DID YOU READ

Sam Rockwell Speaks With “Conviction”

Sam Rockwell Speaks With “Conviction” (photo)

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The new film “Conviction” tells one of those stories so incredible no screenwriter on their best day could invent it. After her brother Kenny went to prison for a murder he didn’t commit, Betty Anne Waters (Hilary Swank) devoted almost two decades of her life to freeing him. She earned her GED, then a college degree, then a law degree, so she could represent him in court when no one else would. In other words, “Conviction” is one of those movies that’s “based on true events,” a phrase that made Sam Rockwell, who plays Kenny, chuckle when it came up during our conversation. Why? “When my girlfriend sees horror movies that say ‘Based on true events,’ she always goes ‘Honey, it’s based on true events, I can’t see it!'”

Obviously the true events tag didn’t stop Rockwell from taking on this project, which is another in a series of interesting performances he’s given in recent films about fallen family men, including “Moon” and “Snow Angels.” I asked Rockwell why he’s drawn to these parts and to working with actors-turned-directors (like “Conviction” director Tony Goldwyn), and what he dances to when he’s got to pretend like he’s rocking out onscreen.

You don’t look the real Kenny Waters, right?

No.

He was a bigger man.

Yes. I only had three or four weeks to prepare, and there was just not enough time to get into that kind of shape. Otherwise it would have been a “Nutty Professor” thing — which I actually think Eddie Murphy should have gotten an Oscar for. I tried to lift a few weights, but it just didn’t take.

I ask because I was wondering if you prefer it that way because you don’t have a responsibility to look exactly like this guy. You can use your physicality to help express who this guy is.

It is nice. Tony [Goldwyn] and I did talk about shaving my head [like the real Kenny Waters]. But I was going to do “Iron Man 2” right after, and I had committed to “Iron Man” before this so I couldn’t shave my head. I bulked up a little for some of the scenes. But mainly I wanted the guy to look kind of sinewy as a young man and then we wanted to make him look bulky later. So we did some things with tightening my clothing and I pushed my belly out in a couple of the scenes. The makeup artist, Vivian Baker, was pretty amazing. With the budget she had, I think she did a pretty incredible job. We did some tricks with the hair, accentuating the receding hairline and all that stuff. But Vivian should get a lot of credit.

You’ve talked in the past about watching movies as part of your preparation for roles. What did you watch for this one? A lot of prison movies, I’m guessing.


Absolutely. I watched all that stuff. “The Hurricane,” “Dead Man Walking,” “American Me.” But I caution young actors against doing that too much because you don’t want to start mimicking other actors. You don’t want to be a carbon copy of a carbon copy. In acting terms, we talk in actions and verbs; what are you “doing” in this scene? Because you should always be active. That’s why they call it acting, not reacting. And I think when you’re watching movies you’re shopping for actions. And so you’re not necessarily mimicking the actor, you’re stealing actions, which is your arsenal in a scene.

There’s a theme that’s popped up repeatedly in your films lately, and it’s certainly present in “Conviction.” You keep playing men who are separated and isolated from their families. Is that something you’re actively trying to explore in your work? Were these just the best projects you were offered? Or do you make one and people see it and start saying “Hey, I think Sam Rockwell would be good for this role.”


[laughs] I think Tony and Hilary [Swank] mainly saw and responded to “Lawn Dogs,” another isolated dude I played. I guess I’m drawn to those parts, and they find me. They keep pulling me back in. I don’t know. I guess they remind me of some of the films that really made an impression on me as a kid and that I rewatched as adult later on. And I saw these films at a very young age, which may say something about me. “Taxi Driver,” “The Deer Hunter,” “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” “Alien,” “Blue Collar,” “Badlands,” “The Last Detail,” “Midnight Cowboy.” These films had a big effect on me. I’m sort of a film geek for all the films of the 1970s. I still maintain that was the best decade of American film.

You’re working with an actor turned director here, in Tony Goldwyn. That’s also something you’ve done quite a lot lately.


Yeah.

Do you seek out those collaborations with actor/directors?

Yeah, I guess I do…Clark [Gregg, director of “Choke”], Tony…

Jon Favreau, twice [on “Iron Man 2” and the upcoming “Cowboys and Aliens”]. Some guy named George Clooney who’s done a couple projects [like “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind”].


Yeah, that dude. A lot of good looking funny guys. And they’re all very compassionate toward the actor’s process. Including the “movie star” George Clooney, because he struggled a lot as a young actor. He had a lot of lean years before he became “George Clooney.” That builds character, I think. And Tony’s the same way.

WARNING: The next question contains spoilers about what happened to the real Kenny after the events of the film.

Reading the press notes after watching the film I was sort of devastated to learn that the real Kenny passed away six months after his release from prison. Was there ever a discussion about putting that into the actual film?

It was a discussion. They played around with putting it in the end text crawl. I think they were testing it, and people loved the movie but when they saw that they would be completely devastated. And it wasn’t really what the movie was about. Not to be corny, but the movie’s about the transcendent power of love. It’s about this relationship between these two people and it’s about his freedom. So that was just not punctuating the film in the way that they wanted. Tony struggled with that decision a lot.

You have a terrific scene at the beginning of the movie in a bar where you get into a fight with a guy and then you do this crazy dance and striptease to “My Sharona.” How much of that is the script and how much of that is you creating that on the set?

The script by Pam [Gray] was really solid. And all the dialogue was verbatim. The only thing I maybe ad-libbed was [in a Boston accent] “Now it’s a pahty!” or something like that. And I wanted to have those sunglasses because I felt that would make it more playful in a realistic way.

When you’re doing a scene like that, what’s the set like? Do they play “My Sharona?” Or any music at all?

I had them play James Brown, and I had them play a song from “Mean Streets. And I actually was copying De Niro a little. It’s after he shoots the guy at the end of the movie, and there’s this song playing in the car, “Mickey’s Monkey” by The Miracles. And so I was clinging to that image, and I copied a little bit of that. And I did a lot of fancy dancing that thank God they cut because it just wasn’t realistic.

I went to see “A Behanding in Spokane,” on Broadway in which you starred opposite Christopher Walken. Is it fun or terrifying to have to act opposite that guy on stage?

[The publicist enters the room to tell us our time’s up.]

Yeah, yeah, I’ll just say he’s brilliant and he likes surprises and he loves to play. And I love to play too. We had a blast.

Do you have any good Walken stories from the experience?



I do, but we’d be here for like five days.

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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.

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IFC: How would you describe Janice and Jeffrey to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines

Shopping

The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.

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Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.

Booger

A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.

Ogre

Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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