Interview: Sam Rockwell talks prep and drugs for ‘Better Living Through Chemistry’

Sam Rockwell plays a pharmacist who gets high on his own supply in "Better Living Through Chemistry." Credit: Getty Images
Sam Rockwell plays a pharmacist who gets high on his own supply in “Better Living Through Chemistry.”
Credit: Getty Images

“Better Living Through Chemistry” finds Sam Rockwell going off the rails as a mild-mannered, hen-pecked pharmacist who starts getting high on his own supply and getting out of his shell after an encounter with a boozy rich trophy wife (Olivia Wilde). But don’t worry: Rockwell was well-prepared.

There’s a particular tone to this kind of comedy.

Yeah, it is a pretty particular demographic, isn’t it? I was joking that it was the same arc as “Captain America.” He uses chemicals to become a superhero, and it’s not dissimilar to that — emotionally, anyway. [Laughs] It’s an 80-pound weakling becomes to strongman, or “Jekyll and Hyde.” You know, I describe the movie as “American Beauty” meets “The Nutty Professor.”

You have some very elaborate, if comical, sex scenes with both Olivia Wilde and Michelle Monaghan. Not bad.

Comical is the word, because they’re not, like, sensual. They’re pretty funny. We were laughing the whole time. It was very silly stuff.

You also get quite a range to play with as he comes out of his shell.

The trickiest part was the beginning, before he takes the drugs. I think that was actually the trickiest to capture, the more introverted version of the guy. I had a few references for that, and the one that comes to mind the most is probably Donald Sutherland in “Ordinary People.” And then I did actually watch both the Jerry Lewis and the Eddie Murphy “Nutty Professor” films, and that was actually very helpful, too.

Really?

Yeah. I think for the drug stuff I was watching a lot of episodes of “Intervention,” and I think I took a peek at the movie “Dead Ringers” with Jeremy Irons, and I might have even watched “Half Nelson” again just to get a little reference. But I really was watching a lot of “Intervention.” You know that show, right? The reality show? And I’m not foreign to some drugs, so I knew a little bit about it, but the guys gave me a book that had all these drugs in it and you could look up what the results would be, the side effects and everything.

Is it normal for you to put that much preparation into a role?

Yeah, yeah, pretty much. It depends on the part. You don’t always have to do that much research. With a lead role, you really have to put in a lot of homework, but different roles have different needs. Like “Matchstick Men,” I didn’t really have any major preparation for that. But “Frost/Nixon,” which was also a supporting role, I had to do a lot of research for because we had to improvise with all this information about the plumbers and Nixon and all that stuff. And I was the Nixon expert, so I had to know all that s—. I think any preparation just really comes out of the fear of sucking, you know what I mean?

Follow Ned Ehrbar on Twitter @nedrick



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