Over the ‘Moon’ with Duncan Jones & Sam Rockwell

In Duncan Jones’ directing debut Moon, Sam Rockwell is a hard-working moon miner about to finish up his contract working for the government. His only companions are tapes from home and a talking computer, GERTY (voiced by Kevin Spacey in an eerie HAL-like voice). Sam whiles his time away sending videos back to his wife and child on Earth and building elaborate matchstick buildings when he’s not retrieving precious resources from the moon for the folks back home. His tour of duty is so close to ending, he can taste it — but of course, that’s when things start going awry. It’s hard to discuss Moon without giving away surprises. So beware — Spoilers Ahead! — as we talk with Rockwell and Jones about their trippy, old-school science-fiction flick. We get down to brass tacks about video games, futurism, Sam’s refusal to get a computer, therapy, Twittering, and many other topics besides Duncan Jones’ dad (who is David Bowie, fine, so let’s move on).

Tell me about meeting each other, and Duncan, about your interest in Sam. Sam Rockwell: We met at a coffee shop. We were set up through my agent, and we were supposed to meet on another project, and that didn’t feel like it was the right one, but then … it came up somehow that we both were sci-fi fans. Duncan Jones: We got on well. I didn’t want to let it go because I wanted to work with him. And he was like, “I’m through with this! I’m outta here.” And I was like, “Stay! Please, Sam, stay! What can I do? What can I do?” And he was like, “I wanna play a blue collar guy. What can you do about that?” And I was like, “Well, I’ll write something for you.” So about nine months later I gave him the script [for Moon].

And, Duncan, your interest in sci-fi goes way, way back. Your thesis in college was … DJ: Batshit. Crazy. [laughs]


Batshit crazy, yeah. And amazing. It was “How to Kill Your Computer Friend: An Investigation of the Mind/Body Problem and How It Relates to the Hypothetical Creation of a Thinking Machine.” And it ties into Moon and GERTY and all that. DJ: It’s all about thinking machines.

You’ve been interested in sci-fi for a really long time, since you were a child … DJ: Yeah, yeah, absolutely.

What attracts you to the genre? DJ: You know, when I was a kid growing up, I was a only kid and we traveled an awful lot, and one of the few things that made me feel at home was movies, whether they were on old U-matic tapes or VHS. But we had Star Wars before anyone else had it. We had the first pirate copy of Star Wars, and it was on these three big U-matic tapes, so I used to get all the kids round my house and we used to watch Star Wars. So films were a big deal for me, and science fiction was obviously a big deal as well. And I was kinda geeky, so …

What attracts you to science fiction? DJ: At that age, I think it was just the whole escapism of it, the fact that you were in this whole different world, and it was just exciting to be somewhere so different. I think that was part of it, at that age. As I got older, my appreciation for science fiction changed, and I became more interested in the fact that you would hear or read these stories that involved very human things but done in such a way that you could appreciate the human elements of the story, but not feel like you were being lectured to, because again, you had this distance because it was science fiction.

What’s your take on science fiction, Sam? Like, which authors and movies inspired you, especially for this project? SR: I guess, well, Blade Runner, Alien, Outland, Silent Running, and 2001Alien might have been the first one we talked about. DJ: That’s true. Well, that kind of tied with the whole blue-collar thing, didn’t it. SR: Yeah, we were trying to do a combination of science fiction and — well, a lot of science fiction movies in the past 10 or 15 years have been about incredibly good-looking people up in space, and they sort of save the universe from a monster or something, and back then it was like, they’ve got these really great character actors like Yaphet Kotto and Harry Dean Stanton and Veronica Cartwright and all these people. The mix of English and American actors in Alien was interesting, and the fact that the acting was so realistic, and it was about these blue-collar people. Or a movie like The Thing, where you’ve got these blue -collar people up in this isolated working environment, like regular joes, and they’re ordinary people forced into extraordinary circumstances. So you relate to them, and the acting was so real. In Alien, it was so real it was like a Cassavetes movie, actually. You know, you have Harry Dean Stanton improvising with Ian Holm and stuff like that, and these incredibly skilled actors like Tom Skerritt, and they throw this monster into the mix. And the monster seems very real. So I think the reason you get pulled in, if you take Alien, just that movie, is that they have a very naturalistic, kitchen-sink movie in space, and then all of a sudden they start introducing more extraordinary things, and so because you’re sucked in through the reality of the acting, you start to buy the monster. You become afraid just like they are. So it’s a very effective movie, and I think we might have talked about that movie in particular along with Outland and other ones, Bruce Dern in Silent Running, and that’s the thing that I … I said, “Why don’t they make sci-fi movies like that any more? Where’s that movie?” So I think we bonded on that, so that was our aesthetic with Moon, I think. At least it was mine, and I think it was yours, too. DJ: Yeah, definitely.

