One would be hard pressed to meet two more charming, easy-going people than Oscar-winner Marisa Tomei and Sam Rockwell, who co-star together in “Loitering with Intent,” now in competition at the Tribeca Film Festival. Their friends and fellow New York actors Michael Godere and Ivan Martin cowrote and star in the film, which centers on two struggling actors who flee to the country in hopes of knocking out a neo-noir screenplay. Instead of finding peace and quiet, they get caught up in the antics of the playful but stubborn Gigi (Tomei) and boyfriend Wayne (Rockwell), who is trying to woo her back after proposing and disappearing. What keeps the film going is the great chemistry of the ensemble cast, helmed by Tomei’s infectious, warm energy and Rockwell’s humorously intimidating yet sincere intensity. They both add intriguing depth to what otherwise, in less talented hands, might have become the stereotypical dramedy of distressed lovers.
Two of today’s most ubiquitous, versatile, and dependably strong actors, Tomei and Rockwell are also great friends, and they appear completely at ease with each other both onscreen and sitting side by side for an interview. They spoke to Indiewire about the newfound freedom of working with friends, the directors they admire, and potentially co-starring in an HBO biopic miniseries (masterminded during the course of the interview).
While waiting for Tomei to arrive, Rockwell told me a little about working with Lynn Shelton on the upcoming “Laggies”: “It was great. She’s amazing– Lynn Shelton–, and I had a great time with her. She’s really talented, easy to work with and created a safe atmosphere. She was lovely, and I had a lot of fun.” Moving on to casting, he began to explain, “It was supposed to be Anne Hathaway, and then she fell out, and then we got Keira [Knightley].”
At that point, Tomei walked in, and they gave each other a big, long hug. They briefly caught up, with Tomei telling him she is really happy with the film, which she had just seen the night prior, and the two praising each other’s performances.
You’re both producers on the film. How did you become involved with the project?
Sam Rockwell: We’re old friends with Ivan [Martin]. She’s known him longer than I have, but I’ve known him for over twenty years. We met Mike….
Marisa Tomei: …Through Ivan. We’re in the same social circle—New York people who do theater and movies. So, it was nice. Ivan unites us.
SR: Marisa and I always wanted to work together. We had a couple of chances, but it didn’t work out.
MT: So our friends had to write us something.
SR: That’s right. It was very exciting.
Did they write the roles with you in mind?
SR: Yes, they did. Brian Geraghty as well.
MT: They really wanted to write something that we’d be excited to play as performers. It wasn’t just that we’re all friends and want to have a good time. They really, really put a lot into thinking about what we’d be excited about.
SR: It wasn’t just doing a favor for friends. It was supposed to be fun for all of us.
Did you see the script before agreeing?
S: Yes, of course. [In a deep voice] Script approval! You have to have script approval. We read it out loud at your [Marisa’s] apartment. Marisa really helped with the writing.
MT: The guys showed it to me. I was staying at the Bowery, on a really nice spring day like this, and we had lunch outside. They were really excited and nervous and said, “Read it [the script] and tell us what you really think.” I read it, met with them and was able to say it was really funny. Ivan writes really great letters — he’s one of the last great letter writers–, and now emails too, and it’s always such a pleasure to get his writing. It wasn’t that it was a big surprise, but it was a whole other side of them that we hadn’t seen. They know us so well and have helped us figure out other characters. They’re actors themselves. They wanted to create the break for themselves, as Ivan has said. “Unemployment” was what drove him to do this.
I didn’t really feel like I have a group, but now this is my group. This is really it. It feels a lot different making a movie like this.
SR: Absolutely. It was so much fun.
MT and SR [together]: You feel safe.
SR: It was effortless and fun. To be with such close friends and work together was so cool.
Marisa, in this and other films, you seem so comfortable and exude this great confidence. Were you always like that or did that have to be developed throughout your career?
MT: I didn’t feel that way. In this one, though, I felt like I was let out of a cage. Everything, even my hair, was like what I wanted it to be in my mind. Usually, the edges get scrubbed away, even in independent movies. Part of it is me not feeling completely safe, but it’s also people on the other end, who are filming it, who are not receiving what I’m trying to give.
SR: People try to sit on your impulses?
MT: Yes. The edginess of anger or sex gets scrubbed out. There’s a tidiness that I really don’t like. I don’t know if you [Sam] feel that way. It has something to do with being a female. These guys [Martin and Godere] love me for how I am. They know me; they’ve seen me through many decades of my life. I wasn’t scared that I was going to be exploited or misrepresented. Things get whitewashed, and the guys talk about that in the movie—how society wants to eek the individuality out of everything. Individuality is lost, in culture but also in characters.
