Capone taps into his inner sex addict with CHOKE's Sam Rockwell!!!
Published at: Sept. 23, 2008, 10:08 a.m. CST by Capone
Hey everybody. Capone in Chicago here.
I think it's fair to say that actor Sam Rockwell is one of the finest actors working right now, and not nearly enough people think of him that way. He started out playing thugs and weirdoes (TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES, anyone? SUPER MARIO BROTHERS? Anyone? Hello?!), but has graduated to playing some of the most nuanced characters in recent years in such films as SAFE MEN, BOX OF MOON LIGHT, and the higher-profile GALAXY QUEST. (CHARLIE'S ANGELS anyone? Tough crowd!)
And then same CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS mind, the directing debut from a struggling young actor named George Clooney, who selected Rockwell to play the fictionalized Chuck Barris. What followed was a succession of roles that time and time again showed what a phenomenal, multi-purpose actor Rockwell was growing into. Watch him steal scenes from Nicholas Cage in MATCHSTICK MEN, get laugh after laugh in HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY, and play "normal" in last year's highly underrated JOSHUA. And then prepare to throw all of that away as you rush to rent David Gordon Green's SNOW ANGELS. Sam is so scary good…well actually he's good at being scary. And as we eagerly await his performance in Ron Howard's FROST/NIXON, we have Sam in complete and utter psychologically fractured asshole mode in CHOKE, based on the novel by Chuck (FIGHT CLUB) Palahniuk. I can't think of the last time Rockwell got to flex nearly every acting muscle so convincingly. His Victor is funny, charming, disturbed, addicted, thoughtless, and an utter pig--and that's all in the first 15 minutes of the film.
I met with Rockwell early the same morning we did a post-screening Q&A at a local college in downtown Chicago, which featured one of the most enthusiastic audiences I've ever encountered for both the film and Rockwell himself. Here's the freewheeling Sam Rockwell in all his glory. Enjoy…
Sam Rockwell: Yeah, man, so what’s going on?
Capone: Not too much. I feel like over the last couple of years I’ve been sort of circling people that worked with you, like the guys that did HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY, and I talked to Vera Farmiga and [writer/director] George [Ratliff] about JOSHUA.
The first thing I was going to ask you is, Do you think that ROBIN’S BIG DATE short had anything to do with the massive success of the Batman revival? I can’t imagine it didn’t…
SR: [Laughs] I think…Absolutely. It had everything to do with it. They should be paying us residuals. [laughs again]
Capone: Yeah, that’s what I was wondering. You could have demanded a mint off that.
SR: We’re talking about doing a sequel to that.
Capone: That’d be pretty good. With the same old costumes or an updated wardrobe?
SR: I don’t know, yeah, maybe.
Capone: You’ve done so many roles, and you’ve been working for so long. Are there certain roles that people still ask you about that you’re like, I can’t believe people are still talking about that?
SR: Yeah. How much time do you have?
Capone: What are the one or two that really come back to haunt you?
SR: Oh, you know, SAFE MEN, BOX OF MOON LIGHT.
Capone: That’s a great one.
SR: Some people love WELCOME TO COLLINWOOD. You’ll get some people that just talk about…They like WELCOME TO COLLINWOOD. A lot of movies that you think a lot of people have not seen. GALAXY QUEST and THE GREEN MILE, I think people did see. But I don’t know, they pull out some weird ones.
Capone: I got a couple people telling me to ask you about TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES.
SR: Oh jeez, yeah. I met a good friend, Skeet Ulrich, on that. He was a local hire. So, yeah, that was one of my first gigs.
Capone: And it kind of started a tradition, for a while at least, of playing villains or bad guys, thugs.
SR: Yes, yes, indeed, yes, yes. I guess I always kind of gravitated towards those in the beginning, too, because, you know, as a young actor…When I came to New York, it was, like, ’87, ’88, and I was 18, and I was really getting into Robert De Niro, who I just worked with.
Capone: That’s right, you did.
