Was there a more inventive performance in 2009 than Sam Rockwell's in "Moon"? Or, we should say, the performances of the many, many Sam Rockwells who show up in this sci-fi mind-bender about outer space, isolation and technology? The actor took a risk with first-time director Duncan Jones and the gamble paid off big time: The movie was one of the coolest of the year and Rockwell has rightly been mentioned as a potential Oscar candidate.
So MTV News must express our gratitude during this week in which we are giving thanks to the best films and brightest performances of the year. But when it comes to Rockwell, we're also thankful for a movie we haven't seen yet: "Iron Man 2," which he filmed this year and will arrive in theaters in 2010. In a recent chat, Rockwell looked back at "Moon," forward at "Iron Man" and with a sideways grin at the idea of nabbing a little gold statuette come awards season.
MTV: It's been a tremendous year for you. What were the highlights?
Sam Rockwell: That's a good question. I'd say traveling — going to Spain with my father this year was really fun. I went to Barcelona. I had a great time. He had never been to Europe before, so that was really a life experience for me.
MTV: So do you do the whole Thanksgiving thing, do you see your dad for that?
Rockwell: Yeah, I'm gonna see my girlfriend [actress Leslie Bibb], and we are gonna hang out in Virginia possibly, and then I'll go to California to see my dad for Christmas probably.
MTV: Well one of the key performances this year that we are most thankful for is you in "Moon." This is a film where you never know what you are going to get — with a young filmmaker, you never know. When did you know Duncan knew what he was doing?
Rockwell: As you do with first-time directors, we slowly did this trust game for a while, and by the time we were in the second week of shooting we were, like, as thick as thieves, we were bonded for life.
MTV: Were you both equally sci-fi freaks?
Rockwell: We were. When we met, we talked about "Aliens," "Silent Running," "Outland," and all these movies, "Blade Runner," that we loved. We talked how much we loved acting — like Harry Dean Stanton, Sigourney Weaver — and all these great actors.
MTV: You don't have a lot of actors to play off of — or any actors to play off of — in "Moon." You knew what you were getting into, obviously, but were there any unexpected challenges? Were you lonely as an actor to not have another person to feed off of?
Rockwell: That's half the equation. Most of the time, it was hard. There was a young actor there named Robin Chalk, and there was also a body double that looked like him from the back, and a lot of times we were acting with tennis balls, or I'd have to pick a mark or put a piece of tape on the wall or something it was interesting.
MTV: So what's it like, shooting on the moon?
Rockwell: It's kinda hot, if you're in a space station — it's a moist, a little hot. You want to wear some kind of deodorant or cologne. But the other guys didn't mind.
MTV: As you well know, there is a movement afoot that you, Mr. Rockwell, will get an Oscar nomination. How did you hear about this, and what was your reaction?
Rockwell: I heard about this — my dad told me about it — that something was cooking on the Internet. So my girlfriend and I looked it up, and it was very flattering. As an actor, this is the only thing you've been shooting for your entire career — you don't care about the actual product [laughs]. You just want awards to put some place. Am I wrong? I would be honored to get an Oscar or anything else like that. But it's just that anything that gets this movie some attention is a good thing. It's hard for these smaller films, so anything that gets it attention, for sure.
MTV: Also in the course of this year, a film we haven't seen yet but you shot already, is a little thing called "Iron Man 2." Did you study up on your character, Justin Hammer?
Rockwell: I got some research — they sent me over some stuff. I looked it over and that was about it. I kind of took my own ideas from other things. A little bit of Lex Luthor's stuff — [Kevin] Spacey and [Gene] Hackman. I think there's a little Bill Murray in "Kingpin" in it. Probably some Richard Gere "American Gigolo" thrown in there. And a little Charles Nelson Reilly!
MTV: Did it feel like a humongous film or smaller, because director Jon Favreau and the folks he works can all improvise on the fly? Did the script feel locked in or was there freedom on the set?
Rockwell: On "Frost/Nixon" or "Green Mile," we all felt like, "This is a big deal!" On "Iron Man," it did feel like a big deal at first, but we got very comfortable very quickly. Maybe because I knew Jon Favreau and we had done "Made," which was a smaller movie, and Justin Theroux was writing it, who's a friend of mine, there was a lot of improvisation. It was a very loose environment. So when we went to Comic-Con and saw the trailer, we were really impressed. We were looking at each other — me and Scarlett [Johansson] and Don Cheadle — looking at each other like, "Wow, this looks pretty good! This is a big movie!" It actually felt really comfortable. We were actually pretty relaxed.
Thanksgiving is a time for taking stock, expressing gratitude and, most importantly, overeating. We at MTV News have been gorging all year at movie theaters, so it's about time we looked back and gave thanks to our favorite actors and filmmakers of 2009. So in this special week, we celebrate