– Interviewing actor Sam Rockwell
is like experiencing him in one of his many excellent characters. He has been Chuck Barris in “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind
,” “Wild Bill” Wharton in “The Green Mile
” and even Guy Fleegman in “Galaxy Quest
”. He’s a true performer with a passion that bleeds through in “Choke
,” which is his latest film.
Standing and pacing during the Q&A with HollywoodChicago.com, Rockwell made a hilarious theatrical moment out of his frustration while lighting a cigarette. In between all that, he talked about his latest characterization, which is a challenging and exceptional performance channeling an Oedipal and compulsive personality.
“Choke” star Sam Rockwell in Chicago on Sept. 3, 2008.
Photo credit: Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com
“Choke,” which is based on the Chuck Palahniuk novel of the same name (he also authored “Fight Club
” and “Rant”), involves a sex addict named Victor (Rockwell).
His formerly free-spirited mother (Anjelica Huston
) is dying in a local care center.
Between his 12-step sex addiction programs (where he engages in carnal knowledge in the restroom with a female participant) and his job as a character in a colonial theme park, Victor must try to reach a mother who essentially never cared for him.
“I relate to Victor because – like him – early on certain boundaries were broken in my life,” Rockwell said. “I saw things at an early age because my mom was a theater actress. I did a play with her when I was 10 years old. I was backstage with all these naked people and went to bars afterward. Like Victor, I was exposed to things early on.”
Left to right: Gillian Jacobs, Sam Rockwell and Brad William Henke in “Choke”.
Photo credit: Jessica Miglio
To acquire money for his mother’s care, Victor has devised an attention-getting scam that involves choking on food so people will “save” him and in that heroism also take care of him. Rockwell offered: “The choking and the sex addiction are all related to trying to obtain intimacy. It’s the same goal.”
Victor’s life gets rearranged by a mysterious doctor in his mother’s care facility named Paige (Kelly MacDonald). She reveals a secret that could lead him on the road to redemption.
“Anjelica Huston and Kelly MacDonald are both really special,” Rockwell said. “Anjelica has such a fresh point of view about acting and doesn’t seem jaded at all. She seems more like a student and yet she is veteran actor who really brings it.”
“You fall in love with Kelly,” he added. “She is really unique because she is cast against type in this film.” Rockwell also talked about his preparation for the film and described how he attended sex addiction meetings in real life.
“Choke” star Sam Rockwell.
Photo credit: Jessica Miglio
“The sex addict stuff was required research to get inside the head of the guy,” Rockwell said. “All I had to do in the meetings during my research was say: ‘Hi. I am Sam. I’m questioning things.’ I stayed ambiguous without getting too personal. It’s a personal place.”
He also learned something in this analysis. Rockwell said: “Sex addiction is a pretty serious disorder. Anything compulsive can turn into an addiction.”
In working with Clark Gregg – who was directing his first film (and also wrote the screenplay) – Rockwell talked about the particulars in dealing with such a situation.
“Clark Gregg and I are around the same age. He has been an actor and is a writer,” Rockwell related. “But with a first-time director, there is a way to talk about things they might not know. Because Clark was an actor, though, he knew more about the process than most first-time directors.”
When asked about his penchant for playing odd and dark characters, Rockwell recounted a theory he has about general film character types.
“Once you accept that everything in film portrayal has been done already, you kind of think: ‘Well, they’ve done this character already. That is the best version,’” he said. “My question is always how I can improve upon that or make it different.”
Expounding upon that, Rockwell also said: “I like darker characters. I like playing bad guys. I think I’m drawn to them because those were the characters I liked from the movies when I was growing up. I liked ‘Taxi Driver,’ ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ and ‘The Deer Hunter’.”
Sam Rockwell absorbs this redemption-from-hell character in “Choke” with all the sickness and beauty it requires. The sympathy he evokes for Victor is indicative of the high level of actor he has become. He could almost be describing the character when he related his methodology in approaching all his roles.
“I always do drama,” Rockwell said. “It’s just that some people laugh at it and some people cry.”
“Choke,” which opened on Sept. 26, 2008, is directed by Clark Gregg and stars Sam Rockwell, Anjelica Huston, Kelly Macdonald, Brian William Henke and Bijou Phillips.
By PATRICK McDONALD
© 2008 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com