01/19/2014 06:19 pm ET Updated Jun 23, 2014

Sam Rockwell's 'Laggies' Character Is Not Who You Think He Is

Danny Moloshok/Invision/AP

Sam Rockwell is sitting at a bar in Sundance drinking seltzer water. Joking about bloody noses and how, because of it, Park City, Utah isn't the ideal climate for doing 8-balls, Rockwell spoke with The Huffington Post about his latest role as a single dad raising a teenage daughter, played by the magnetic Chloë Grace Moretz, in the Sundance film “Laggies.”

Shot in Seattle, where director Lynn Shelton (“Humpday,” “Your Sister’s Sister”) does all of her films, “Laggies” turns the lens on Megan (Keira Knightley), a woman in her late 20s who just cannot find a way to have her life make sense. After befriending a teenager (Moretz) in a parking lot, Megan is brought into the youngster's home and life quite unexpectedly.

Highlights from our conversation below.

“Laggies” is my favorite movie this year at Sundance.
Really! That’s awesome. It's a rom-com with some layers, right? It's deep and it's also commercial. It's really your favorite film?

I have one movie left to see before I go, so that has a chance of dethroning you. It's Zach Braff’s new film, “Wish I Was Here.”
Oh, there you go. He directed it. He's a good filmmaker. Is this his second movie? He really took his time.

In the film, Keira Knightley's character attends her 10-year high school reunion and is going through what we might call a quarter-life crisis. Did you identify with that aspect of the movie at all?
I did my 10-year reunion a while ago now. So I think I'm more in the mid-life crisis zone now [laughs].

Are you exhibiting any symptoms?
I haven't bought a Porsche or anything, but I have a big flat-screen TV and I'm looking to get a bigger one.

And you have a beard.
Yes, I have a beard, but that's for something I'm shooting. But yes, I totally relate with all of that stuff -- getting older and not wanting to grow up. But I had a lot in common with the character I played, Craig. I had sort of already been through the stuff Keira’s character goes through. It’s the male equivalent of “High Fidelity” or “The Graduate” or even “The Hangover.” But this was really the first middle-aged part I've played [laughs]. And it's weird. I've played dads before. But in movies that nobody saw. But those characters were still kids; I was really playing a big kid.

Your character in “Laggies” is an adult.
He's an adult. It was fun to do that. Without [screenwriter] Andrea Seigel’s writing, I couldn't have. It's like when I did “Frost/Nixon.” I'm not that smart in real life. I'm a different kind of smart. My intelligence probably goes more through my sense of humor or acting. When you're playing somebody who is well educated, you need that text, that script. And then it's your job to make it real and personal.

What was most compelling about this character for you?
I loved his melancholy. In the same way that Rick in "Casablanca" has a kind of melancholy, there's a similar emotional through-line with this character. The obvious sort of Tom Hanks or Paul Rudd aspect of this character, but mixed in with a little William Hurt and Jack Nicholson. He’s got a lot going on.

He’s not what he seems to be in the beginning. And I that's something Lynn Shelton and I really wanted to be on the same page about. In a way, we were trying to trick the audience because Mark Webber's character is the youthful one. When you think of youth, you think of spontaneity. And you think of adults as being more cautious. I probably seem more cautious in the beginning and less spontaneous, but what you find out is that I actually have a lot of spontaneity -- it’s just been buried. So it's kind of a switcheroo. We had to camouflage my youthfulness. It's kind of like gift-wrapping a bomb in pink paper.

Did you audition for the role?
No. Lynn just called me. Paul Rudd was actually supposed to do it. And Anne Hathaway was playing the female role. Chloe was in before I was. And then I came on, and we lost Anne. She dropped out, regretfully. I know she wanted to do it. But she had another commitment; I think it was with director Christopher Nolan. And then we were scrambling. Went out to a few people. Thank god we got Keira.

I thought her American accent was good. I know people can be harsh about that.
Listen, she did great. And she had so little time to prepare. She was getting married. She was prepping with a dialect coach after her honeymoon.

I haven’t loved her in a film like this since “Bend It Like Beckham.”
That’s exactly what Lynn Shelton said. Even the drunk scene in "Pirates of the Caribbean," with Johnny Depp where they're drinking rum on the beach, you can tell she's got a little punk rock in her. And it's the kind of thing that Melanie Griffith did in "Something Wild." That’s one of the greatest movies ever made. Ray Liotta. It's how he got “Goodfellas." But Melanie has that same thing that Keira has in "Bend It Like Beckham." You can’t really describe it. You know, it's just somebody you want to go to a rock concert with.

"Laggies" was picked up by A24 after its Sundance Film Festival premiere. Expect to see it in theaters this summer.



Sundance Film Festival 2014