Actor Sam Rockwell, director Clark Gregg and author Chuck Palahniuk
have to hand it to David Duchovny. He brings sex addiction to the
public's attention, though it certainly wasn't his intention. While
there are far bigger issues to lay on the common consciousness, his
antics and subsequent separation from spouse Tea Leoni have put a
whole new focus on their cinematic vehicle, Choke one of
the most talked about films at this year's Sundance Film Festival.
No wonder, since the film's lead character Victor Mancini the
"sort of" hero of gonzo cult author Palahniuk's convoluted novel
is both a sex addict and quasi-grifter who is using a choking scheme
to pay for his mentally addled mother. Whether at his mom's nursing
home, his 12-step SA recovery program or his part time job as a
performer at a reconstructed colonial village (nee Williamsburg),
Mancini finds partners everywhere to share his sexual obsession.
From bathroom to barn, Mancini gets off by flashing back to his
twisted past. The only woman Mancini can't perform with is Dr. Paige
(Kelly Macdonald), but she only wants to do it in the chapel which
totally fucks him up.
In playing Choke's lead character, Rockwell considers an
obsession with his pee-pee essential to the job. But you have to
give Rockwell credit; he isn't worried about his penis size; he
admits it's just the average tool nothing to turn him into an AVN
Award winning porn star.
But in making this absurd character plausible, Rockwell faced the
kind of challenge that he's grappled with throughout his unique and
pretty quirky career. Whether he's playing a 19th century American
like Charley Ford (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward
Robert Ford) or the loopy Guy Fleegman in the Star Trek parody
Galaxy Quest, Rockwell defies laying down an obvious
rendition of a character in a film where its logic defies easy
terms of the smart, weird and quirky spectrum you have explored
throughout your film career (Galaxy Quest, Snow Angels,
Confessions of a Dangerous Mind), where do you place this
He's all that [smart, weird and quirky], isn't he? You've got to be,
sort of... He's manipulative. You remember a movie called Tom
Jones starring Albert Finney? I thought it was like that, a kind
of comedic psychoanalysis of a Casanova. And if you meet a real
ladies' man, they're usually not really good-looking guys, and
they're really empty inside. That kind of stuff is fun for a while,
and then it just turns into an empty pit. That's what this movie
does well, it gets inside the head of a ladies' man, so to speak,
and we find what it is to really be a Casanova instead of
glamorizing it. That's what I think is cool about this movie... and
Since it's based on cult writer Chuck Palahniuk's wacky novel (he
also had the hit
Fight Club), that's what appealed to you with this role?
It's just challenging material. It's a great part because it's like
a comedic Hamlet. It's got a lot going on, a lot of internal
With all that internal conflict, how did you get into his head and
wrap your head around Victor Mancini, and his life?
Therapy, a lot of therapy [laughs]. Clark and I did some
research. Brad Hanke [who plays Victor's best buddy Denny] and I
went to some sex addict meetings, anonymously most of the time...
In New York?
In New York and Los Angeles. I also watched this documentary, and
there was a sex therapist named Sean, and talking to him about it
helped me a lot actually. It's a very serious condition, nothing to
be laughed about. It's pretty severe. It goes from anything like
chronic masturbation to prostitution to people who've been molested
as a kid, so it's very serious. It's like an eating disorder more
than something like alcoholism.
Because it's emotionally rather than physically addictive?
Exactly. Because it's about filling that hole and sort of numbing
yourself. I think a lot of repressed anger is involved, trying to
numb that anger. What they say about it is, if sex addicts are
hungry, they have sex; if they're angry, they have sex; if they're
sad, they have sex, so they attribute it to every emotion. If
they're celebrating, they have sex. So it's like that.
and affection are separate for them?
Yeah, they can compartmentalize like that, but also, it's just a
weird. I think everybody at some point, well, maybe not everybody,
but a lot of people, especially people who live in cities I feel
like urban people especially, because they're ambitious or
something, and they have careers I know that I have in the past
compartmentalized intimacy and sexuality. Finding real intimacy is
integrating eroticism and love.... That's the problem with
the sex addict is that they separate the two, to an extreme extent.
So, of the movies you've done, this one has the most sex scenes with
Oh fucking hell yeah.
It was a challenge to vary the different sex scenes?
It was tricky, pretty silly stuff, and not erotic at all. At one
point, I was having an orgasm on a close-up, and I'm basically
fucking a camera. We had done an eighteen-hour day, and we were
losing it. We were exhausted, and it's one of those great out-takes,
and I just started laughing. I was trying to fake cum, and it's
ridiculous. I just lost it.
How do you feel about frontal nudity?
Men or women?
I'm not a fan of it. If it shrivels up, then I'm not a fan. I've had
to do frontal nudity after diving into cold water, so I'm not a big
fan of it. I've done it because I felt it said something about the
character. With Box of Moonlight or a movie like Lawn Dogs,
it says something about the character, it shows something about
their freedom, and who they are as people, so it is relevant to the
film, whereas if it's just gratuitous, it's just not, you know... I
mean, I was in The Green Mile and I showed my ass, and I very
carefully asked the Academy Award-winning makeup artist Lois Burwell
if she would help paint zits on my ass, because it was described
[that way] in the book. Sometimes it's the opposite, where your
vanity comes into play, where you want your ass to be tan, or The
Green Mile, that character; he's like a puss ball.
Well, you looked good.
you mentioned frontal nudity and was it important to "your
character"... What do you think about using a prosthetic so that you
look bigger than you are.
I suppose [I would] if it were restoration theater? I don't really
give a shit. I'm a medium-sized man; I have an average sized penis.
