Most fans that were expecting The Mandarin to be the villain in the first “Iron Man” film were pleasantly surprised when, instead, Jeff Bridges’ Obadiah Stane became the Iron Monger. Although The Mandarin does not appear (as far as we know) in next summer’s “Iron Man 2,” Tony stark will still have his hands full fighting off bad guys. Mickey Rourke joins the cast as Ivan Vanko, also known as Whiplash, and Sam Rockwell plays billionaire and Tony Stark rival Justin Hammer.
Rockwell was actually director Jon Favreau’s choice for the role of Tony Stark in the first Iron man film, when the studio was originally afraid to cast Robert Downey, Jr. But now Rockwell stars in the sequel as Justin Hammer, Tony Stark’s rival and competitor, a character that in the comics was British and older but was changed for the film to make him more contemporary.
CBR News had the opportunity to sit down with Sam Rockwell at last month’s Comic-Con International in San Diego to talk about “Iron Man 2.” The actor discussed the new film, joining the cast, working with Favreau and Downey, researching his character and his first day on the set with Mickey Rourke.
CBR: What can you tell us about your character in “Iron Man 2,” Justin Hammer?
SAM ROCKWELL: He’s a rival to Tony Stark and he’s an arms dealer. He’s in cahoots with a couple of people. He’s kind of a shyster. Essentially, I think he’s a fan of Tony’s. But he doesn’t get the attention he wants from Tony so that’s where I think it starts to go wrong for Justin a little bit.
Justin Hammer and Tony Stark are rivals in the film. What are their similarities and their differences?
They’re similar. I think that ultimately Justin is probably more insecure. So that may be his downfall. His ambition may be stronger in a way so it’s a trap that Justin may fall into.
What was it about Justin Theroux’s script that attracted you to the part?
Justin is amazing. He did a great job. He was the sole writer on the piece and he’s great. He wrote a great character. The character that he played in “The Baxter” is similar to Justin Hammer too so there’s a little bit of that. Justin and I are old friends. We met at a theatre festival in Williamstown so he was able to help me a lot.
Did you do any research for the role of Hammer?
I watched “Amadeus.” The Salieri character is similar. The “Iron Man 2” script was being developed so I wasn’t sure where the character was going. I watched a lot of different stuff. I watched Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor, George C. Scott in “The Hustler,” I watched Bill Murray in “Kingpin.” I was trying to get a lot of different things to incorporate.
I did some research on the guns. I learned how to handle and talk about the guns. That was really all I had to work on. I worked on it the way I work on everything, with an acting coach. I would get certain scenes and we would work on it, do some homework and then those scenes would change.
Did you study any of your character’s appearances in the comic books?
Yeah, I looked at some of the comic books, but the character in the comic books is much different. We’re trying to find another way to tell the story. They wanted the guy to be more of a contemporary. You don’t want to disappoint the fans but you want to reinvent it and give your own interpretation of the character. Justin Hammer’s older and, like, British or something [in the comic]. That’s what’s fun about it. If you see five performances of “Hamlet,” you want to see Ralph Fiennes do Hamlet, you want to see Jude Law, you want to see Richard Burton play Hamlet. You want to see them all do their own interpretations of something. So that’s what’s fun about Don Cheadle [being in the movie] too. It’s a fun thing to watch that.
Coming off of a small film like “Moon,” where you were primarily acting by yourself, did you enjoy working with a big cast of actors again?
Yeah, it was fun. It was kind of like the all-star team, it was really great. It’s important to sort of work with really great talent. Whether it’s our cinematographer, our director, or the actors, it’s important to get challenged in that way otherwise you’re working in a vacuum — especially after a movie like “Moon” where you’re literally working in a vacuum. So I think it’s important to go and work with Ron Howard (“Frost/Nixon”) and you know all these people and sort of say, “Okay, you’re showing up for the big game.” It’s fun.
What was it like working with Mickey Rourke?
He was great. The first scene we did in the film, Mickey suggested that we not meet until we shot that scene because our characters meet in the scene. I never spoke to him. Jon Favreau relayed this to me and said, “Mickey doesn’t want to rehearse or meet before that first scene.” After that we did rehearse and work in a more conventional way, but for that first scene, where our characters meet, we didn’t meet until right before we started rolling camera.
I had no idea [how he would be]. I worked out my props and stuff. We didn’t rehearse. I got there a little early and worked it out because I had a lot of dialogue and a lot of stuff to deal with. The way the scene is, he enters and I’m already there so he came in, we shook hands, they said action and we got into it.
Did you like working that way?
It was really exciting and I think it shows in the scene. I think you’ll see there is electricity in the scene too. It was really cool. He’s amazing. He gives you everything. He gives you the whole performance.
What was your experience like working opposite Robert Downey, Jr.?
We had a great time. It was like we were gunslingers the first day of shooting. We were trying to see who’s faster. It was fun. He’s very quick. So we were ad-libbing and it was a fun first day. It was very challenging and exciting.
Finally, was it easier for you to be directed by Jon Favreau in a film like this because he is an actor himself?
Jon and I had worked together before and Jon is really great. He’s very much about being truthful in these imaginary circumstances so it’s not just a bunch of sci-fi nonsense. When we talk about the scenes he’ll be like, “So how would you really react in this circumstance?” So that’s kind of how it evolves. You know, what’s the truth of this event? That’s a very actor-friendly way to work because you’re just trying to be truthful and real.
“Iron Man 2” blasts into theaters next summer.