Now that I’m freed by my friends, who knows what will come out.
Does it make you want to do more movies written by your friends?
Are either of you yourselves interested in writing or directing?
SR: I’m not a big multi-tasker. I would love to talk to actors. Sometimes I go to NYU or talk for Terry [Knickerbocker], that’s fun. I like to talking to students about acting.
MT: I want to go to that!
SR: I get all nerdy and scientific. I would love to talk to actors, but I don’t know about all the other stuff–the cameras, etc.
What’s an exercise you do?
SR: There’s a lot. I train the Meisner technique. Paraphrasing is one, where you paraphrase the line. If it’s not feeling personal to you, you put it in your own words. It’s a rehearsal technique. It’s a very simple thing to do, and the script immediately becomes more accessible.
MT: What else? I want to learn!
SR: You know. You’re a trained actress. What do you do? You’ve been doing theater for years–that’s training in itself. You’ve had teachers.
MT: But I always feel like I don’t know because I’ve never had actual training. I was coached by Kate McGregor-Stewart, but it wasn’t a formal program.
SR: I coached with a guy. It’s good to be with someone who speaks the vocabulary. Like boxing training.
MT: Because otherwise I find it lonely.
SR: You can’t work in a vacuum. It takes a village.
I love your film “Moon,” which stayed with me after I watched it. Do your characters ever haunt you after shooting?
SR: I pretty much let it go. I just get a drink and shave whatever weird facial hair I had. I have to zone out at the end of the day and watch “South Park.”
MT: But it seeps in. I don’t think it’s there, but then I realize it’s often still there.
SR: You can learn stuff from your character.
MT: That’s the best part.
SR: It’s cathartic sometimes.
Do you ever find yourself repeating your own lines later on?
SR: I feel like I have, and it’s really narcissistic. With the great lines. I’ve played Stanley Kowalski, and I’ve quoted him since he has such great dialogue.
MT: I don’t think I do, but I slip in my character’s lines in normal conversation, without the other person knowing. To get used to saying the words.
SR: What about when you had to be Cuban and do the accent?
MT: Accents, I try to stay with. That was an exciting role because I learned how to dance Cuban style and learn about Cuban culture.
In “Moon” you worked with Duncan Jones, and it was his first film. Do you find it exciting to work with first-time directors?
SR: Absolutely. It’s scary; you don’t know whether or not it will be good or not. You take a chance, and a lot of times no one sees the movie. You get lucky sometimes, and sometimes it’s not good. You have to take those chances because that’s where the great parts are. I’m not necessarily getting those opportunities other places, so I find first-time directors with great scripts. Jude Law just did a movie [“Don Hemingway”] where he’s great and completely transforms himself. He did it with with Richard Shepard, who’s not a big director but a good filmmaker, and Jude Law went there and did the smaller movie.
Who are the directors you’d want to work with?
SR: Marisa Tomei.
MT: I didn’t say I was going to direct!
SR: The Coen Brothers, P.T. Anderson, David Fincher.
MT: More Tamara Jenkins. I would like to work with Kelly Reichardt.
SR: What’d she do?
MT: “Wendy and Lucy” and “Old Joy.”
SR: Oh, I just saw “Old Joy”; it’s great. She’s on my list too.
MT: Also: Lynne Shelton. I just saw her new movie [“Laggies”], that he’s in, at Sundance. It’s great, and he’s amazing in it.
You’re a scene-stealer, but what actors have most challenged you?
SR: We’ve challenged each other, but I can think of a lot of people.
MT: Right now, Alfred Molina and John Lithgow [in “Love is Strange”].
SR: She’s working with some great actors right now: Michael C. Hall, Toni Colette, and Tracy Letts [in the Broadway play “The Realistic Joneses”]. I need to do some more theater. It’s been four years now.
Would you star in TV?
SR: Possibly, you never know.
MT: Yeah, I want to do a TV show. I want a regular schedule, a cable schedule.
You should do something together.
SR: We should do a biopic.
MT: Who could we be?
SR: We could do that story about the guy and the woman. That’s the one we should do.
MT: Oh, the guy and the woman story!
S: You know the story about the man who threw acid in her face, and they’re still together. She’s blind, and they’re still together. It’s an amazing story. Did you see the documentary about them.
MT: Yes! It’s fabulous. But they’re old now. I think Fisher [Stevens] has the rights to that.
SR: You and I can do that. You and I would kill that.
MT: What was the name of that?…. “Crazy Love”!
S: That’s it! It can be an HBO biopic. There’s real character stuff there.
MT: Let’s talk to Fisher about it; I’ll text him…. Sarah Polley! Put her down for me.
S: Put her down for me too!