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Sam Rockwell Talks About "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind"
by Rebecca Murray and Fred Topel

Sam Rockwell as Chuck Barris
in "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind"
Photo© Miramax Films - All Rights Reserved.

 More of this Feature

• Interview with George Clooney (Director/'Jim Byrd')
• Interview with Drew Barrymore ('Penny')

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• George Clooney
• Sam Rockwell
• Drew Barrymore
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Before taking on the role of Chuck Barris in "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind," Sam Rockwell starred in "Welcome to Collinwood" for George Clooney and Steven Soderbergh's Section 8 production company. “Sam had the lead in the film, and as I was working with him I kept thinking that he was the perfect guy to play Chuck. I didn’t want someone too famous to play the role. In my opinion, you cannot have famous people playing famous people. It doesn’t work. Sam was the guy for the part, ready to break and hadn’t yet," recalls Clooney.

“The movie works because Sam Rockwell was a very brave actor from the beginning, and that’s the simple truth of it. This is a character that does a lot of despicable things, yet you still have to root for him. The difficulty was finding an actor who could do that well, and Sammy was the one," explains Clooney adding, "Sam turned in an excellent performance as Chuck. We were blown away.”

SAM ROCKWELL ('Chuck Barris')

Everybody wanted this role. How did you end up with it?
I got the part because of George Clooney. I met him on "Welcome to Collinwood," and he got it in his head somehow that he thought I was the right guy for the part. We worked together, and he had mentioned it. We were somewhere in Cleveland, at a bar, and I didn't know what he was talking about. He said some project that he was going to direct. I said, "Yeah, sure, whatever, I'll do anything. Be a day player." I just went off to do a play. About a month later, I got a call from Ben Crosgrow from Section 8. He said, "George wants to know if you're available in October?"' I said, "For what?" and he said, "I can't tell you." I said, "Oh, come on. Tell me." He says, "For 'Confessions of a Dangerous Mind.'" I said, "Yeah, sure, let me check my schedule." Then he gave me the script. I went off to do a play in Williamstown, Massachusetts and I sort of forgot about it. [I] threw the script under the couch because I had so much to do with this play. Then about a week later, right as I was about to end the play, he said, "Miramax wants you to screen test." I said, "Well, okay. What do you want me to do?" He says, "You gotta fly to LA immediately." I said, "Well, can you give me a week? This play kind of beat me up and I need to prepare. I haven't seen 'The Gong Show' since I was eight. Do you have any tapes?" He sent me a little tape, "The Best of the Gong Show" and a "20/20" interview of Chuck [Barris]. I took that, and I had about five scenes to memorize. I just sort of immersed myself in those scenes and watched "The Gong Show" for a week.

I went to LA [and] did an old-fashioned screen test, like a real Scarlet O'Hara-type screen test, which you know they don't really do anymore. I think they might have done it for Michael Clarke Duncan in "The Green Mile." I've done screen tests for "High Crimes," I did one for "The Quick and the Dead." I've done a few, and they just do it on video now. This one was tracks, dollies, [and] we had Tommy Sigel, the actual DP. We had costumes. They curled my hair and makeup, everything. They reenacted "'The Gong Show" stuff with full costumes, tuxedos, everything.

Do you think the screen test was George Clooney's way of getting his feet wet directing?
It was, in a way. It was a day of really making a movie, in a sense, because we had dollies and tracks. We were both kind of getting our feet wet, I guess. Then about two weeks later I got a call. They said I got it, but I didn't really have it officially. Then what happened is it got postponed, and [then] Drew Barrymore and Julia Roberts came on board. That's when they could sort of greenlit me - because of them. That's basically what happened.

How did you perfect the Chuck Barris walk?
You caught that in the movie? Well, I hung out with Chuck a lot, you know? I don't walk like that in the whole movie. There's some times when I do sort of a cool guy walk, sort of a jive walk. Sometimes we wanted Chuck to have more of a streamlined, secret agent feel. So sometimes that walk wouldn't work for certain scenes. It's almost like he had an alter ego, like the 'Nutty Professor' or something. He's sort of nerdy cool, Chuck, and I think [that's] his most unique quality. It's a very unique quality that he has. When you watch "The Gong Show," and I wish everybody could see "The Gong Show," it really gave me everything, he has this quality on that - it's almost beatnik. He's like cool, but he's awkward. He's goofy-cool. It's a strange quality. You can't really get your hands around it, but it's very unique. That's what I always remember about it, and his lips were always wet on "The Gong Show."

Was Chuck Barris an innovator or a sleaze?
He could have been a little bit of both. He really did revolutionize American TV. He was the first one where a question in a game show, the answer was not predetermined. It was a spontaneous response from the contestant, as opposed to a predetermined answer like on "Jeopardy." Like, "What's the strangest place you ever had whoopee?" So "The Dating Game" was the first time that ever existed, as far as I know. I think that was sort of the seed to reality TV. You can credit him or blame him for that, but it is what it is. He definitely changed the face of American TV, there's no doubt about that.

How much time did you spend with him?
I spent a lot. Two or three months I spent with him. Coffee shops and dinner and movies, took walks, went to the zoo, filmed him. [I] had him tape my lines in a tape recorder, and I listened to that.

How was it working with a first time director?
I don't really think of George as a first time director. He's seasoned in so many different ways. He has so many qualifications for this film, in particular. First of all, he's born to direct. People just want to follow him into battle. The crew loved him. He's just a born leader, that's the first thing. A very charismatic, charming guy. I don't think a lot of people know how very smart and creative he is. He's extremely creative, I'd say an intensely creative guy. His directing, the more I watch the movie, it's really very meticulous what he does with it. He storyboarded every shot. He was incredibly well prepared. He comes from live TV as a kid, his father was involved in live TV and game shows. A lot of people don't know he did theatre in Chicago, he did theatre at Steppenwolf, and he's worked with these incredible directors like the Coen Brothers and Soderbergh and Robert Rodriguez. He understands film, you know, and he's been doing it for a long time and doing a TV show is great practice.

As an actor, he knows what it's like to be in front of the camera and how hard that is so he creates a really safe environment, a really fun environment on the set. I don't even think of him as a first time director although we were both kind of nervous about it. I think it was a lot of pressure. It was a very high profile script. There was a lot of pressure, I think, and people had expectations for this script. But I think George's take on it is really cool because it takes it more in the direction of a straight drama because it's already kind of tongue-in-cheek on the page, and it could have been, if we kind of winked at the audience it would have been too much.

Can you talk about working with Drew Barrymore?
Drew is phenomenal, man. I can't say enough about her. She's a breath of fresh air. She lights up the room. She's a real movie star. And she brings it out of you. Some actors act with control. Control is what their acting is all about. And some actors relinquish control, and I think that's what makes Drew so great. She opens herself up.

Hugh Grant said Julia Roberts is beautiful-scary to work with.
That's funny. Julia is just a real pro. She comes in, she's like a laser, man, she just comes in and does it. She's really good. She's had a little experience, yeah. She's carried a few films. She comes in there and just knocks it out of the park, you know? They're different, but they're both great in their own ways.

Has this role raised your profile in Hollywood?
For sure. It's already helped me. I got a job out of it. Ridley Scott saw the trailer and I got to do his next movie, "Matchstick Men," with Nicolas Cage, Alison Lohman, and Bruce McGill. It's already helped me tremendously. It has yet to be seen what's going to happen. It's just a matter of degrees, I guess.

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