Sam Rockwell: The Movieline Interview


Sam Rockwell began 2009 in Sundance's best one-man show, and he'll end it this week in one of Hollywood's higher-octane holiday ensembles. Everybody's Fine features Rockwell as the son of Frank Poole (Robert De Niro), a retired widower who hits the road to visit his grown children scattered throughout the United States. Among them are his married ad-exec daughter in Chicago (Kate Beckinsale), his youngest girl in Vegas (Drew Barrymore), and his musician son (Rockwell) in Denver. By bus, train and plane, Frank reconnects with his kids in a series of surprise visits that brings every last family secret -- some more dire than others -- around for reckoning. (Director Kirk Jones adapted the story from Giuseppe Tornatore's 1990 film Stanno Tutti Bene.) Talking to Movieline recently in New York, Rockwell discussed his Deer Hunter powwow with De Niro, the do's and dont's of acting in a remake and the diminishing returns of text messaging.

I wanted to start by asking about your own upbringing, which was a bit bohemian in a way. What was your relationship with your parents like, and what kind of support did they offer?

It was a lot of... [pause] fun, but I sort of grew up quickly. My parents were both actors; my dad sort of quite early on. My mother acted for a while, and now she's a painter. So it was eclectic and weird, but now I'm here.

How did this movie affect your recollections of that time, or even your relationship with your parents today?

Mine's different. I don't keep secrets from my parents, really; it's pretty open. Especially with my father. I had to use a leap of imagination and faith with this one. But it was just fun working with Robert De Niro, because he's such a hero of mine.

What was your first meeting like?

It was great. I just went and met with him. He needed to meet me, had to have approval of the cast. He didn't know me very well; he'd seen a movie I'd done or something. We met basically so Bob could make sure I wasn't an asshole, and I was cast. But it was very easy working with him. It was very simple.

When you're working with an actor like De Niro, who is so influential to so many people, it there necessarily a sort of father-son dynamic that is established?

There is a generation gap there. He's about the same age as my father. Anyway, Bob keeps to himself. He's very friendly, very affable. I got the impression that he liked me; I certainly liked him. It seemed like we were getting along. I think he's very quiet, he's on his phone a little bit, then he shows up and we do a take. I asked him a few questions about The Deer Hunter and stuff.

Like what?

I think I asked him about the Russian roulette scene, and he talked about... I think there were some sketchy moments hanging from a helicopter and stuff like that. I don't know if I got to the bottom of what I wanted to get out of him; I was really interested in the acting in the Russian roulette scene. It was so intense. I just wanted to know a little bit about their preparation for that. In between takes we had these little conversations that were interrupted, and then you've got to go and do something else.

To what degree is a film set like a family?

It's sort of a false sense of family. That is, if you spend a lot of time. On this one I was visiting a lot; I was very much a guest on the set. When you work more intensely, it becomes a family for sure. It was a very nice atmosphere on this set; it was very easy. It reminded me of Matchstick Men or something. There were no hot tempers, there was no stress. They had enough money on this film that they could do 10 or 12 takes. A lot of time you're on a $3 million or $5 million movie, and you get three or four takes or something. You're working on a four- or five-week schedule, and there's a lot of tension. This was a nice, medium-sized movie. It wasn't too luxurious, and it wasn't poverty-stricken either. It was a nice, mellow set -- just enough to make a decent movie. It's hard to make a good movie in four weeks. It's hard. I've done it, but it's not easy. It's the exception to the rule.

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