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Interview: Sam Rockwell, Marisa Tomei And ‘Loitering With Intent’ Filmmakers Talk Road Trips, Movies About Writers & More

Interview: Sam Rockwell, Marisa Tomei And 'Loitering With Intent' Filmmakers Talk Road Trips, Movies About Writers & More

Budding screenwriters Ivan Martin and Michael Godere had more than a few challenges on their hands when they set out to collaborate on their first screenplay since 2010’s “Daylight.” First, as it goes, they needed an idea. An idea that would grant them the opportunity not only to star in the film together, but to allot interesting roles for their friends. Furthermore, an idea that might make back some of the gas money they’d expend on preparatory California road trips with Marisa Tomei… a crucial component of any good movie’s pre-production stages.

Ultimately, this harried writing process became the star of Martin and Godere’s dramatic comedy “Loitering with Intent” (read our review), which we got a chance to discuss with both writers and stars, supporting players Tomei and Sam Rockwell, and director Adam Rapp. Although the fivesome took up the long end of a sizeable conference table, the conversation never felt like a boardroom meeting, but instead like a rap session with a group of friends rattling off ideas.

While Godere lamented Martin’s command of the room and the writing process (in keeping with their “Loitering with Intent” characters), Tomei laughed invitingly, Rockwell lay some self-deprecating quips, and Rapp chimed in with the occasional straight-faced one-liner. But the group’s devotion to the craft and the movie business shone through, allowing for some interesting revelations about their new project.

I was told there was a funny story behind how this all got started…
Ivan Martin: It depends on who it’s funny to. Part of the reason that it all got started is that this character [Michael Godere] and myself were unemployed, and decided that we wanted to create something. Because we love movies and we wanted to get involved. So that… maybe that’s funny?

Unemployment does come with the territory of working in the arts.
Ivan Martin: Isn’t it something like 99 or 96 percent of actors in the union at any one time are unemployed?

Michael Godere: It’s a collection of funny stories. We wrote it, and the first person to read it was Marisa [Tomei], and she was very receptive to it, and kind. She took us to lunch, and gave us a toast. We half thought she was taking us to lunch to let us down easy. Like, “She wants to go to lunch?!” But we went to lunch and she was very sweet. And then we were working with her very extensively on developing the part and enriching the script. And then we worked with Sammy [Rockwell], and Brian [Geraghty] came in. So we had a lot of adventures, individually and collectively, as we were doing that. Workshopping and refining the script. And then Adam [Rapp] came in…

Adam Rapp: And that’s when the thing with the camel happened. [Everyone laughs]

MG: That’s right. I didn’t want to let the cat out of the bag.

IM: When we were workshopping it, we did road trip with Marisa, where she in fact was elected to drive because she’s the best driver And we did work while we were driving.

Marisa Tomei: I think he keeps saying I’m the best driver so I’ll just keep driving. It kind of does work!

IM: She’s the best driver! She’s the fastest driver.

AR: Why were you the designated driver? Is it because you were the best driver?

MT: I am definitely the best driver of the three of us. It’s actually no contest.

MG: She’s the best driver. She had her leg up, she’s cruisin’… when I was driving, I was like this [hunched over the wheel]. I made the big mistake of initiating a majority rules thing. We got in the car, and I’m like, “We can’t be nitpicking over everything—”

MT: About the script.

MG: Right, about the script. I said, “So, majority rules here.” We had to agree to then go on a track and move on. They’re like, “Yeah, all right, Mike. We can do that.” And then as we go on, I lost every, every single vote. Script things, and then I’d go inside to get coffee and I’d come out—we’re in Big Sur, we’re nestled in, we’re writing—and it’s like, “We’re going to…” Where were we going?

IM: Point Reyes.

MG: Yeah, Point Reyes. “We’re going to Point Reyes.” And I’m like, “No we’re not, man. We’re settled, we’re cruising.” And they’re like, “Oh, let’s take a vote.” [Everyone laughs]

MT: The majority rules thing. Because [Ivan] and I think alike.

