.
To change the subject, both of you have done theater. Do you have a
ritual before going onstage that you superstitiously do?
Peter Sarsgaard: No. I have a practical one. I use the toilet, but
every actor does that.
Sienna Miller: I generally just sort of quiver and shake going into a
complete, "Why have I done this? I can't do this" moment.
Do you cry every performance or just on opening night?
Sienna Miller: I get incredibly nervous, but that's something, a
quality in some actors that you like putting yourself through hell like
Peter, you're going to do a benefit for an organization that works with
children who stutter?
Peter Sarsgaard: I am because I just worked with Austin Pendleton,
who's a stutterer and has used it to fabulous effect in his career. He talks
about getting jammed on a word and how freeing that can be. Do you know his
work? He's an incredible, incredible, incredible actor and director. Just a
ferocious director. Honest, [Sienna] you would love acting with this guy.
I'm going to it, honestly, because he asked me to. He directed Uncle
Vanya. And he teaches acting.
And what about Broadway?
Sienna Miller: I'm doing a Patrick Marber play in the fall with The
Roundabout Theater. After Miss Julie. The adaptation is from [August]
Strindberg's Miss Julie that's been done at The Donmar in London. Me
and Johnny Lee Miller at the moment. It's [just] three people in the cast.
I'm playing Miss Julie in that.
Sienna Miller: The dominatrix? No. I think it's far more complicated
than that. She's absolutely not a dominatrix.
Peter Sarsgaard: She's a dominatrix. He's bisexual.
do you start the run?
Sienna Miller: We start rehearsals the 20th of August. We open the
22nd of October and I'm doing it until the 14th of December, but I think
What characters have you not played that you would like to play?
Sienna Miller: There's nothing specific. I don't have a list of
things. There are eras that I'm fascinated with. I know when I'm doing a
film I really research the time. I'd love to do something in the '20s around
Scott and Zelda [Fitzgerald]. All of that I'm fascinated by. I'd love to do
a real period [film], but way back, a medieval type thing. I'm a big fan of
Peter Sarsgaard: When I'm a little older, I really want to play Col.
Vershinin from Three Sisters by [Anton] Chekhov. Maggie [Gyllenhaal,
Peter's wife] and I did Uncle Vanya this year and we're talking about
it. It was so nice performing together in a theater that only has two
hundred people max, one hundred ninety nine that there's no effort to sell.
It will never be something that transfers. It will never be a commercial
product and we've always wanted to act together, but it's hard to do a movie
together as a couple and then watch it bomb. How many couples have you seen
do that and how horrible that must feel for them? For us, we didn't know
whether people loved it or hated it. We just knew that it was filled every
night and they clapped and we didn't read the reviews. We just went home and
we felt fantastic and we just want to do that as much as possible.
Do you prefer the stage more than film?
Peter Sarsgaard: I do like acting onstage more, but there's a craft
to acting on film and it's very cool. I really like acting. So when you're
doing a stage play you do tons of acting. Every night you act straight for
two hours straight, plus and then you do it again. It feels good.
Sienna Miller: I think there's nothing like the feeling of live
theater, but people then, if you do a play, say, "Oh, that's real acting."
And I've done work in film where it felt very much like real acting. It's
just a different technique. But the buzz of being onstage with a live
audience is kind of unbeatable. Anything can go wrong. I've gotten terrible
giggles onstage and incorporated it somehow into a Shakespeare heavy scene
and it worked. You just have to absolutely jump and go with your instincts.
Anything can happen and I get a kick out of that.
happened to you playing Maid Marian in Robin Hood?
Sienna Miller: The script has been evolving and changing and it often
happens in films. They've been trying to make this for a couple of years.
They've rewritten the script and needed someone who was older. I think now
the husband, the person who plays the husband has been away for ten years at
war and comes back and it's feasible. So Cate Blanchett is doing it. But
this happens everyday. It's just the media doesn't make quite as much of a
meal of it as they do when it happens to me, but this happens all the time.
I'm sure it'll be a wonderful project and this is not an absolutely shocking
thing to happen in the movie industry when scripts evolve. Casts change.
Other people have also been changed in that cast, but they just were not
Were you disappointed?
Sienna Miller: No. It happens everyday. I would obviously love to
work with Ridley [Scott], but I hope to in the future.
Peter, In the Electric Mist only came out in English as a DVD?
Peter Sarsgaard: In the Electric Mist has two versions. It
does. It has the European version and the American version. The European
version is the one that Betrand Tavernier, the director, wants everyone to
know is his version. It is one that would not appeal to most American
audiences, or might not. Who knows? But there are two versions of the film.
I've seen neither.
You're good as the alcoholic movie star, Peter. You're poking fun...
Sienna Miller: See, with him it's good. With me it wouldn't be poking
Of all those movies what's your favorite role that you've done in this
Sienna Miller: I loved doing Edie [Sedgwick, in Factory Girl].
Is there a place in the world that you want to visit?
Sienna Miller: So, so many. Easter Island – I'd like to go see it
before I die.
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