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Thanks to movies like Moon, Choke and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, actor Sam Rockwell has become famous for his intense — and idiosyncratic — roles. With the family drama
Everybody’s Fine, he takes on something lighter, playing one of four grown children Robert De Niro is seeking to reconnect with. Rockwell talks to AMCtv.com about re-teaming with Drew Barrymore and Kate Beckinsale, and when he’s willing to play bad guy parts.
Q: This is a lighter role for you — was it a way to take a break?
A: The movie is kind of heavy, but you’re right, my role is a much straighter thing. It was a nice departure to get away and do something a little more like a normal person. He’s still human, and he’s got some things to work out [with his father]. My relationship with my father is pretty straightforward; I’m pretty open with him, so that aspect of it was a little tougher to relate to, actually.
Q: This is your third movie with Drew Barrymore. She’s played your lover twice, and now she’s your sister…
A: And Kate and I played husband and wife [in Snow Angels]. It’s very incestuous. I have some hot sisters! Hot and funny sisters.
Q: Do you ever pick parts based on who your co-stars will be,
or if they also practice the Meisner technique as you do? So you
complement each other?
A: Good acting is good acting, however you learn it. Some people
who haven’t studied are amazing. Some people like Leonardo DiCaprio are
naturally gifted — he’s learned technique by working with people early
on. I am influenced by people like Robert De Niro, who do that kind of
homework, getting into the character’s heads for parts. Like Daniel
Day-Lewis, everybody’s got their own way.
Q: With projects like your upcoming sports films The Winning Season and End Zone, does research for one help the other?
A: End Zone hasn’t happened yet, but sure. I think I
was supposed to play an agent, so I would have to research football for
that. And I did some research on basketball for The Winning Season; I
took some basketball lessons from some NBA people, just to play the
coach. My character was an ex-point guard, an ex-star player, so I did
a lot of work with the ball, just so I would inhabit the character,
feel like the character a little bit. I did some martial arts training
for Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, since the character was an assassin…
Q: Or thought he was.
A: Which is basically the same thing. So I did some of that Bourne Identity-like
training, a technique called kali, so that I could imagine killing
somebody or whatever. And it was fun to do that, even though it didn’t
end up in the film. There was a lot of stuff that [writer] Charlie
[Kaufman] had in the original draft that didn’t make the film. It was
originally more of an absurdist comedy, and I think [director George]
Clooney wanted to ground it, to have resonance, so it became a more
dramatic, linear through line. I think it ended up being really good,
Q: When director Duncan Jones first approached you for a project, you turned it down because you didn’t want to play another villain … And yet, for the sequel to Iron Man, you’ll be playing the villain…
A: Sort of! I said no to another villain in a pretty big movie recently, probably because I had done it in Iron Man 2. I haven’t played a bad guy since Charlie’s Angels, but I thought there was an opportunity here, because you’re in such good company, and I was a fan of the first Iron Man. I
was talked about for the first one — I was one of the three or four
people in consideration — so I was already on their radar. I think the
same thing happened in The Godfather II, with De Niro. He was considered for Sonny Corleone in The Godfather,
and he ended up playing the young Brando in the sequel, so sometimes
things like that work out. And Justin Hammer is a pretty great role.
Q: Although he’s older in the comics …
A: And possibly British, maybe? We didn’t do that. I basically
just do my version of the guy, which is Sam in a suit, and a little
swarmy. He’s a fun character. He’s a cousin of a Lex Luther or Salieri
or something. He’s a schemer. It’s a fun part.