IM: We’re joined at the head.

MT: We have twin mindsets. Which is actually probably part of what we wanted to talk about in the movie. We wanted to talk about how to keep that flow of life, and get the fun, the debauchery, and all the things that make life delicious and smooth. But at the same, you want to try to achieve certain goals. So what that’s like, between that push and pull that are inside all of us, and also represented by these two different characters. That’s something that we talked about a lot in our lives, so it’s also part of what we were talking about in the car on the trip.

IM: There is an odd couple thing between them. They are a bit like a married couple.

What comes through in the movie seems like a very personal story to all of you. Do you think something this personal necessarily had to be about the writing process?
IM: I don’t think that it began that way. I think we just arrived at that. And I think everybody in this room—we’ve talked a lot about this with Adam—identifies with the creative process, and also the difficulties along the way. All of these guys had to start somewhere too, so they recognize that world. I don’t think we began necessarily with that in mind, but that was what was pertinent to us in that moment, and it sort of grew from there.

MT: And that section where you guys throw out all of those ideas to each other. Wasn’t that kind of a mirror of what had happened before you landed on the “writing process” idea?

IM: It’s true.

MG: Ivan and I had worked on another movie together as writers called “Daylight,” with the director David Barker. We had a lot of fun with that, and it’s a genre that we like. So, I don’t know what we were doing, but we were spit-balling a lot of ideas and a lot of things that we wanted to do, and had in mind for [Marisa and Sam], and somehow this story of maybe not knowing what to write about started to shape the seeds. We started using some of those moments, when we were exploring, to throw into the kitty. “Oh, that could be a scene in the movie.” So there was a loose grab of stuff that we were finding early on.

I’m sure you’ve all seen a number of movies about the writing process—anything from “The Shining” to “Barton Fink” to “Adaptation.” Is there anything that “Loitering with Intent” brings to that genre or subgenre that you haven’t seen before?
AR: The fun thing about it is, a lot of the movies—”Barton Fink,” and those few that you just referenced—ultimately, it’s about people. Ultimately, there’s a bait and switch from watching people sit down at a typewriter, and then all of a sudden it’s about people in rooms together, what they want from each other, how they’re going to get it. Those questions are asked. It’s about lives. I think they do a great job in the film of articulating what it is to be a restless artist and wanting to create an opportunity, and wanting to transcend beyond their circumstances. And then they arrive at this bucolic place.

I think a lot of films hit that trope in a really good way, in an interesting way. Even if you look at “Withnail & I,” which is not necessarily about writing or the writing process, but about restless artists and actors. And what it means to be an actor. What is persona? And who are you to your best friend when you are an actor and your best friend is an actor? There are so many interesting questions, and I think that the thing that takes it above all that is that ultimately the film is about people and longing and loneliness. And then, you know, it gets away from some of the trappings of the stuff that we’ve seen a million times, and I think it actually comes down to a fire pit scene where a guy stands and delivers and tells a woman he loves her. And I think that’s surprising.

I think there are some beautiful human stories with Sam’s character and what he’s dealing with, and what these guys are dealing with, and with their friendship. That was the thing that excited me about this script. It felt like it was one kind of film, and then it becomes something else. I think that’s what exciting about it. When I go see films, I’m always excited by that moment when a film expands out of what you expect it to be. So I hope that’s what we’re achieving here.

It starts out as a movie about two very “New York writer” types in the city…
MT: Actor-writers.

Right, actor-writers. And then comes this emotionally carnal story. And I’m glad that you brought up Sam’s character. It seems like you all have a rapport off camera. What about these particular characters seemed right for Sam and Marisa?
Sam Rockwell: Like these guys were saying with movies like “Withnail & I,” and the movies you mentioned—”The Trip” is another—ultimately, the writing or the acting is a vehicle for relationships, and people. That’s for sure. “The Big Chill” comes to mind as one. For me, it was a chance to play somebody a little more understated. I think Michael and Ivan knew that and wrote me [this character], because I play a lot of freak shows. I do a lot overacting. [Everyone laughs]

SR: So I was interested in doing something where I didn’t do a lot of acting, so to speak.

