Catching Up With... Sam Rockwell
With over a dozen films to his credit since 2007, Sam Rockwell is currently garnering Oscar buzz for his performance(s) in Moon. He discussed the role with Paste as well as his dual portrayal in the just-released Gentlemen Broncos which was helmed by Napoleon Dynamite director Jared Hess.
Paste: It must have been weird enough to explain Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy to people who had never heard of it. When you first decided to take on Gentlemen Broncos that must have been wild trying to explain that to people too.
Sam Rockwell: Yeah, it is kind of weird. I just basically say it’s like Rushmore meets Buck Rogers or Flash Gordon.
Paste: Yeah! That’s good.
Rockwell: It’s all I got, you know? I don’t know what to tell people. Napoleon Dynamite meets Galaxy Quest or something.
Paste: So when you first see a script like this, what is it that makes you say you’d like to do it?
Rockwell: It was Jared [Hess] mostly, and the script was really funny. Immediately, because of Jared, I wanted to get involved with it. And I thought the characters were fun. I was really just going to play Bronco and I talked to Jared on the phone and pitched the idea of doing both characters. He went for that. It was a lot of fun.
Paste: Chevalier’s version—I was trying to think if I’ve ever seen you doing anything quite like that kind of guy.
Rockwell: What’d you think of it?
Paste: I loved it.
Rockwell: We thought, a British accent? We didn’t know what to do with that character. So we just went really broad with it.
Paste: Is that the word, “broad”?
Rockwell: [laughs] Broad, yeah. Broad and fem.
Paste: And the Bronco character
Rockwell: That’s broad, too! Broad and alpha. Very uber-alpha. They’re both cliché and broad and silly.
Paste: With lots of jokes about gonads and projectile vomiting.
Paste: I was thinking of when I first came across your work, in the late ’90s when you did Galaxy Quest and The Green Mile. That’s when people said, “Wow! Who is this guy?” Would you consider that your break-in time?
Rockwell: I know that George Clooney saw those films and I got his attention. You know, it’s funny. Those two movies came out at the same time. And they were both number-one movies. And the characters were really diverse, so that was to my benefit. I hadn’t done any studio movies ’til then. I actually turned Galaxy Quest down because I was supposed to do a lead in an independent film. And then some common sense was knocked into me and I realized I should go be a part of this. It was a unique script. They got together this really good group of actors.
Paste: I think it was underrated. It did not get the cred that it deserved.
Rockwell: It has sort of this weird cult following. But you’re right. It didn’t go like Ghostbusters or something, which we all thought it might. But it didn’t.
Paste: So that kind of opened the doors for you?
Rockwell: I got exposed to more mainstream audiences, I guess. I did a movie called Walking to Collinwood that George Clooney and Steven Soderbergh had produced. George did a cameo and we got to know each other a little bit. Shortly after that he asked me to do Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. That was received really well and we went all over the world publicizing that.
Paste: I’m impressed with what you’ve done over the past year or two. Choke was wonderful. Then, on top of that, you do Moon which blew audiences away.
Rockwell: Moon did fairly well, considering. We were in theaters for four months. That was beyond our expectations.
Paste: About Moon, I ask people do you call it chemistry if it’s the same actor playing against the same actor? I think that’s what has impressed film goers.
Rockwell: It was a lot of preparation. I think the best I’ve ever seen it was Jeremy Irons in Dead Ringers. Also, Midnight Cowboy was an inspiration for me. And then, of course, Silent Running and Blade Runner and Alien and Outland and 2001 and all those science-fiction films. It was a homage. We were tipping a hat to all those films. A bit of a homage to Ridley Scott. I hope Ridley likes the film. I don’t know if he’s seen it. There were so many things. I remember watching Castaway for that, trying to get that Robinson Crusoe thing. I actually think Michael Keaton was pretty good in Multiplicity. The thing I didn’t see them dealing with was how they seemed to get accustomed to the clone very easily and I wanted to, sort of, find out what that was about. That was probably the hardest thing to imagine, and realize that on camera, try to get the sense of what that would be like, and how long would it take you to get used to that so that you could be comfortable enough to actually just sit there and talk like we’re talking.
Paste: Future-wise, right now, you’ve got the blockbuster Iron Man 2.
Rockwell: We’re done with that. Then we got Everybody’s Fine with Robert De Niro. It’s coming out the end of the year. It’s like a nice family film, I guess. But it’s very poignant, that film. And one I’m really excited about is Betty Anne Waters with Hilary Swank, which will be next year. And there’s one called Winning Season.
Paste: That’s the one that you produced?
Rockwell: Yeah. A basketball movie. Girl’s basketball. It’s a sweet film. It comes out next year. Lionsgate bought it. Emma Roberts is in it. Rob Corddry is really funny.
Paste: What made you want to get involved in production?
Rockwell: You know, I’ve always acted as a producer on movies like Choke and Moon. I’ve always felt like I was part of the process anyway. Having my influence on casting. So, I really just wanted to do that, but do that this time, you know
Rockwell: Yeah, officially be a producer. It’s really more about casting approval and stuff like that. You know, getting my say. Making sure the vision is both of you are on the same train.
Paste: And you like the way it came out?
Rockwell: Yeah, yeah, it’s cool.
Paste: It’s a guy coaching a girl’s basketball game?
Rockwell: He used to coach a boy’s team and used to play in high school. It’s probably more drama but it’s a little Bad News Bears.
Paste: The first version.
Rockwell: [laughs] Yeah, the first version. It’s a formula we’ve seen. I actually watched Bad Santa a lot for Choke and for Winning Season. I loved Billy Bob’s performance in Bad Santa. It’s a really beautiful performance. Those are two curmudgeons in Choke and Winning Season. In Winning Season, he’s an alcoholic. It was a fun one to do.