Interview: Sam Rockwell on Moon, Working With David Bowie's Son Duncan Jones, and Not Punching Mickey Rourke
"Mickey Rourke and I don't punch each other physically, but we do punch each other in other ways--it's emotional."
Sam Rockwell is an actor who's both comfortable propping up bigger stars--he was a supporting player alongside Brad Pitt in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford--and, as he did playing the delusional game show host Chuck Barris in Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, carrying scenes through a blend of empathy, humor and manic energy. But never before has he had to bear a load like he does in Moon, a heavily conceptual sci-fi drama that opens this Friday. In the second feature from director Duncan Jones (David Bowie's son), Rockwell, 40, performs admirably in what often feels like a one-man theater production. Accompanied on a moon station by only a chatty but deceptive computer named Gerty (voiced by Kevin Spacey and modeled on Hal from Kubrick's 2001), Rockwell's Sam Bell is an employee of an American corporation that's figured out how to harvest lunar energy. Aside from his brief conversations with Gerty and some Earth-bound crewmates, Rockwell's character is alone in virtually every scene--that is, until his clone shows up, calling into question everything from Bell's occupation to his identity.
Speaking by phone recently from outside Los Angeles, Rockwell talked about the challenges of performing opposite inanimate objects, the influence of a World War II drama starring the elder Bowie, and facing off against Mickey Rourke in his current project, Iron Man 2.
So I hear you've got a fairly extensive day tomorrow?
I've got a scene with Mickey Rourke.
Do you get to punch Mickey Rourke, or does he hit you? Because there must be some kind of violence.
We don't punch each other physically, but we do punch each other in other ways--it's emotional.
So, Moon. When the script came to you I bet it looked like something that might be tough to pull off.
Well, yeah definitely. It was a daunting acting challenge; it was a very, very intimidating idea. So it took a while to get my head around it.
Why was that? Because you're pretty much the whole show? If it's bad it's all on you, if it's great it's all on you, too.
That's exactly right. But we've got Kevin Spacey, and we've got some wonderful actors doing transmissions back to Earth.
I had worked on the script with the director, Duncan Jones, and we did some improvisations and we put them on videotape. I had a body double, and he was a young actor who I would work with sometimes. And sometimes I would work with a tennis ball, and I would act with myself. It was pretty complicated.
What is that like, acting by yourself--did you learn something about yourself as an actor?
My sense of timing came in handy. Whether that be comic timing, or like dance or something. Timing was very instrumental in making it work.
Were you able to ad-lib because you were alone, or did you stick to the script?
The first [take] that you'd shoot you'd have more room for improvisation. The second one you'd have to get it within the window of time--you had a space of time for your line. I could change the ad-libs as long as they fit the same amounts of beats. You could ad-lib but you had to be very clever about it, otherwise it wouldn't work. I watched Jeremy Irons in Dead Ringers quite a bit. I watched a few other buddy movies--Midnight Cowboy was definitely something I watched quite a bit.