SR: We played father and son, so that was a blast. It’s a movie called EVERYBODY’S FINE. And, Drew Barrymore’s in it. That’s my third movie with Drew. And, Kate Beckinsale, who’s in SNOW ANGELS. We play siblings. [Snubs out his half-smoked cigarette] I’m just going to smoke this like a cigar throughout the day…but, you know, that was a big thrill for me to work with him recently.
To answer your question, I mean, you know, as a young actor, you start out kind of imitating actors that you admire and trying to emulate them. Like John Malkovich, I saw him do “Burn This” on Broadway, you know, and he started out here [in Chicago]. And, we saw “True West.” I saw it on the videotape.
Capone: That PBS one?
SR: Yeah, and then I eventually got to work with him in HITCHHIKER’S. So, I think, you want to be like Gary Oldman and John Turturro and all these actors, so you kind of want to play, like, tough guys and street kids.
Capone: When you’re working with someone like that, somebody you’ve admired since you were young, are you still looking for those moments when there’s a little downtime and you can say, “Hey, can I ask you about this?” Do you still geek out a little bit?
SR: Oh, yeah, I geeked out on Gene Hackman a little bit. I geeked out on De Niro, I think I asked him some questions. Gene Hackman was very forthcoming actually. I think De Niro’s just shyer. He’s just a little more soft spoken. Nice guy, though. I think De Niro’s thing is he likes to laugh, he likes to joke around. I don’t think he wants to talk about acting as much. That’s my instinct. I think he’d rather tell a joke or something, you know. Most of these guys probably do.
Capone: With this character [in CHOKE], Victor, there’s a lot of things that he’s an expert in--or he should be expert in, at least--everything from sex to the historical re-creations to just dealing with the mentally unstable. He seems like he’s an "adapter"--you put him in any situation, and he can adjust and adapt and usually flourish in some strange way. I know you like to research. How do you research something like that? How do you play someone who’s like that? What do you have to learn to do it?
SR: Robert Duvall has a phrase for this, and it’s something about realizing your…fictional…world, or something. There’s a quote from Duvall: “…helping you to realize your…,” something about kind of believing your fictional world a little bit. I guess that’s the best way I can put it. And, in Meisner, the technique I studied, Sanford Meisner, we call it actor’s faith, sometimes, where you kind of just buy into it. But, a lot of it’s just your imagination. And, I work with an acting coach, and that helps. We go through all the text and analyze all the details. We kind of problem solve, get it up on its feet. We kind of work out, well, what…and, basically, it’s what are you going to bring to the lines and what’s between the lines.
I read the book. I did some research about the sex-addiction stuff, and that helped a lot to kind of understand what these people are about and to kind of respect the disorder, the dysfunction, the disease that they have. It’s probably more like a food disorder than alcoholism. It’s more, like, if they’re hungry, they have sex. If they’re angry, they have sex. If they’re sad, they have sex. If they’re celebrating, they have sex.
Capone: So, it’s like anything that goes off the straight and narrow triggers it.
SR: Anything that’s emotional, they immediately think of sex…sex, sex, sex. That’s usually how it works. And, I think…you have to talk to, like, a sex therapist or a psychiatrist, but, I think, a lot of it’s about repressed anger and about control. But, I could have a lot of this wrong; you’d have to talk to someone who really knows what they’re talking about, but from what I researched, that’s what I found to be true.
And, it goes anywhere from compulsive masturbation to massage parlors to prostitution. I think it’s like a thing where, if you’re a traveling salesman, and you’re away, and you’re away from your wife in your hotel, and you watch some pay-per-view porn, that’s one thing. If you watch porn eight hours a day, and you don’t go to work because of it, and you’re not fucking your wife, then you got a problem, you know? I think it’s where it gets in the way of intimacy. So, it gets pretty severe, and then that leads to other things, and so it becomes like…It gets pretty bad, some of these people, where they literally…I mean, they’ll be cruising prostitutes.
Capone: You mentioned it gets in the way of intimacy. That’s what happens to Victor.
SR: That’s right, and that’s what the movie’s about. It’s about…what the choking is all about that. The choking is about having somebody hug him, literally, physically embrace him like a baby, so it’s all about finding intimacy. But, he can’t figure it out. He’s trying to figure it out, because he’s all fucked up, you know?