Has the future become much more boring now that JG Ballard died? DJ: Oh, absolutely! JG Ballard passing was a big deal for me because I was a huge fan of his, and I don’t know if it’s more boring, but I just think that now we’re lacking one of the really interesting minds as far as it comes to futurism and looking at what our situation is in the world, and how we’re going to be affected by the technologies we’re inventing and the changes that we’re sort of creating for ourselves. So it’s a shame that he’s gone. SR: What did he write? DJ: He wrote Crash and a bunch of books like High RiseSR: Crash? Which one?

The good one. SR: The one with the car accidents? DJ: And Empire of the Sun. That was about his childhood. About his real childhood. SR: Wow.

In the Japanese internment camps. SR: But those don’t sound like sci-fi stories … DJ: I should give you some of his short stories because he has some amazing stuff. He did this really, really interesting short story about a laboratory where they were doing experiments and not allowing people to sleep. It’s just really weird. And it’s great ’cause he would take, rather than go into crazy sci-fi, what he would do is he would take the world as it is and he’d make one subtle change. He’d just make one little change. And then the story would be about, what does that change do to the world? Really good stuff.

You could compare him to William Gibson … DJ: William Gibson and Philip K. Dick, though, they both kind of made big changes. Ballard’s beauty was that it was small changes.

Right, but they were no less prescient. SR: So he was like Kurt Vonnegut too, a little bit. DJ: Yeah, yeah. SR: There’s a Kurt Vonnegut story about what if the Japanese and Germans had won World War II. I think it’s a whole novel, not just a short story. DJ: There’s a great Philip K. Dick story about that as well. SR: He did Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, right? DJ: Yeah, Blade Runner. But there’s a book that he did that I’d love to make into a film, but I just don’t think if it’s politically acceptable. It’s called The Man in the High Castle. I think that would be an amazing film. It’s, again, the same thing, if the Germans and Japanese had won WWII and the Germans had basically owned the East Coast and the Japanese had won the West Coast, and it’s all about these, they’re kind of like antiques dealers who live in the Midwest who basically sell Americana to these Nazis and Japanese. It’s great. Amazing story.

So do you want stick with science fiction, as far as movie-making goes? DJ: Well, my next film is probably gonna be a sci-fi, but no, not forever. I want to do some different genres; there are some things I’d love to do, but not just sci-fi.

Your next project, I read, is similar to a sequel to Blade Runner. DJ: It’s not a sequel. It’s a thriller that would take place in the world, if Blade Runner’s going on in LA, this is a story that’s going on in Berlin. So they’re not related in any other way except for the fact that it could be from the same world.

Video games and sci-fi are all part of a geek culture, if you will, that is becoming far more mainstream as an extension of these alternate realities that movies Moon are presenting. What’s your take on that? DJ: Games, films, literature — it’s all about creating worlds and stories in those worlds. I used to work in the games industry as well. I was a games designer about 10 years ago or so … It was a terrible game. It was called “Republic.” It was at a company called Elixir Studios, and they were like the European equivalent of Ion Storm, so you know what happened to Ion Storm — basically, the same thing happened to Elixir Studios.

Do you still play video games? DJ: I do play them, yeah. [laughs and turns to Sam] Sorry, this is so boring. SR: No, go ahead, man. I’m taking a break. DJ: Call of Duty 5 … PC. Only PC. Yeah, I hate consoles. I have an Xbox, don’t use it. I have a Wii, don’t use that. I need a keyboard and a mouse. I’m old school.

You’re old school like GERTY. DJ: Yeah, exactly.

And Sam, you don’t play video games. SR: I don’t. DJ: He believes in living life. I hide from life. SR: I’m a bit of a technophobe, yeah … I have a cell phone. That’s about it. I text. That’s about it. DJ: Thank God for texting. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to get ahold of you. I wouldn’t know how to interface. SR: It’s true. I don’t have email. I don’t have any of that.

You don’t have email? SR: I don’t have a computer. DJ: See what I had to deal with?

I don’t know how to respond to that. SR: It’s possible. You can do it, if you want.

But why? SR: It’s just not necessary for me. Once in a while, I would like to do the research you can get on a computer. That, I think, might come in handy. I might get an iPhone, eventually, just to do some of the research. But I’m not a letter-writer, so I don’t really care. I’ll write some texts. The text thing is already too much. It’s like, enough with this thing. I wanna throw it out the window. It’s like every two seconds I’m texting, almost get hit by a car texting. It’s ridiculous.

