by Amelia Mularz
photography by Baldomero Fernandez
It’s Saturday night, he’s suffering from a sinus headache, he has to fly to London in the morning to work on his next film, and yet Sam Rockwell is so laid back, he makes it feel less like an interview and more like a conversation with a buddy. As much as anyone would like to be grilled on politics while they pack, Rockwell jokes, “Politics, politics, politics… I’m just a dumb actor. What do I know?!” What he does know is how to take on various personalities for the wide range of roles he plays – like the deranged Chuck Barris in Confessions of a Dangerous Mind to the very politically-involved James Reston, Jr. in the upcoming film Frost/Nixon to the drama Snow Angels this March – Rockwell is not “just a dumb actor.”
You’ve lived on both the east and west coasts. Have you now decided to stay planted on the east coast? Yeah, I’m a New Yorker. I went to high school in San Francisco and then when I was 18 I moved to New York and did some theater in Brooklyn. I prefer New York to LA. The things I like to do are here. Well, I guess it’s the same shit I could do in LA, like go to the movies and stuff, but I prefer to do it here. Plus, I’m a walker.
Growing up in San Francisco, did you ever get swept up into any counterculture scene? Ever hang out with the hippies in Berkeley? Ever own a Che Guevara t-shirt? I really didn’t do any of that. I was a stoner in high school. I got bad grades and cut school a lot. I did the normal teenage things like shoplifting and chasing girls. I did some acting in high school, some theater stuff. I was in an improv group with Margaret Cho and Aisha Tyler. They both went to my high school. I actually dated Aisha Tyler. She didn’t do any shoplifting with me.
You play James Reston Jr. in the upcoming film Frost/Nixon. How do you approach playing a real person, and a living person at that, as opposed to a fictional character? I did a lot of research. I met with Jim Reston and I interviewed him. There is an added pressure, but he was at all the rehearsals so he knew what to expect. He’s cool and very easy going. He made it easy for me because he was so willing to help.
As a writer, James Reston Jr. is a creative person who has used, and continues to use, his craft as commentary on the political landscape of the times. As an actor, do you feel a similar obligation in any capacity? Yeah, I think so. Jim Reston can’t stand injustice and that’s what drives him. Nixon just personified that injustice. However, I’d say I’m more political now than when I was doing the movie. An issue that I’m passionate now is to see a Democrat in the White House. I’m not as informed as I’d like to be, but I like Obama. He’s got a Bobby Kennedy or JFK thing going on. He’s passionate and wants to do good. He wants change and I think he’s smart enough to handle it.
How do you feel about public figures like Oprah endorsing political candidates? I think it can be positive. But then again, I guess it depends what side you’re on.
If Frost/Nixon came back to Broadway, would you do it?
I probably wouldn’t do it, but I am looking to do a play soon.
How has the WGA strike affected you? It hasn’t really affected me because it affects television mainly, and I do movies, but I do think there’s a genuine sense of community among actors and striking writers. As far as award shows like the Golden Globes, I wouldn’t go because I would never cross the picket line. It’s against my principles.
What’s the best movie you’ve seen recently? No Country for Old Men. I’d love to work with the Coen brothers. They are the best American filmmakers today.
What else do you have coming up this year? Snow Angels comes out in March and Choke will be at Sundance. I’m going to London tomorrow to film a low budget sci-fi film called Moon. I play a guy that’s been living on a space station on the moon for three years. My character meets his own clone and I play both parts. They are pretty much the same, but one is three years younger and much angrier.
Do you have any resolutions for the new year? Just to be open to new things.