Like his character in “The Sound of Silence,” Peter Sarsgaard thinks a lot about sound. In the indie drama, the acclaimed actor plays a “house tuner” — a made-up profession but one that could easily exist in New York. He visits moneyed clients’ homes, adjusting the sounds of appliances, fixtures and whatnot to create sonic safe spaces in one of the world’s loudest cities — believing that controlling noise is yet another road to wellness.
Sarsgaard wouldn’t go that far. “I’m not in agreement with my character, that harmony of sound creates harmony of mind,” he says. “I think harmony of mind creates harmony of mind. It’s not solely external influences. Certainly the jackhammer can grate on the nerves, but in terms of overall peace, that’s from within.”
Still, he shares many other affinities with his character, who, as it were, is also named Peter. While Peter skulks about our fine city with tuning rods, measuring the tone of individual hot spots, Sarsgaard is more into music. He says he even once jammed with the late, legendary jazz god Ornette Coleman.
And though the actor has done big movies — including 2011’s superhero outing “Green Lantern” — both Peter and Sarsgaard are very much not into popular culture.
“I have eccentric taste in movies,” he admits. “I like what I like. It’s very difficult for me to pretend to like something I don’t.”
He didn’t have to pretend when he was brought “The Sound of Silence.” Filmmaker Michael Tyburski had never directed a feature, but his script — co-written with his creative partner Ben Nabors and expanded from his 2013 short Palimpsest — was so unlike anything in our current franchise-clogged landscape that he happily took a chance.
“I really like that in an age when we’re all trying to figure out how to make movies that will be liked — by the people who buy them, the people who distribute them — that there are still people who can’t actually think that way,” Sarsgaard says. He’s attracted to emerging filmmakers, and he knows his name can help radical projects find funding. “If I can make their movie happen, then I’ve achieved what I want to achieve in my career.”
Landing Sarsgaard — as well as supporting players like Rashida Jones, Tony Revolori and Alex Karpovsky — wasn’t Tyburski’s only big get. A grant meant he was able to mix the sound in Dolby Atmos — the cutting-edge company often used for blockbusters, though sometimes for smaller films, like Alfonso Cuarón’s “Roma.”
“So often when we see a movie, people walk out of the theater talking about the film, talking about the film they saw,” Tyburski says. “I like to think about how we see and hear movies.”
So what’s Sarsgaard’s big obsession? He says it’s apple trees. He has about 25 of them, and he can tell you all about fungi and how trees communicate with each other through the ground — how they, for instance, can tell each other about some sort of invading pest invading the neighborhood.
“My family will tell you I’m completely obsessed,” he says. “They’ll also tell you my apples are really [expletive] good.”
"The Sound of Silence" is playing at IFC Center, starting Friday.