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Audio/Q&A: 'A Single Shot' star Sam Rockwell makes sure he learns from his mistakes

Sam Rockwell supports the quiet, small-town, everybody-knows-your-business lifestyle depicted in the indie noir “A Single Shot.” Sort of.

“I wouldn’t last too long because I’d get a little bored,” he says, “but there is something quaint about it for a period of time.”

Boredom is something that’s never generated from a performance by Rockwell (“The Way Way Back,” “Seven Psychopaths”), who’s typically stellar in “A Single Shot,” opening Sept. 20. He plays John Moon, a hunter who accidentally kills a woman in the woods but very purposefully steals the money he finds nearby. As usual in movies like this, the theft doesn’t go overlooked by people willing to do violent things to get that cash back.

From New York, the 44-year-old actor talked about big mistakes, the difference between a genre piece and cliché and his feelings on a situation John experiences—walking into a house and discovering a naked babysitter.

A long time ago you assisted a private detective. How did that inform your awareness of how John Moon feels being followed?
Good question. Not very much. I did one surveillance job where we tracked a woman that was having an affair, but it was brief. The rest of it was more research-oriented. So it wasn’t very exciting.

Do you think people only get a few big mistakes in life? It seems like John has had some bad things happen to him, some of which weren’t his fault and some of which he may have contributed to. Then he gets to that point where it’s like, “This is your last big mistake that the world is going to let you have.”
Yeah, hopefully most of us go through life not having those big mistakes. But you’re right. It’s like, what do you do? Look at Lance Armstrong: He was trying to cover it up. It’s a natural human instinct I think.

Do you think that’s an indication that people wind up eventually getting caught for everything?
I think it is. I think it’s like we can’t get away with very much in this world. Some people get away with murder, and some people don’t. If you have a guilty conscience, I think it’s tough. It’s going to catch up with you in one way or another.

Is there a mistake that you’ve made, either professionally or personally, that you can tell me about?
Nothing I can’t chalk up to a life lesson. Nothing so severe like this. All the mistakes I’ve made have been character-building, you know. Nothing so bad that it would be like John Moon’s dilemma.

I definitely did not expect you to confess something like that. When you say character-builders, is there anything in particular that comes to mind?
Mistakes with women … I turned down “The Incredibles,” that cartoon. Kinda wish I had done that. I turned down a production of “American Buffalo” in Ireland I kinda wanted to do. That’s about it. It’s not like major things. I was asked to do a role in “Capote” with Phil Hoffman. I’m not sure if I wish I had done it or not, but I hope I get to work with Phil Hoffman at some point. He’s a friend of mine. The same thing goes for Billy Crudup. I’d like to work with Billy. We’ve had a few chances to work together.

I liked “A Single Shot,” though I think some people will see it and, as they do with all movies, have memories of other things. “No Country for Old Men,” for example. Where do you think the line is between a crisp genre movie and when it starts to become cliché?
Yeah, what do you mean exactly by that? That’s an interesting question. Can you rephrase that?

For example, there were a lot of people who loved “The Conjuring” and said it was great genre horror. For me, I saw nothing but the same things we see in every horror movie. A creepy little kid, a creepy doll …
First of all, everything is derivative. Nothing is original. I pretty much think everything is a reinvention of something that’s already been done. So I think what “The Conjuring” did well is it paid homage to some of the horror films of the ‘70s. Like “The Exorcist,” “The Omen,” “Poltergeist.” “The Birds.” It was paying homage to the style ... a lot of the scariness in that film is sound, sound effects, the foley, the post-sound effects. ... So it’s like old-fashioned, in-camera effects, you know? Not as much CGI. So they relied on filmmaking rather than CGI and stuff like that, and that’s what I liked about it. I thought the acting was very good. I know what you mean though. Things can’t be repetitive, unless you have a different take on it. We’ve certainly seen John Moon’s dilemma before in a film. “No Country for Old Men” or “A Simple Plan.” It’s just a different way to tell the story and [be] maybe more gothic. It’s more like a “Crime and Punishment” or “Tell-Tale Heart” kind of thing.

John arrives at a house where his kid is being looked after and finds the babysitter naked. Do you have any experience in that situation?
Um, no. It just sounds fun.

You’ve never gone to a house—
I wish. I wish I’d had that experience. I never have.

If some people walked into a house like that, they’d be happy about it. But I guess not when they’re babysitting your kid.
Maybe. If the guy wasn’t there and the kid wasn’t there, then that might be fun. But because the guy’s there with a gun to his head and they’ve got his baby there, it’s different.

That does change things a bit.
Yeah. If she was by herself and there was no kid, maybe, that would be fun. It would turn into a private eye movie.

Plus:
If it’s better to live wrong or die right: “Good question. A little bit of both I think. You gotta take some chances, you know. That’s a good question. I don’t know. [You can’t] play it too safe, but you want to do the right thing.”

Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 6:55 a.m. on WCIU, the U

mpais@tribune.com

 

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