Sam Rockwell on dream roles, crap jobs and boozing with Woody Harrelson.
In your latest film, The Way, Way Back, you play the boss of a water park. Have you ever had a memorable summer job in real life?
I worked in McDonald’s. It didn’t have the glamour that you’d imagine. I was in the back, frying the food and getting lots of acne from it. Oddly enough, I had a beautiful girlfriend at the time, who’d come to visit me while I was working. All the other employees would be jealous. I didn’t get any extra stars on my badge for it.
You also mentor a reclusive 14 year-old boy in the film. Did you have an awkward teen phase yourself?
I was awkward – angry, mainly. I shoplifted, and stuff like that. Typical teenage rebellion. Then, at around 17, I started to discover alcohol and parties, so I came out of my shell a little bit. It also helped that my parents sat me down and told me that I’d have to go to live on my own if I carried on, so I straightened out my act.
Can you relate to the teenagers of today?
It’s a different culture now. We were the TV generation; this one is on a whole other level. All they do is text or tweet. I can’t get my head around Twitter.
What do you do instead?
I watch boxing. There’s a guy I like called Sergio Martinez. What happened to that fighter who went up against [Floyd] Mayweather [Jr]? Ricky Hatton, that’s right. He’s the guy with the really short arms. Hilarious.
Have you ever thought about making a boxing film?
I’m starring in one soon. It’s based in the early 1900s and about Billy Miske, who was dying with a disease but kept fighting. The training for it should be interesting.
In Cowboys & Aliens, you got to watch James Bond and Indiana Jones going toe-to-toe…
[Laughs] It was incredible – neither man was going down. We filmed a lot of Cowboys & Aliens in Santa Fe, but our families were in California, so Harrison was kind enough to fly me home and back in his private plane. He was the pilot, uniform and all. The kid inside me was going crazy – Han Solo was flying me on his ship.
Speaking of sci-fi classics, you missed out on an Oscar nomination for Moon. Do you think that was down to the studio?
It didn’t have the money to release enough DVDs for Academy members, which blows. It all comes down to how much money the movie’s making and whether there’s enough money to support the hype.
Do you see parallels between Hollywood and US politics?
Yeah, it’s all about money. The business has changed quite a bit since I started. There are a lot of number- crunchers now. There’s no encouragement for risk because they don’t encourage failure – and there should be more risk, as that’s what gets you a piece of art like Midnight Cowboy.
Would you rather do lead roles in indie films or smaller roles in blockbusters?
I like supporting roles because there’s less responsibility. You can come in and come out, mix it up a bit more. Lead roles are great as well. They just take a lot more out of you.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
“Keep a cool head and a warm heart.” My acting teacher William Esper told me that.
What else did you learn?
To be myself. When I was 18, everybody wanted to be Robert De Niro, so I figured I’d turn up to acting classes sounding like an Italian-American [laughs]. Of course, I realised drawing from your own personality is what makes a character original. Being comfortable with myself as a young actor was important, especially when in places such as LA.
What’s wrong with LA?
People don’t really care about you unless you’re famous. I grew up a little bit bohemian, so I need people around me with good vibes.
Did you share any hippy tendencies with your Seven Psychopaths co-star, Woody Harrelson?
Woody’s a cool cat. A real mellow dude who doesn’t get his feathers ruffled easily. He makes a mean margarita, too.
Finally, is there one role you’d like to play more than any other?
Elvis. The sticking point is I’m too old to play young Elvis, and I look nothing like older Elvis. You need Vince Vaughn or Eric Bana for that gig, which is a shame because my Elvis impression is fantastic.
Look forward to hearing it.
[Adopts Elvis voice] Thank you very much.
The Way, Way Back is at cinemas from 28 August
(Image: Rex Features)