You’re definitely the stoic of the bunch.
SR: Yeah, and I’m not really known for that. So that’s why Mike and Ivan were, I think, writing that. And they wanted me and Marisa to work together too. And I had always wanted to work with Marisa. So it was kind of a chance to do something kind of hot with that relationship.

I think what recent audiences are probably more accustom to seeing, at least, is you playing more of the fun Raphael role that Ivan plays here.
SR: Yeah. The Mercutio.

IM: That one was taken, though. [Everyone laughs]

IM: That’s right. That’s taken baby!

SR: Yeah. That’s the Mercutio. With Michael being Romeo. I’m more hot spurs. Exactly.

AR: The nurse.

SR: Yeah, I’m the nurse.

IM: Hardly.

And Marisa, what about your character?
MT: Sam mentioned “The Big Chill,” which is a lot like how I think of [“Loitering with Intent”] too. It isn’t a movie about writing, but they are actors in the movie, and it kind of transcends into group friendship and relationships. A family relationship, but through friendship. And how you impact each other. And when you’re living your life, how that winds up blossoming your work too. Or breaking you through to a new place in your creative life, instead of getting locked into just achievement, or, “I’m going to finish the script, and I’m locking myself in a room!” And the other one’s like, “No! Unlock yourself from the room, open the windows, and jump out into the grass! And play with your friends.” Play. Deep play. How that feeds all of your life in every way. It’s underrated, actually.

And that’s what Raphael is trying to convey in some ways. And then, on the flip side, there are goals that he wants, and he has to break through that hedonistic stuff. So those things… that’s why I was interested. I was interested because I love [Michael and Ivan] and I wanted to play with them, and I wanted to play with Sam. I wanted to all be together. I’ve been on so many… this is one of the most fun times I’ve ever had. And I’ve done a lot of movies. I just wanted to be with my friends. I really wanted to be with my friends. And I respect all of them as artists. And I wanted to see, “What might we come up with?” Or start to come up with, because we hope to do more things. It was really fun. We all stayed in these little motels together. That was special.

But my character, like they did with Sam, they wrote something that would tantalize me. [Laughs] We talked about costumes a lot. It’s all based around my own wardrobe. I’m a vintage clothing person. I’m always going to the flea market in real life, for example. So there were parallels, and things they pulled out. They thought, “People don’t know this stuff about you, and we want to mine this other stuff.” Kind of like what Sam was saying, I feel like I get put into a certain box.

MG: It’s true. Ivan and I had seen all or most of Marisa’s work. This was a character that we really thought… it just came to us. This is what we want, in terms of a woman that’s wise and that’s strong and that’s making choices and inspiring people. Particularly these guys. They’re really learning from [her]. That was important. I feel that in my personal relationship with Marisa, and with her as an artist. It was something that we were really excited to do, with that type of part. And the same goes with Sam. A little more laser beam.

AR: Having written many, many, many parts for many actors who are also my friends, there’s a trap always in that you’re lionizing them, or showing the assets of who they are as a human being. These guys did a really beautiful job of writing to their nervous systems, in a way that would show range of emotion and logical complexity. Not just giving them the flavor of the moment to say something that they want to say. They gave them a tremendous tapestry to play with, which I think is really a testament to not only the trust that they all have as artists, but also the actual writing of character. It was really refreshing to see that. It wasn’t just like, “We’re going to show them off!” It was actually, “We’re going to give them a great role.” I think you can get into that trap. I know I have in the past, where I’ve written for a friend, and it was just boring. I was just writing for my friend, and these guys did much more than that.

“Loitering With Intent” is now playing on VOD and on the big screen in limited release.

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