Sam Rockwell has built a career on playing unsavory individuals.
He was a sex-addled, gun-toting game show host in “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind.” In “Welcome to Collinwood,” he was the world’s crappiest safecracker. And in “Matchstick Men,” “Charlie’s Angels,” “Heist” and even “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” he was a jerk that wound up screwing over the lead characters. Rockwell is good at being shifty. Yet we like him.
The same goes for his new film “Choke.”
In a recent phone interview, Rockwell discussed his attraction to the movie’s lead character.
“I just feel like, um, I’m drawn to the darker characters,” Rockwell explained. “Yeah, it’s a weird role.”
That role is Victor Mancini, the notorious main character of author Chuck Palahniuk’s cult epic “Choke.” For the few collegians who haven’t actually read the book on which the film is based, “Choke” is the tale of a med-school dropout and sex junkie that later works as a colonial re-enactor. Oh, and he fakes choking at posh restaurants in hopes of supplementing his income via well-off rescuers.
“There’s a reason we had the best ensemble at Sundance,” Rockwell said. “I got into it because of Clark (Gregg, the film’s writer and director), and I love the script and Anjelica Huston signed on and that was it.”
Rockwell, in fact, had a lot in common with the author’s bizarre mentality.
“I guess I’m a Generation X person … I don’t even know what Generation X means!” he said.
Palahniuk’s novels are clear products of that very generation.
“Well, I think that, um, Chuck’s, Chuck is just … he gets into the underbelly of Generation X. He just kinda understands this generation.”
Some Palahniuk readers will immediately recognize the author’s fascination with Generation X. There’s a general rejection of pop culture in his work, as well as a distrust of the nuclear family. “It’s his specialty,” Rockwell said. “It’s kind of like Holden Caulfield; it’s Bukowski.”
Victor is raised by his free-wheeling single mother — a product of 1960s drugs and activism — and their relationship is skewed.
“It kinda sorta reminds me of the classic sort of mother-son things, like ‘Glass Menagerie,’ yeah, ‘Hamlet’ maybe,” said Rockwell. “It’s kinda that classic mother-and-son relationship you know … from those strange, kinda Freudian mother-son relationships.” Sounds about right when you see Victor and his crazed mother break into a zoo to free wild animals.
But that’s not to say this is eccentric, mommy-issue stuff from a mysoginistic viewpoint. “Choke” is supposed to be good, weird fun.
“It reminded me a lot of cinematic prototypes, like um, stuff that I’d seen like ‘Harold & Maude,’ and ‘The Fisher King’ and uh, Jack Nicholson’s character in ‘Five Easy Pieces,’” Rockwell said.
Sam Rockwell has played his fair share of gonzo jerks, but at least they’re always interesting. “Choke” is no exception, and in the end, you might just wind up liking the guy.