Looking over Sam Rockwell's career, one word comes to mind: fearless. From Chuck Barris in Confessions of a Dangerous
Mind to Frank Mercer in Matchstick Men, even to Zaphod Beeblebrox in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Rockwell certainly doesn't shy away from daring roles -- roles other actors might be reticent to take on.
His latest part, Victor Mancini in Choke, is certainly no exception. Victor, a sex-addicted con artist, works at a Colonial Williamsburg theme park with his sex-addicted compatriot Denny (Brad William Henke). Victor's mom, Ida (Anjelica Huston), is slowly drifting away in a nursing home. Since his day job doesn't quite cut it to pay for his mom's care, Victor's side gig involves pretending to choke at restaurants in order to gain the sympathy -- and cash -- of his rich saviors.
ReelzChannel sat down with Rockwell recently for an exclusive interview about his work on Choke.
RC: Did you read the script for Choke or the book first?
Rockwell: I read the script and then I read the book. I think the book really just helps a lot with all the subtext. [It] just fills you in on everything, but the script was enough [for me] to just be on board. I [also] knew Clark [Gregg] (the director). We had been in a play together, so it was just an easy decision -- a good character and it was fun. I knew how to do the character.
RC: Victor has some pretty intense moments, from the choking scenes to restroom sex to other moments I can't mention here. Were there any scenes you read that gave you hesitation?
Rockwell: No, I pretty much was prepared for all of it. I kinda knew what I was getting into.
RC: What research did you do for the role?
Rockwell: Mainly [Brad William Henke and I] went to some sex-addict meetings and I saw a documentary about it. We talked to this therapist who deals with some sex addicts and it was helpful and necessary.... We had to sort of respect the disorder if the movie's going to have some integrity. It's really a pretty severe dysfunction. It's a real disorder, like a food disorder or alcoholism. People don't understand, 'How can you have too much sex?' but it's not about that. It's actually a very sad thing that happens, from compulsive masturbation to massage parlors and prostitutes...
RC: In most movies or television, sex addiction is played for comic effect and the people are generally pretty good looking.
Rockwell: Exactly. But it's not funny. I hope that we get this across so that sex addicts see the movie and don't feel like lepers. It's not a pretty world. It's not sexy. It's intense. These are people who've been molested. You end up having a lot of compassion for them so I hope we respect that in the film.
RC: The character of Vincent is an anti-hero of sorts. He's amusing to observe, but he's not necessarily a guy you'd want to know.
Rockwell: It's really a psychological profile of a Casanova. It's a tricky tone. You're trying to get dramatic and comedic elements in one movie. You have to be as real as possible. The character is a misanthrope like Bad Santa or Jack Nicholson in Five Easy Pieces. There's that kind of debauchery. How low can you go? He's really yearning for something deeper and it's just this band-aid he's putting on this open wound.
RC: How difficult is the actual choking? I'd be afraid of accidentally choking.
Rockwell: [Pretends to choke and laughs.] You just stop breathing for a couple of seconds to make your face red. It's just pretend. It was just watermelon; it wasn't like real steak. I was definitely a little hyperventilated afterwards.
RC: This is Clark Gregg's directorial debut. As an actor making the transition to directing much like George Clooney on Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, is the process different than working with a full-time director?
Rockwell: He's a very cool director. I liken him to Clooney in that there is a competitive athleticism to their directing. They both play basketball and they're both actors so they're very sensitive to an actor's process. They are two of the brightest men I've ever met -- sensitive and yet tough. They both have social skills and good temperaments and they know how to talk to people so they make for good leaders.
RC: Does working with Clooney and Clark give you some interest in stepping behind the lens?
Rockwell: Not really. It's a lot of multitasking. I love film and I love actors, so maybe someday. It would have to be the right movie. I don't think it would be like a big budget movie like Transformers or something.
RC: At this point in your career, it seems as though you've made a conscious choice to avoid big budget projects. I'd have to imagine you are offered those projects from time to time, so how difficult is it to avoid that temptation?
Rockwell: Well, you know, a lot of the money jobs I get are [something] like a zombie movie in Africa and that's a no-brainer. That's not gonna happen. It's a natural progression to go for the good roles. It doesn't seem like that big a dilemma.
RC: You were just talking about the grueling 25-day shoots on the smaller projects. Is it tempting in that respect, to have more time to develop and perfect a character?
Rockwell: Yeah, that would be nice. Sometimes with the studio movies you get too much time and it becomes a little silly. That being said, it would be nice to be the lead in a studio movie. The only time was really Confessions or Hitchhiker's, but it would be nice to have a sort of in-between. I think with too much time, there's a certain momentum that you have with an independent film that you lose. It creates this kind of creative fervor that you wouldn't get in a studio movie. Again, 25 days is just murder, but maybe four months is too long? I don't know.
RC: Is there a certain type of character you are offered the most or a perception you think Hollywood has of the roles you're best suited for?
Rockwell: No, you know, I don't. I get stuff from all over the map and that's a big compliment. I'm really happy about that. I get mentioned on the same list with Phil Hoffman or Forest Whitaker and I find that to be very flattering. I feel good about that. I'm okay with that. I get quirky stuff for sure, but it's good.
RC: Not that many actors get the chance to play those kind of wild roles and you've already done a few of them.
Rockwell: That's right, absolutely.