Sam Rockwell is one of those actors whose mere presence in a movie can elicit excitement for a project that could have otherwise easily been written off. No matter what he’s in—big budget nonsense like “Charlie’s Angels” or something like Duncan Jones‘ moody, micro-budget “Moon“—Rockwell is sure to turn in a performance that’s downright electric (or electrified, maybe). His newest film is “A Single Shot,” which opens this weekend (read our review). A twisty, turn-y film noir about a down-on-his-luck hunter who makes a fatally wrong shot, killing a young woman in the woods, Rockwell is as intense as he usually is goofy, his manic energy turned inward, for a kind of bottled fury. It’s quite a performance, especially considering the fine actors he’s surrounded by (William H. Macy, Jeffrey Wright and Jason Isaacs are among his costars).
We got a chance to talk to Rockwell about what it was like making “A Single Shot,” the make-up of his performance, who came up with a “funny fucking line” from “The Sitter,” the potential for more Marvel films, what the hell everyone was thinking during the making of “Cowboys & Aliens,” and more.
What brought you to this project?
I think a lot of it was, doing a role that’s internal like that is fun for me. I’ve done these and they’re always kind of fun to tell a story through your face and not so much dialogue. Telling a story like that is fun, I think. Well yeah, it’s fun. But it’s a different challenge, for me, to tell a story in a very simple way and not do so much schmackting, so to speak.
Do you have any favorite movies of this genre? And was your performance inspired by any of those?
I love “Badlands” and “One False Move” and a few of those genre movies and yeah I do think my performance was inspired by some of them, particularly “Tender Mercies,” with Robert Duvall. That comes to mind, a little bit. Tommy Lee Jones in “Executioner’s Song” is a good one. Movies like that.
Did you read the book before you signed on? And did you take anything from the book that wasn’t in the screenplay?
Yeah, I took a lot from the book. I took some stuff and put it back in. I would add little bits and pieces of book details.
Let’s talk about your costars, all these great actors sort of pop up…
Yeah, it was really a pleasure. It was like we were hosting a party and we had all these guests arrive. We’d entertain one guest for a while and then it was on to the next guest. At one point Melissa Leo was in the film but that scene was cut. It just goes on and on. There are just so many people—Jeffrey Wright, Ted Levine, I’ve always liked Joe Anderson‘s work. We got really lucky.
With so many distinct actors and styles was there ever a clash?
I think we got lucky because everybody was on the same page. Even Bill Macy, whose character is a little grandiose, he knew what movie he was in. Everybody kind of knew it was a genre, film noir film and we got lucky with the talent and there was a lot of love and luck involved getting these actors.
Another small movie that you were in that was all for the love was “Iron Man 2.” Has Marvel ever talked about you coming back?
You know… I don’t have any contract with them but they might bring my character back. I don’t know. I would be game, to come back, though, yeah.
You were in “The Sitter” with David Gordon Green and at one point there was a much weirder version of the movie. Have you ever pressured him to release that version?
You know, that’s a good question. There was a great monologue that was cut in the Chinese restaurant where I tell a story, where I have a backstory with Method Man, who shows up at the end of the film when they beat the shit out of me, and I tell a story about how I was emotionally butt-fucked. It’s a great, funny monologue. It was cut for time but it’s got to be somewhere on the DVD, it’s really funny. David and I, left to our own devices, probably would have made a much different film. But there were a lot of cooks in the stew with that one.
Where did the line “Put a quarter in my butt, let’s get this party farted” come from?
That came from David Gordon Green. That’s a funny fucking line.
And you’re going to be in the new “Poltergeist” right?
Well, we’re in the early stages of talks but it looks good, yeah, depending on some script rewrites and things. All I can say is that the guy is going to be a little bit more down on his luck.
At one point you were going to do the Duncan Jones movie “Mute…”
Well, that looks like it’s going to be an animated cartoon now.
So would you do a voice?
You go between huge movies like “Cowboys & Aliens” to things like “Single Shot.” Will you try to continue that?
Yeah, you want to shake it up a little. But it’s always about the part and the story and the people you’re surrounded by.
What was your take on the whole “Cowboys & Aliens” situation?
I met some great people and I had a lot of fun. I’m really proud of what we did on that movie. What Jon [Favreau] did is, he really did his homework, in terms of watching all the John Ford movies and making sure that it was really authentic. And then you throw all these monsters in and a little bit of “Close Encounters of the Third” kind. It was a fascinating concept. I think the problem was that the title threw everybody off a little bit, because they thought it was a comedy. But it was exactly what it is. I thought the tone of it was really interesting, mixing classic western archetypes with this sci-fi concepts and Daniel Craig is the Steve McQueen role in “The Magnificent Seven” and I’m the Jimmy Stewart archetype in ‘Liberty Valance.’ If you keep that in mind and watch it again, I think it was pretty clever what Jon did.
“A Single Shot” opens this weekend in limited release.