The culmination of our dedicated coverage of The Reader — from Rudin/Weinstein blow-ups to Oscar prognoses to its sexual audacity — arrived this weekend when director Stephen Daldry phoned Defamer HQ. "Sorry, I overslept," he said in his dignified brogue — a forgivable lapse under the circumstances, with his Kate Winslet film following his Billy Elliot stage adaptation by mere weeks on his late-'08 calendar. Nevertheless, we got him properly caffeinated and settled in for a rousing installment of Five Questions (plus one, just for appropriate awards-season breadth):
Arguably the first film to pack sex, autoasphyxia and colonial American angst into the same tidy bundle,Choke (opening Friday) features Sam Rockwell as Victor Mancini, a generally kindly sex addict whose professional pursuits include sponging off benefactors who happen to have saved him from choking. In his off-time, he susses his father's identity from visits with his ailing mother (Anjelica Houston) and a doctor (Kelly Macdonald) who reckons Jesus had something to do with it. Strippers, anal beads and hormonally charged 18th-century reenactments round it out — perhaps the very least one might expect from an adaptation of the prodigiously perverse Chuck Palahniuk. But it's a sturdy fit for the adventuresome Rockwell, whom we cornered for a few minutes of his busy '08 (also including Frost/Nixon later this fall) and another round of Defamer's ongoing Five Questions:DEFAMER: Look — Fox Searchlight gave us souvenir anal beads! Aren't they great? SAM ROCKWELL: Those are great. This is a classy movie. DEFAMER: No doubt. Victor has enough compulsions to require about a dozen different levels of research — sex addiction, choking, mother issues, etcetera. What did you prioritize here? SAM ROCKWELL: Obviously we read the book a lot. [Director] Clark Gregg and I rehearsed a lot; he was very well prepared; he's an actor, which is great. He's sensitive to this. I went to seven or eight sex addiction meetings. I met a sex therapist; we talked a lot, and he showed me a documentary. I try to do a little bit of research on everything, some more than others. But sexual addiction is more like a food disorder in that you're really filling a void; it's different than any kind of alcohol or narcotic abuse. DEFAMER: With that in mind, did you ever play devil's advocate with this — that sex addiction is more in the mind of the beholder? SAM ROCKWELL: I've been working with an acting coach for a long time; he and I go to therapy, and we talk about that in our work. It's kind of like Alfie or Tom Jones, but we're psychoanalyzing this Casanova in a comedic way. A real Casanova is not a guy that looks like Brad Pitt or George Clooney; they're normal-looking guys in this very depraved world. It's not as glamorous as people think. Sex addiction can go from compulsive masturbation to prostitutes to people who've been sexually molested. It's a serious condition; it's nothing to be laughed about. But I think we respect the condition and are able to joke about it at the same time. DEFAMER: We've been following you since In the Soup, in which you portrayed Steve Buscemi's mentally disabled neighbor. Sixteen years later, the "full retard" backlash is on from all sides. As someone who skillfully portrayed disability before it was Oscar bait, what's your take? SAM ROCKWELL: Well, look, they're totallly missing the joke. It's about actors and awards shows. I thought Leonardo DiCaprio did it really well, but at some point you have to let the research go and intuitively daydream and just let your imagination go. It's a matter of taste really. Do you respond to Forrest Gump? I do. I respond to what Dustin Hoffman does in Rain Man. Hoffman tells a story about Midnight Cowboy where he found the limp for Ratzo Rizzo. He put his foot in like this, and he got all these letters from handicapped people afterward saying, "That's the most ridiculous limp I've ever seen — you're making fun of us." So you try to be as responsible as you can be, but it's just an artist's interpretation. [Tropic Thunder] makes fun of the actor's process and the hype that goes around it. DEFAMER: When you take on Palahniuk, you're inevitably taking on Fight Club. Were you apprehensive about having to follow a classic? SAM ROCKWELL: Absolutely. But the advantage we had is that this is the anti-Fight Club. This is a low-budget film. We don't have special effects or bells and whistles. This is a different kind of movie. It's an independent movie in every sense of the word. It's like Harold and Maude or The Fisher King and think of it as a different tone; Fight Club is darker. We've got a heavy subject, but we've also got anal beads.