But you’re in a science fiction movie. SR: Yes, but I’m an actor. I’m not a space technician. [all laugh] Technically, it was challenging, making the movie, but for different reasons. There are a lot of people who don’t have computers, you know. A lot of cool people … Tom Stoppard doesn’t have a computer, did you know that? Tom Stoppard. I heard that David Mamet doesn’t have a computer, but he probably has an assistant who has a computer. DJ: Russell Crowe hates computers. If he sees a computer, he breaks it. SR: I heard Viggo Mortensen doesn’t have a computer. DJ: That makes sense. SR: He’s the coolest guy around … He doesn’t need a computer. DJ: He just looks at them, and they know. SR: I know Patricia Clarkson does not have a computer, and I’m a big fan of hers. We’re friends. DJ: But actors need to be able to relate to people and understand people, whereas we don’t. [laughs] We just have to use computers.

It’s hard to even talk about the movie without revealing spoilers, so Sam, talk to me about your research. Did you go to a therapist for that, or what? SR: I do go to therapy, but that’s something entirely different. All actors should go to therapy.

I think all people should. SR: I think all people should too.

What about you, Duncan? DJ: I don’t go to therapy. SR: The English aren’t big on therapy. DJ: But I need the interior conflict in order to make stuff … and then get him to act it out. SR: The British aren’t big on therapy … It’s too self-conscious. DJ: No, not really. We’ve got to catch up on dentistry. SR: I think they think it’s like you’re feeling sorry for yourself, which is actually, it’s not, but I think there’s a sort of … it’s that phrase “Get on with it.” DJ: Yeah, absolutely … When I grew up, we had this phrase that was always thrown around, “character building.” So if anything happened to you, or any shit you happened to deal with … SR: What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. DJ: Yeah, character building. SR: I agree with that. Sometimes you do sort of have to get on with it. But anyway, yes … It was intense. For a lot of reasons. Technically, it was mind-boggling. It was a never-ending challenge, technically. It was a lot about timing, and we talked about dance, and I think that there is a kind of timing to it, and I think I do have good timing. I think that was … I mean, I’m being very vague here, but … DJ: We knew up front, there’s no point in getting you to play the same guy the same way multiple times. There’s no drama or conflict or anything interesting in that … We spent a lot of time trying to find ways to split these Sams up and make them into different people. SR: A few months before, we had time to sort of work on this, and he flew to New York, and I got an actor friend of mine, Yul Vazquez, who I studied acting with, and we would read a scene and we’d read it one way, and then we’d switch parts and do it the other way. And then we would improvise and riff, and he would incorporate some of the improvs and film it on video, and then he would go back to London and incorporate some of that into the script. And then I went to London and we found another actor, and we rehearsed with him, and it was just a process where we found we were going for two very broad strokes of archetypes for the two different clones — one was maybe a tough guy, the other was more sensitive. And then slowly we got more specific on really crafting out three dimensional human beings.

DJ: That’s why the script kind of made it clear what the difference was — there was this difference in experience between the different Sams. One guy’s been on his own for three years. One of them has just woken up into this absurd, bizarre situation. SR: You know, if you spend three years in prison, or three years in Auschwitz, it’s different than spending three years in New York City, you know what I mean? So three years on the moon, I think, affected this guy in a way that made him different. It’s a different experience. It’s like ten years on Earth, in a way. It’s a Robinson Crusoe castaway experience that’s going to change you. And we discussed a back story of how he was before he was there; he was more selfish and narcissistic, and then this experience kind of changed him a little bit.

So Sam, Iron Man 2? How’s that going? Fun? SR: Iron Man 2. Very fun.

Awesome. Jon Favreau’s Twittering about it. SR: I’m Twittering about him … Twittering in my pants!

Where are your favorite places to go in New York and London? SR: I like Avenue C Espresso. Esperanto’s over there. I like Zum Schneider, the German place, although it’s crowded, but I like the beer. Good beer during the day. DJ: In New York, I like K-town, just because I love Korean food, so anything, any bibimbap, just throw it in front of me, I’ll eat it. And in London, there’s a place called The Big Easy, which is basically an overload of Americana. So, because I live in London, I sort of get all the London I need, but whenever I need a little bit of America, I go to The Big Easy.

Why do you want a little bit of America in London? DJ: Well, because I’m cosmopolitan. [laughs]

Industry Insiders: Michael Sinensky & Sean McGarr, Terrace Twins

Twenty-nine-year-old Michael Sinensky and the ageless Sean McGarr juggle the ownership of SideBar, Vintage Irving, The Big Easy, Hudson Terrace, and the Village Pourhouse, along with Michael’s personal projects: corporate event management, “disco sushi,” and the NewYearsEve.com. The much-anticipated opening of Hudson Terrace is slated for May 5, so the hospitality and nightlife pros gave us a glimpse at the new joint and the forces behind the machine.