Capone: So, that’s the sex-addiction part, which you obviously did look into.
SR: Yeah, and then there’s the book, reading the book over and over again. And, I actually listened to [author] Chuck [Palahniuk] reading the book, and there’s an interview on the book on tape, too, where talks about what inspired him. His father passed away, and…There’s a story he tells about driving on the freeway, and he gets out--I don’t know if I have this right--but, he gets out of the car, and he gets in front of the car…I don’t think I have this right. Something to the effect where he literally lays on the freeway, hoping that an ambulance will come to take him away, because he needed so badly…see, again, I think I’m fucking this story up. We should get it right…But, he needed so badly to have somebody take care of him that he would. Yeah, I mean, that’s the core of Victor. That’s what Victor’s all about. That made me understand the character inside and out.
Capone: That and living the Colonial lifestyle that he does, too.
SR: And, that relationship with his mom is like “Hamlet”…is like Gertrude and Hamlet, or Amanda and Tom in “The Glass Menagerie.” It’s a classic, dysfunctional mother-and-son thing, where he can’t…He’s gotta, like, ‘Enough with her already, I gotta move on with my life.’
Capone: Watching the two of you together kind of explains most of the rest of the movie, I think, at least, most of the rest of your character.
Capone: You seem, at least lately, to be drawn to these characters that we really don’t see on the screen that often.
SR: Oh, is that right?
Capone: I think.
Capone: Yeah, but not just…that too, but, even like in JOSHUA, it’s a rich parent who’s not a great parent, who…I mean, it’s unusual to see…Just in that movie, that your playing straight man to Vera’s kind of crazy character is kind of unusual to see. Is that something you sort of try to look for, people whose story you’re not really that familiar with?
SR: I’m attracted to antiheroes. I mean, those are the movies that we talk about when we…whether it’s CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND or CHOKE or JOSHUA. We talk about ALFIE and FIVE EASY PIECES, and we talk about all these antiheroes. So, I watched TOM JONES for CHOKE. It's a very light, Casanova-like kind of thing. I think Clooney told me to watch CARNAL KNOWLEDGE and ALFIE. I think we talked about ALFIE, and that’s certainly relevant to CHOKE, same kind of thing.
So, I think, it gets more in depth with his relationship with his mother. It sort of psychoanalyzes the Casanova, which is really kind of interesting--to deglamorize a ladies’ man. I mean, he’s a seedier kind of Casanova, but Alfie’s a chauffeur. And, I don’t know what Casanova did for a living. What was he?
Capone: Did he make a living?
SR: He just fucked. [laughs]
Capone: He just lived off women, yeah. Our inclination is almost to feel sorry for Victor, but he does everything in his power to make sure we do not do that. Especially when you see those scenes of him as a child, your heart just goes out to him, but then, he just stamps that down. It’s a tough ride sometimes.
SR: Yeah, it is a tough ride.
Capone: I found it interesting when you mentioned SNOW ANGELS before that when I saw your character in that, it reminded me--because you had just worked with George Ratliff--of his movie HELL HOUSE. I wondered if that had somehow informed your performance…and JESUS CAMP isn’t that old, and there’s another one called FOR THE BIBLE TELLS ME SO that kind of covers the same territory.
SR: That stuff helped me. What’s ironic is that I was preparing for SNOW ANGELS and I watched HELL HOUSE, and then I ended up working with George, but I wished I had seen JESUS CAMP before SNOW ANGELS. I watched a lot of documentaries, and I went to a lot of churches, a lot of born-again services. That was fascinating. I saw something called SOLDIERS IN THE ARMY OF GOD, which actually Brad Pitt turned me on to. It’s the weirdest thing, and he got me this DVD. Sorry, I just dropped a name; let me get that. [Reaches down to the floor]
Capone: [Laughs] That's okay. You’ve been doing it all day.
