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Peter Sarsgaard wins Venice best actor for dementia portrayal

VENICE – Peter Sarsgaard, who won best actor at the Venice Film Festival on Saturday for his performance as a man suffering from dementia, has forged a lauded career as a character actor.

Sarsgaard’s performance in Memory is the most personal yet for the 52-year-old actor from Illinois, United States, who dedicated the award to an uncle who recently died from the disease.

“This film came to me in a magical kind of way,” he told reporters in Venice.

“My uncle was a guy who was very important in my life. He was so positive and happy even to the day he died.”

Sarsgaard plays alongside Jessica Chastain in the hard-hitting drama from Mexican director Michel Franco.

It seeks to show that dementia sufferers can still lead fulfilling lives, and raises difficult questions about their right to continue making decisions for themselves.

Sarsgaard spoke with carers and people with dementia to prepare for the role.

“A lot of time when we see dementia in movies, it’s the most extreme stage at the very end and it paralyses us all with fear, and I really didn’t want to depict that,” he said.

A dedicated activist, the actor used his acceptance speech to back the ongoing Hollywood strikes, especially related to the threat from artificial intelligence.

“This holy experience of being human will be handed over to the machines and the eight billionaires who own them,” he said.

“If we lose that battle in the strike, our industry will be the first of many to fall.”

Eclectic roles

Born on March 7, 1971, Sarsgaard first came to prominence with an intense performance as a rapist in 1999‘s Boys Don’t Cry.

He followed it with an eclectic selection of movies, usually appearing in key supporting roles.

These have included blockbusters like The Batman, K-19: The Widowmaker, Knight And Day and The Magnificent Seven.

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And also many indie dramas, such as eco-terrorism film Night Moves and quirky coming-of-age tale Garden State.

He earned Golden Globe nominations for his roles in Shattered Glass and An Education, and has worked with A-list directors including Sam Mendes (2005‘s Jarhead) and Woody Allen (Blue Jasmine).

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As well as successful theatre work, he has appeared in high-profile TV shows including The Looming Tower and Dopesick for which he was nominated for an Emmy.

He also acted for his wife Maggie Gyllenhaal in her film The Lost Daughter, which won best screenplay in Venice in 2021. AFP

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