Sam Rockwell was assigned perhaps the sternest task in The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy: to play the two-headed, three-armed, exuberant icon of Douglas Adam's universe, Zaphod Beeblebrox. Earning a reputation from his quirky support roles in films such as The Green Mile, Galaxy Quest and Charlie's Angels, Rockwell's performance in Hitchhiker's is further proof after Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind and Matchstick Men, that he's one of the most entertaining and versatile character actors around.
How did you go about forming your take on Zaphod?
From the notes that Douglas Adams left about Zaphod, and what's in the book. There are many elements to Zaphod - he's very lush and layered. He's kind of like Jeff Spicoli from Fast Times At Ridgemont High meets Beetle Juice - that's the simplified version. A lot of my own touches to the character, I stole from Bill Clinton, Elvis Presley and a little bit of George W Bush.
He's the politician side to Zaphod; the very charming side. Zaphod's described as being very charming, then there's his hippie and rock star qualities. The nail vanish and chain mail, for example, I got from Freddie Mercury. There are a lot of influences.
Why did you keep to the 60s American feel of Zaphod that Adams had in the book and TV series?
It's very clear that Douglas wanted him to be American. Really my idea of the character, I'm ripping off from my friend Vince Vaughn. He has this fascination about doing Elvis Presley impressions, and we'd do these improvs, and I stole every thing from them.
How have the other characters from the book and TV series evolved in your eyes?
Ford Prefect is a lot different from the TV series; we're like old buddies, which I think is an improvement. Me and Mos Def have been incorporating little ad-libs from the book. If I ever do an ad-lib, I try to take it from the book or from Douglas' notes, so it's not completely arbitrary. Trillion is more like Annie Hall in Space, that's how I see her. And what's great about Martin [Freeman's] Arthur Dent is he isn't this posh preppy Englishman; he's more like a regular guy. So I think he'll be more universal in terms of people relating to him. He's more realistic, and his relationship with Trillion is more realistic in a way.
Working on the film in the UK, did you find any difference in acting styles between the UK and US approach?
Not really. Martin's deadly real. He's so real, that he's said lines to me on set, and I thought he was just talking to me. A lot of the time American's can be a little fuzzy and a little lazy, while there's great clarity in British acting. There's clarity in intention and purpose in a scene. There's a bigger tradition of British actors coming from the theatre, and that's a better discipline.
Zaphod continues your tradition of off-kilter performances. Would you say he's your most outlandish character yet?
Yes. He's much more a dynamic character, than say the guy in Galaxy Quest. He's much more flamboyant. He's what you'd get if you had a surfer/rock star become president - president of the universe!
The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy is released in UK cinemas on Thursday 28th April 2005.