How would you describe yourself? Michael Sinensky: Sean takes his two daughters to school every day, and I clean my baby’s diapers. He handles the sponsorship acquisition. The goal with operating numerous places is buying power on Sean’s part. I deal with day-to-day operations. Sean McGarr: Michael is definitely the brains behind the operation, and I’m just looking to retire.

How did you get your start together? SM: I owned Webster Hall for ten years and last December sold my interest back to my partners, the Ballingers. I met Michael eight years ago when he had his event marketing companies and two successful bars in New York, the Big Easy and Proof. He would come to me for time to time for special events, and through all of my years, Michael was the only one who consistently under-promised, and over-delivered. We developed a friendship first, and respect for the work. When it came to opening our first Pourhouse location, we joyfully did that together. We both brought so much to the table. I had experience with buying power because of my clout at Webster Hall, and Michael could run anything. We both owned our own marketing and advertising agencies, so we put together a powerhouse saloon across the street from Webster Hall, and we signed and delivered the deal in 12 weeks.

What inspired Hudson Terrace? SM: Hudson Terrace is really a place from conception — the building was custom built for us. Everything put into it screams luxury, and from all of our favorite places, our place was born. When Marquee opened, we loved the service and the way the servers handled their customers, and like that, we incorporated this into ours. We constantly came across Lee Blumer of Crobar and then Mansion. We wanted her to come and work with us. She’s one of the best event planners in the city, so rather than hear about one of the best planners going elsewhere, we incorporated her into our business. MS: That’s our secret to success — taking other people’s secrets of success and doing it just a little bit better. Suede Lounge was one of my favorites in the city. Every single time you went there, you had a good time. They took something that could be considered snooty and turned it into a bar atmosphere where everybody remembered your name whether you spent $10 or $10,000. We made sure that customer service was our #1 priority. You don’t want to reinvent the wheel; you just make it with better wheels.

Who do you look up to in the industry? MS: I’ll say Frank Steo. While I was going to all of these events with Sean, he was the first to nurture me, teach me right from wrong, and he put me in the right direction. I learned that you don’t cut back, make your employees happy, don’t’ fire to make the business more money, and you create loyalty. From there I opened two places with him, and that’s how I met Sean. SM: I would have to say the Ballinger brothers at Webster Hall who gave me the opportunity to get to where I am today. We were the Kings of the Nerds. We made a business out of going after the average person. Everyone who came to Webster Hall had a mom and dad who loved them.

Any bad hospitality trends that you took into consideration when preparing Hudson Terrace? SM: There’s so much on the negative. We’d have to say really good plastic cups. Hudson Terrace would have benefited from bottle service, but what’s so positive about the nightlife business? We battled for 18 months to get our liquor license. Every time someone said we did something wrong, we had to hire a lawyer to prove them wrong, and we’re rather sour on the nightlife business now. It’s just very slow in New York City. MS: The “going away” from the bottle business. But Sean’s right, it’s actually a negative thing because of the economy. The payoff isn’t that good. We’re just opening more businesses to lower costs to make some money. Every aspect of every business — it’s getting harder and harder. The city and state are making it more difficult with licenses and permits. It should take days, not a year and a half. Most people go under. We were just lucky to have an open-minded landlord.

Positive trends you’re happier about? SM: If you’re the best, you can do very well, and that’s the fate of Hudson Terrace. We will make money. Michael and I will always end up on the winning side of things. This year, our companies will create 150 new jobs. MS: The positive spin on this horrible economy is that the people who are left standing are at the top of their game. Hospitality is the one industry that is hiring now. We need good people on many different levels to help us become more efficient, and to make it. As an entrepreneur, you can hire more people and do more events for charities.

Something that people might not know about you? MS: I’m 29, a father, and married. I’ve been doing this since I was 17 and throwing events in high school. What nobody knows about Sean is that he grew up in a trailer park and he had nothing — forget middle class, lower class. His is a great success story. SM: I also have two little girls: Hannah and Lily. Michael and I are living a dream — we’re able to have this exciting owner’s life.

Something you love? SM: My favorite thing is having no boundaries, no limits, no roof. Living in this country, you could do as much as you wanted, be whoever you want to be. It’s just really hard work. MS: Peking duck wrap at Peking Duck House. Sean thinks they’re too fatty. And going to my parents’ house in Queens, shutting off my phone, and sleeping the whole day. It only happens once a year.

What are you doing tonight? MS: I have a meeting at the Nets game with a potential client, then I have to rush home and change diapers. SM: Michael still wears diapers. I’ll be in countless meetings at the New Jersey location, with contractors, floor people, an attorney, and I won’t be at the Nets game eating and drinking. I’ll be eating cold soup and wearing flannel.
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