Actor Sam Rockwell Discusses his Role in 'Choke'

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CAPTION: HEIMLICH. Sam Rockwell stars as Victor Mancini in the new comedy 'Choke,' the latest Chuck Palahniuk novel to hit the big screen.
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CAPTION: HEIMLICH. Sam Rockwell stars as Victor Mancini in the new comedy 'Choke,' the latest Chuck Palahniuk novel to hit the big screen.

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Daily Californian: What was it like playing the "anti-hero"? And how do you feel about that term, first of all?

Sam Rockwell: It's accurate, I guess that's the best way to describe it. He's an anti-hero, that's exactly what he is. It's something that's not embraced a lot. There were more of those types of anti-heroes in American films in the '70s.

DC: I don't know if I've ever seen a movie as dependent on one actor as "Choke" was on you. Did you feel a lot of pressure?

SR: Yeah, it was a lot of work, it was a lot of pressure. It was a tough shoot.

DC: Some of your scenes in "Choke" were just so ridiculous and hilarious. Was it hard to keep a straight face?

SR: Yeah, it was hard, I broke up a couple times doing fake orgasms and stuff like that. We definitely had a good time though.

DC: Did you read Chuck Palahniuk's book before filming the movie?

SR: I read it and listened to it on tape. It was really helpful. We definitely took a lot from the book, mostly subtexts and things like that. Chuck was really hands-off though. He didn't do much of anything in terms of the movie. It took about 6-and-a-half years though to get the screenplay to together, before the casting even happened.

DC: This movie contained so many ridiculous scenes, and then so many sobering ones. What was it like as an actor to handle both of those?

SR: We definitely had to have a balance of comedy and drama during the film, so it was tough to gauge that a lot of the time. We knew the tone that we wanted, like somewhere between "Harold and Maude" and "Fisher King." Those kind of movies. We just kept sort of trying to stay real so it didn't become too "ha ha," too light. It was fun to make, but it was hard work.

DC: Were there any performances by other actors that you looked to guide your performance?

SR: Yeah, movies like "Five Easy Pieces" with Jack Nicholson. I liked Billy Bob Thornton in "Bad Santa." He's the same misanthrope, curmudgeon kind of guy, so that was a performance I looked to a lot. Also "Alfie", the original with Michael Caine. It's the psychological profile of a "cassanova," so it really breaks that down: what's a lothario really all about, what's it like to really be a ladies man. I don't think it's as glamorous as people think it is. People think it's a barrel of laughs, but I think at the end of the day it's kind of a lonely pit.

DC: This role seems like such a risky one to take on. What attracted you to it?

SR: I think the pain was attractive to me, seeing what this guy goes through. It's always fun to play an outcast or a rebel. It's fun scenario, to get to play a rule breaker or an outlaw.

DC: You played so many roles in this film: sex addict, historical interpreter, devoted son, second coming of Christ How were you able to assimilate all these different roles into one character?

SR: Well it's a lot, but it's all about the same thing: him trying to get love, trying to find something at the end of the tunnel, as it were. It's just about that one motivation that gets him through, so everything else is just a disguise or a way to get what he wants, some kind of manipulation. It's all about one thing for him.

DC: I have to ask: You were in a lot of sex scenes in this movie, so those of us not in movies wonder, does it ever get awkward?

SR: Yeah, it's silly. Kind of awkward and silly, but we're in such a hurry it goes by pretty quickly. You don't even get to think about it too much.

DC: And those choking scenes were pretty believable. Were they tough to film or were they fun?

SR: It was just pretend, you know. You just kinda go all out, you stop breathing for a couple of seconds and you're choking a little, and then it's all fake, you're just pretending. It's fun only in that you try to fool people. That's the fun of it, the challenge of making it look real. It's kind of scary and weird. It's a little bit of everything.

DC: And finally, I know you've done some off-Broadway stuff. So how would you compare that to being in films?

SR: It's completely different, you know. You're just acting for two or three hours each night. But it's very concentrated; it's like you're a doing a whole movie in two or three hours. It's a little more exhausting than filming a movie, more nerve-racking, with more responsibility. You act the whole part in that two hours, so it's definitely using more of your instrument, using your voice and body. In film you can sort of cheat things: They can edit and re-do things. It's a completely different kind of process.

Tags: CHOKE


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