James Hibberd
May 24, 2013 AT 04:00 AM EDT

When Peter Sarsgaard was cast in the third season of AMC’s The Killing, fan reaction was nearly unanimous: He’s perfect. The crime drama’s world is dark, murky, complex, and amoral — all adjectives that also describe Sarsgaard’s turns in films like Jarhead and Boys Don’t Cry. The 42-year-old actor admits his age factored into his decision to pursue TV. ”I feel like a lot of movies these days are shot for an audience younger than me,” he says. But it was also the great challenge the Killing role posed: The lion’s share of his scenes take place in a solitary prison cell, owing to the fact that Sarsgaard plays monstrous death-row inmate Ray Seward, a murderer from the past of former detective Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos). The constraints — and the task of making scenes in the same setting interesting — enticed him. ”I like restrictions,” Sarsgaard says. ”The more restrictions the better. It’s a challenge because it is difficult to keep [”introducing”] variety in a confined space.” Space aside, Sarsgaard’s ultimate goal was to make his killer as frightening as possible — while still making fans sympathize with him. ”The big philosophical issues he’s dealing with are ones we all wrestle with,” he says, ”like forgiveness.”

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