SR: I’ve been doing it all day. But, that was really helpful. These guys would blow up abortion clinics and stuff. I don’t know if you saw SNOW ANGELS, but it’s…
Capone: Sure, Omigosh, yeah.
SR: But, I’m really proud of that. So that was a coincidence that I watched HELL HOUSE for SNOW ANGELS, and then I worked with George. But, I wish I had seen JESUS CAMP. They had some great…That was just un-fucking-believable. I mean, Wow, but it’s a scary world. Yeah, that’s fascinating stuff, religion.
Capone: In fact, with SNOW ANGELS, it’s interesting…I don’t know how aware of this you are, but I did a radio show a couple of months ago, where they were talking about the best performances of the year so far, at the mid-year point. There were three of us, and all three picked different people out of SNOW ANGELS. That movie is still resonating, at least with critics. It’s still very high on their major ‘Please Don’t Forget This Movie When It Comes Out on DVD’ list.
SR: That's nice. Yeah, I think [Richard] Roeper and…
Capone: …Michael Phillips, yeah. They liked it a great deal.
SR: It’s too bad it came out so early in the year. Yeah, we were really swinging for the fences on that one. But, it’s a small movie. Not a lot of people saw it.
Capone: I think you were on my list, Kate was on somebody’s list, and Olivia [Thirlby] was on somebody else’s list. It was a really strange coincidence, because we didn’t compare notes beforehand. And suddenly, it was, like, Wow…
SR: That’s great, It’s a cool movie, man. That was a great experience.
Capone: It’s a great to see that David Gordon Green put these two movies out [SNOW ANGELS and PINEAPPLE EXPRESS] this year that really kind of show the polar opposites of what he’s capable of.
SR: Yeah, he’s the bee’s knees; we could talk about him for an hour. He’s incredible.
Capone: In some recent interviews with you that I’ve read, you’ve sort of alluded to or talked about how the sex addiction part of this film isn’t that far from, maybe, things that you’ve done in your own life.
SR: Oh, is that the [New York Post] story?
Capone: I don’t know where it came from. I just want to know if it's true?
SR: You know, in my youth, I fucked around a little. But, you know, a lot of guys have, and they lie about it. I mean, yeah, I’ve done a few things. But, I’ve been tested recently, I’m clean, so…[laughs]
Capone: Okay. Is that what you were afraid people were thinking?
SR: No, I have a girlfriend now, so, you know…I have to be a good boy.
Capone: Did you actually say that ‘Nobody should be famous until they’re 30’?
SR: I maintain that.
Capone: You believe that?
SR: Oh, absolutely
Capone: Why is that?
SR: Well, think about it.
Capone: I’ve been trying to. I’ve been wondering where that comes from.
SR: Do you really want people to see what you’re doing in your 20s…on television? I mean, really? Look, there are so many people who get into trouble. It’s a miracle that DiCaprio survived his 20s, and he’s got a great career. He’s, like, you know…he’s doing really well…I think he’s got his head on his shoulders. But, I’ll tell you, that’s tough, to be famous in your 20s, I mean, nobody should have the spotlight on them in their 20s.
I didn’t get any real attention until I was, like, 28 or 29, or something. I’m glad. And, even that was very gradual. It’s still very gradual, so…
Capone: So, everyone should have a license, take a test, a maturity test at 30, something like LOGAN’S RUN?
SR: It makes perfect sense to me. I suppose if you’re in your 20s, you don’t feel that way, but look at the asinine stuff you do in your 20s.
Capone: When you first met with [CHOKE writer/director] Clark Gregg, who is a great actor, but hasn’t made a movie before, what did he say to you and what did he talk to you about in terms of this movie that made you think, ‘Okay, he knows what he’s doing. He knows what he’s talking about. This is going to work.’?
SR: Well, he’s a smart guy. We did a play together years ago. So, I knew him already, and I knew he was a smart dude. He’d done a lot of writing. And, I knew he had the kind of mind, you know…He’s a multitasker, he could do it. He’s athletic. I compare him to George Clooney, because they’re both athletes. They’re both athletic guys over the age of 30. So, there’s that sort of athleticism to their directing. And yet, they’re both very sensitive guys, or they wouldn’t be actors. They’re both very bright. So, I think that that’s interesting. There’s something good about an athletic code when you’re…
Capone: Is that like an energy thing?