For all the talk about Sir Ben Kingsley's sex scenes with Penelope Cruz and Patricia Clarkson, the new film Elegy arguably features an even more up-front intimacy between the Oscar-winner and Dennis Hopper — Kingsley's sidekick in academia who counsels him through an intense romantic relationship with an ex-student (played by Cruz). We won't spoil it for you; let it suffice to say the role is Hopper's latest in a marathon of work that has seen three films released this year and finds the 72-year-old halfway through shooting Starz' adaptation of the Paul Haggis film Crash. We tracked Hopper down this week to run through Elegy, Crash and the 50-plus turbulent years that preceded them — all in five convenient questions (and a few surprisingly candid replies) after the jump.D: So did you actually call Sir Ben Kingsley "Sir Ben" on set? DH: I did. Absolutely. With pleasure. D: Yet the viewer gets the sense you have the mandate to continually bust his balls, even off-camera. You also share a fairly shocking moment near the end of the film. What was your relationship like? DH: It was all written, really. It was a wonderful relationship that seems very real and honest; you can tell the two men really loved each other and respected each other. I think that my character realized that as professors at the university, Sir Ben was probably a little smarter, a little brighter, a little more removed — but certainly not as worldly as my character, who is advising him on having an affair with a younger woman. My character has had many affairs. It's the one moment my character has an up on him. In my career I never had a part that was really seemed like a real person — the emotion, the give and take between Sir Ben and myself were very honest, I thought. D: Your career is endlessly fascinating: You acted alongside James Dean twice; obviously there's Easy Rider; you've appeared opposite three Oscar-winners in as many films this year alone. Do you ever take stock of how many Hollywood storylines your work intersects? DH: Yeah, sort of. But not really. I think of my career as a disappointment most of the time. After Easy Rider and The Last Movie, not directing anymore was a really devastating affair for me. And for the last 16 years, trying to direct movies and not getting financing has really been very hard on me. I really want to direct. I know that through the years I've been very fortunate to act; Blue Velvet was wonderful. Apocalypse Now. But if you still always think about directing movies, it's a chore. And I had to take a lot of bad movies at times. Out of 150 movies that I've been in, there are maybe 20 that are really good movies. D: You've also got TV behind you and in front of you, including an cable adaptation of Crash. It's obviously a pretty polarizing film; will the series follow that same vein? DH: Well, you'll remember that that was three different stories that sort of all come together in Los Angeles. Los Angeles is still the basis of where it's all happening, though we're shooting in Albuquerque. The writers are the same — Bobby Moresco and Paul Haggis — but the characters are all different. I play a Phil Spector-type music mogul whose always trying to look for the next big move. He's hired a 22-year-old driver from Watts who wants to be a rap star. Their relationship is totally bizarre. But it's wonderfully written and I'm having a good time. D: But does the world really need 13 more hours of Crash? DH: These are different characters. But why do they need it? Why does the world need entertainment at all? Do we need TV? We have it. And we do have series, and they're usually 13 in the first run. This is going to be a good 13. I love it because I've never seen such incredible language, and the things you can do on cable television now you can't even get away with in movies. We had an orgy the other day. For me it's a joy.
One of the most stirringly batshit films we've seen this year, Heidi Fleiss: The Would-Be Madam of Crystal debuts on HBO tonight after a successful premiere run at last month's Los Angeles Film Festival. We've tipped you previously to some of the harrowing dynamics herein: Ex-madam Heidi Fleiss nabs a land deal in Pahrump, Nev., where she'll attempt to make her comeback with an all-male brothel for women. Civic outrage, meth relapses and an inheritance of tropical birds conspire to scuttle her dream. Hilarity decidedly does not ensue.
Now that we've opened Defamer HQ to a vindicated John Cusack and a defiant Werner Herzog, we figure that this whole "Five Questions" thing might be worth revisiting as opportunities arise (or at least until people realize who's interviewing them). This week we had an audience with Vera Farmiga, the indie darling and no-nonsense Departed love interest whose disturbing new film, Quid Pro Quo, features her as the lovely face of apotemnophilia — the condition of desiring disability and/or amputation as a sexual preference.
Seeing how much fun we had grilling John Cusack last week, we decided one impromptu, inquisitive turn deserves another. Then, through some minor miracle/apparent PR botch, we found ourselves sitting across from Werner Herzog talking about his new documentary about life in Antarctica, Encounters at the End of the World. We'll get to that as its release date approaches later this month, but for the moment, we're still wondering how hard our legs were just pulled as Herzog told us all about his mad vision for
remaking continuing (or something) Abel Ferrara's 1992 cult classic Bad Lieutenant.
We'd spent no shortage of time around here in recent weeks lamenting John Cusack's one-two professional plunge of box-office allergic Grace is Gone and critic-allergic War, Inc. Then came last weekend, when War, Inc. nabbed the second-highest per-screen average in the country: $27,252, second only to Indiana Jones 4. Heady, eye-opening stuff, to be sure — but not quite as eye-opening as when Cusack actually phoned us an hour ago to talk about it.