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Sam Rockwell talks science fiction and his new film ‘Moon’

Posted by GoreMaster Special Effects on June 18, 2009


The last time Sam Rockwell portrayed a space traveler, he was a dim-witted, two-headed alien politician in “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”

   The 40-year-old San Francisco native wasn’t new to the realm of sci-fi comedy. In the 1999 “Star Trek” spoof, “Galaxy Quest,” he was featured as a hapless fan-turned-hero.

With “Moon,” now showing in limited release, the actor revisits the final frontier. But this time he isn’t playing for laughs. He stars as an astronaut named Sam stationed on a lonely lunar base where a future corporation mines the soil for renewable energy. Sam’s only company is a computer — voiced by Kevin Spacey — until he discovers an interloper who looks exactly like him.

   The $5 million indie was specifically written for Rockwell, and showcases his ability to vanish into character. Debut director Duncan Jones (son of David Bowie) used a combination of low-tech effects, makeup and body doubles to create the illusion of Sam sparring with his replicant.

   In his two-decade career, Rockwell has struck a balance between the multiplex and the arthouse, playing the villain in “Charlie’s Angels,” but later opting for smaller pictures like “Made,” “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind” and “Choke,” which was shot in Montclair and Verona. He was last seen in the Oscar-nominated “Frost/Nixon” and he’s currently at work on a biggie, “Iron Man 2,” as the evil Justin Hammer, opposite Robert Downey Jr.

   We spoke with Rockwell about the moon, Montclair and “Iron Man” during a phone interview last week.

Q. It must have been strange for you to see “Moon” for the first time on screen.

A. It was surreal.                                                                            

Q. Just as far as the performance goes, initially I was concentrating on how you managed to achieve the effects. But it got to a point where I was so engaged in the story that I wasn’t thinking about how you were able to shoot the scenes.

A. That’s awesome. Then we succeeded.

Q. This all come out of a conversation that you had with Duncan?

A. We talked about another project and then he wrote this script. We talked about science fiction that we liked: “Blade Runner,” “Silent Running.”

Q. You knew that he wrote the script specifically for you?  

A. I was really flattered that the character’s name is Sam.

Q. Was there any point when you wondered how you were going to accomplish this? It’s a big lift for a single performer.

A. The only time that it had successfully been done was “Dead Ringers,” with Jeremy Irons, and “Adaptation.”

Q. But those films had other actors. This one really hinges on a single performer. How did you prepare for this performance?

A. I just took it on. It was a low-budget movie and nobody would see it. As I started to work on it, I realized how f-ed I was. I became more and more daunted the closer I got to shooting. Doing something like “Dead Ringers” for three months is one thing. Shooting this in 33 days is another.

Q. Where does this rank in difficulty compared with things you’ve done in the past, like playing Chuck Barris?

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A. Chuck Barris was a marathon. This was more of a sprint, a big sprint. On one hand, there is a lot of responsibility, but on the other hand, you have a lot of control because you’re playing both parts. It was fun for me to go “Hey, I’m in the driver’s seat.”

Q. Did you shoot a certain section each day and do the reversal the next day?

A. I rehearsed both ends and then went to makeup. I’d shoot one of them and the sound guy would put that take on an iPod so I could have my own voice to act against. I would be acting with that voice but looking at a tennis ball or a piece of tape or body double/actor Robin Chalk.

Q. Did the process of going into makeup help distinguish one character from the other?

A. Absolutely. It gave me enough time, a half-hour, to get back to the other character’s head and look at the script and realize where we are in the story.

Q. How long was a typical day?

A. It was 6 in the morning until 7 at night.

Q. It sounds like a marathon.

A. It was a shorter marathon.                         

Q. Maybe a half-marathon. What do you think this film says to an audience in terms of the way we look at the world at the moment?

A. It’s saying a lot about how we’re exploiting the work force.

Q. It reminded me of “Alien” because in that movie, the people in space are blue-collar characters. They weren’t astronauts. They were more like truckers.

A. That was very much an influence. We were directly stealing from “Alien.”

Q. Are you a big fan of sci-fi?

A. I’ve always been a fan and I finally got to do a sci-fi drama.

Q. I have to ask you about “Iron Man 2.” It’s an interesting franchise because it’s directed by Jon Favreau, who’s from a comedy background. Do you think he brings different things to the table?

A. He does. Favreau comes from a more Cassavetes kind of filmmaking, so that changes it and improves it. We’ve been doing lot of improv. Favreau is very open to suggestions, and Downey’s a great improviser.

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