SR: It is. It’s, like, ‘Come on, let’s go’ [claps his hands together several times]. It’s almost like a coach, you know. Yeah, like…There was one day he was in his fucking Colonial garb. Somebody, Tim Orr, our D.P.--who’s a great D.P., I’ve worked with him twice now--he saw a security guard at the back of the shot. He was, like, “Ah, there’s a security guard at the back of the shot. Can somebody tell him to get out of the shot?” And, Clark was, like, [Claps] “Good eye, Tim, god eye! Come on, let’s do it, let’s go!” He was like a wrestling coach. And yet, with a lot of more sensitive scenes, he was very sensitive about that stuff.
Capone: And, you’re also in FROST/NIXON; the trailer for which just premiered. I’ve been excited to see this.
SR: Yeah, I heard it was a good trailer.
Capone: It is a good trailer. I interviewed Michael Sheen a couple of years ago, when he was still doing the play in London. It was just about to come over here. We had a great talk, and he was saying, “I’ll get you tickets to New York”--of course, I never went. But, I’ve been hoping they would cast the same people as in the play. At least, for the two lead roles.
SR: Yeah, yeah, they almost didn’t cast Frank [Langella, as Nixon].
Capone: Yeah, which—clearly, from the trailer now--would have been a huge mistake. But, you’re playing a real guy?
SR: I’m playing a real guy. He’s a writer. His name is Jim Reston, Jr. Scottie Reston was his father. He’s a very, very smart guy, so I had to take some smart pills. So I did a lot research for that, about Nixon and stuff. That was interesting, because we had to improvise with all that Watergate info. So, that was a bit of a task.
Capone: They showed the scene in the trailer of you meeting Nixon for the first time… “I’m going to get him, I’m going to get him,” and then you meet him, “Oh, hello, Mr. President.” And then, Oliver Platt has that great line about Nixon’s never going to recover from your encounter with him. It’s a great scene with you, it’s so funny.
SR: That’s great, that’s great.
Capone: …because that’s how it is. You think, ‘I’m going to give that guy a piece of my mind’, and you meet him, it’s [mumble, mumble]. It’s a great scene. I’m really looking forward to that one.
SR: That’s awesome.
Capone: Are you actually making another movie with George Ratliff? END ZONE?
SR: Yeah, yeah, we were talking about it. I don’t know if that’s happening or not. We’ll see.
Capone: And, you just finished something with [director] Jared Hess, though. Is that right?
SR: Yes. Oh, man…
Capone: GENTLEMEN BRONCOS?
SR: Yeah, he’s the greatest. I love that guy. Wow…I have a man crush on Jared Hess. He’s amazing. He’s a Mormon, and he did NAPOLEAN DYNAMITE and NACHO LIBRE. He’s great, I mean, he’s one of those guys. He’s in there with George Clooney and David Green. He’s, like, one of the special guys.
Capone: So, who do play in that one?
SR: I play Bronco. It’s kind of like FLASH GORDON meets DELIVERANCE, or something. It’s weird. I don’t know how to describe it.
Capone: It’s not science fiction, is it?
SR: No, it’s like RUSHMORE meets FLASH GORDON. I don’t know how else to [put it]. I could tell you the plot, but we’d be here for 10 minutes. It’s fun, though. If you saw the pictures of the characters, you’d [understand]. I play two characters, so…But, the guy’s who is going to steal the movie is Jermaine [Clement] from “The Flight of the Conchords.” Yeah. Jennifer Coolidge, Michael Angarano from SNOW ANGELS, he’s really good in it, so…
Capone: Well, you’re busy.
SR: Yeah, yeah. So, I’ll see you tonight, right?
Capone: I'll be there.
SR: And we've got a bunch of college students. Are they going to bring a pony keg? They better. That'll be fun. Maybe they'll take us to a frat party after.
Capone: If we're lucky. Thanks for this. I'll see you later.