'The Way, Way Back' Q&A: Sam Rockwell, the Guy Roger Ebert Once Called "The Go-to Guy for Weirdness"

Sam Rockwell has built his name on carefully chosen roles, from the smallest of indie films to big-budget blockbusters, slipping from one role to the next with seeming effortlessness. In fact Rockwell has been in so many films that simply showing his picture to someone will elicit an, "Oh, that guy!" In his latest film, The Way, Way Back, Rockwell stars as a man who refuses to grow up, managing a small-town water park where he befriends a boy, Duncan (Liam James), and their friendship gives them both the confidence they need to grow up a bit.

We spoke at the film's press day about his work in the film, his favorite movies and even what he's been reading lately.

Fandango: Seems like you play wisecracking guys like Owen a lot. Was this role written with you in mind?

Sam Rockwell: They came to me. I don't know why they thought of me for this, but I guess I'd done some gregarious characters and this is a safer version, more not as annoying maybe, but still gregarious.

Fandango: What movies did you watch in prep for this?

Rockwell: Meatballs, Bad News Bears, there's a Richard Pryor movie called Bustin' Loose. Bad Santa's a good one, you know those misanthrope, grouchy, affable guys who don't talk down to kids but talk to them like they're adults and it's sort of refreshing for kids, I think. But Bill Murray's the real prototype for this character, for sure, it's a direct homage to him. It was a chance to do that Bill Murray prototype, that fantasy of doing my version of it.  

Fandango: Allison Janney told us that when she flips by Bill Murray's movie Groundhog Day she has to watch it. Any guilty pleasure movies for you?

Rockwell: Oh yeah, Saving Silverman, I watched Moonstruck the other day--there are so many. The Untouchables. I love that movie. Back to the Future, Raiders of the Lost Ark, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, The Deer Hunter, there's a few like those you just love. Terms of Endearment.

Fandango: Well, were there any changes that had to be made on set, anything happen differently than what was planned?

Rockwell: No it was pretty smooth sailing, it was just the hot sun, the hot sun can throw you. Spitting out that dialogue in the hot sun got a little tiresome, I had a lot of text and I kind of had to spit it out.

Fandango: That whole long monologue about the man who started that particular water park…

Rockwell: Yeah that whole thing. It was very hot that day, so I was losing my patience with myself.

Fandango: What are you reading this summer?

Rockwell: I've been reading a book about Elia Kazan and the Actor's Studio. No, I don't have anything planned… I'm going to shoot a movie in Seattle this summer. It'll be fun, I like beer and coffee so I should fit right in.

Fandango: Do you get stopped by fans a lot?

Rockwell: Sometimes. Sometimes. Yeah, a little bit.

Fandango: Does that get tiring, having to be "on" all the time?

Rockwell: Yeah, depends when they catch you.

Fandango: It seems like you do an equal amount of indie and bigger movies. How do you choose your roles?

Rockwell: It's a really personal, emotional kind of thing. You just kind of respond or don't respond. It's very, very random and personal when you respond to something.

Fandango: Did you have any advice for any of the young actors on set, particularly Liam James?

Rockwell: I was trying to tell him and his mother that if he really wants to pursue acting after he's 18 then he should do theater, do live performing because I think that that's the real apprenticeship. To go straight to film… you don't get the same learning experience. Most of the actors in this film are trained, whether it's improvisation at Second City, or Groundlings, or I studied Meisner.

Fandango: Do you think that's a generational thing -- a difference between an older generation of actors and the new?

Rockwell: Maybe so, but I don't know. A lot of the actors I admired growing up, a lot of the film actors did theater, so I think that's an important thing.

Fandango: Any advice you wish you had told a younger version of yourself?

Rockwell: Don't be so lazy.


Now go check out our interview with Rockwell's costar Allison Janney

And for more on summer movies, our Summer Movie Guide has it all!

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