I wouldn't say I'm small or well-endowed. I'm sort of in between. I
don't really care unless... I'm not planning to show my penis again
on film, but it would depend on the movie I guess.
What do you look for in a role? Would you hold out for a lead rather
than take a supporting role?
I've done that, yeah. I don't like doing supporting parts because
you do a lot of waiting around. That's the long and short of it. I
like to act. I show up and I want to act.
Talk about an acting challenge; the choking scene was very intense
and had amazing action. How did you work it out?
That was funny stuff. We had a medic nearby just in case it got a
little funky. I used tofu or marshmallows. We'd use different food
products. I was pretending, I was faking it, but you know, you have
to stop breathing a little bit to get the real effect of making it
look like you're really choking, otherwise it feels fake, and then I
feel like I'm full of shit, so I kind of stop breathing a little
bit, and sometimes you'd hyper-ventilate or get a little spacey
Did you ever perform the Heimlich maneuver?
No. Did you?
It was interesting. What was it like working with Anjelica
[Huston]? Two or
three times you're doing those scenes with her and a real tear falls
down her cheek.
Oh, yeah, she's the real deal.
How did you two talk about interacting because it's supposed to be a
mother/son situation where the mother doesn't recognize him as her
son. It's really weird.
Yeah, it's a very weird relationship. We rehearsed a little bit. It
was pretty much on the page, what needed to happen. It was in the
book, there was a lot of subtext in the book, and we referred to the
book a little bit and her character is really mapped out in the
book. Anjelica did all that homework, and it really pops off the
screen what she does, and we just have the same work ethic, the same
aesthetic about acting. She's just amazing. She's all that and a bag
of chips. She's present, she's visceral, she's available, she's
wise, she's lovely, she's like a little girl, and she's a wise,
sage-like actress. She's glamorous, and she's fantastic, man. She's
incredible. She was having a gin and tonic at the wrap party and I
think she had the flu. She's a trooper. She's badass, you know what
I mean. I just love her. I think she's just fuckin' amazing.
took eight years for Clark to get this made from when he got this
started. How long were you associated with this project and did you
have a lot of input into what happened to it once it was going?
It happened really quickly. We almost didn't make the movie, and
Dave Matthews' company came to the rescue.
Of the Dave Matthews' band?
Yes. He has a production company. He did Joshua too [Rockwell
played the lead in this suspense film]. He and Johnathan Dorfman
[the producer]. Their company pulled it together and they saved us.
Who got to them?
Somebody called them, because I had already done Joshua with
them, and they said, "You know, we need help, this is going south."
So we got them in, and made this movie. I got the call. Clark had
sent the script my way. I'd done a play with Clark almost 20 years
ago. It was a Canadian play at the Orpheum called "Unidentified
Human Remains and the True Nature of Love."
You were naked?
Almost everybody was naked except for Clark. So it was funny that we
did the play and then ended up doing this movie. I knew Clark from
years ago, in the late '80s or early '90s, and heard he wrote this
script that he became a writer, that it was based on a book by the
guy who wrote Fight Club, and I was like, "Wow, I'm gonna
check this out." The description of it [was something like]
"Colonial theme park sex addict." I was in from the description. I
was like, "What the hell." I read it, and thought it was great, and
thought it was clever...
You read the book?
I read the screenplay that he adapted first, and then I read the
book later. So I called him after I read the screenplay. We talked
for a while, and then he said, "What do you think?" I said, "I see
it like this. It reminds me of The Fisher King... blah blah
blah,' and he's like, "Yeah, that's what I'm seeing; nobody sees it
like that." We started talking about it, and then we went after some
women; we got Anjelica, and got Kelly, and
then Brad came in. Clark was like, "That's our Denny."
were walking around the set listening to an audio tape of the book.
Yeah, Chuck reading the book. That got it into my head, the
repetition of listening to it over and over.
When you're working on a project that's based on a book like this
Snow Angels [starring Rockwell and directed by David Gordon
Green], do you look to the book to help you on a character?
Oh, absolutely. You get all that subtext. You get all that stuff
that the character's thinking when he's not talking. I think Meryl
Streep said, "It's great, if you're a lazy actor..." which is funny,
coming from her. The book usually gives you what they're
Chuck was asked, "Do you ever think of actors when you're writing
your movies? What about Sam Rockwell?" and he said, "I always think
of Sam as the parts he plays. I don't think of Sam Rockwell as Sam
Rockwell." Is that a compliment to be an actors actor or is it
frustrating that people think of Sam Rockwell as the parts you play?
Well, that's cool. I'm fine with that. I get recognized plenty, and
I'm happy with the level it's at right now; I don't need it to be
any more. I just want the good parts and I just want to make a
living. I've done all that. I've been on the cover of magazines, and
it gets old. I've seen more famous people, how hard it is for them,
and it's no picnic. Even my friend Justin Long he's the Mac guy
gets recognized as much as Tom Cruise, so I don't envy that
position. That's hard; I've seen it.
like to be able to go out to dinner without having paparazzi and
you've worked with Brad Pitt!
Yeah, he's got his hands full. He can't go anywhere. Those guys
happen to have their feet planted in the ground better than a lot of
movie stars, you know? George [Clooney] and Tom Hanks should teach a
class on how to behave if you're a movie star. I don't know how the
fuck they do it, but they seem to be generous, normal people.
They've always got a smile for the crew. I can't be like that. I'm
grouchy. It's an amazing quality.
When you went to the Sex Anonymous meetings did some people
I don't know if they did or not. I know one meeting they did... we
made it public, we sort of said, He's an actor, researching, but the
rest of the meetings, I think I got away with being anonymous.
Did you tell fake stories?
Did you disguise yourself?
I might have put on some glasses...