While shooting the films Heist and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, actor Sam Rockwell got to spend a lot of time in Montreal. And while it looks like big fun to live in a hotel while working on a movie, it’s hard work. First there’s, of course, the work, for which Rockwell goes to great lengths (and distances), exemplified by his star-making roles in Welcome to Collinwood, The Green Mile, and Charlie’s Angels. Then there’s the city, which the actor must make his temporary home-away-from-home throughout the duration of filming. Rockwell first moved to Montreal from his home in New York with Gene Hackman and writer/director David Mamet to film the thriller Heist. Then he returned to work with director George Clooney and actors Drew Barrymore, Julia Roberts, and Matt Damon for Confessions, in which he starred as game-show-creator-turned-CIA-operative Chuck Barris. When we spoke, Sam Rockwell was shacking up at the Chateau Marmont in L.A. while he shot his newest film, Matchstick Men, costarring Nicolas Cage. In between calling out to the staff by name, handing out high-fives to his fellow residents, and visiting celebrities (the day’s catch included Heather Graham on the couch in the lobby and Mira Sorvino with her bull mastiff beneath the patio eaves), he reminisced about Montreal, the city that twice became his movie set, and the places he went when the cameras weren’t rolling.
How much time did you spend in Montreal while shooting Heist and Confessions?
“Confessions was four months easy, and Heist three months. It was a long time.”
What was your favorite part of the city?
“We went to Old Montreal, which is a lot like Europe. It’s an old-looking area with lots of great exteriors, and they were trying to pass it off [in the movie] as East Berlin and Helsinki. Old Montreal has cobblestone streets, and its center is in a square called Place Jacques-Cartier. In the summer, there’s all sorts of entertainment and painters and everything there. It leads down to the old port and the waterfront. For me, that’s sort of the center of the city.”
Where did you stay while you were there?
“The whole Confessions crew stayed at Hotel Vogue. The first time I went to Montreal, for Heist, I stayed in a really nice apartment in sort of the Greek area. But even though it was a great neighborhood, I found myself always going downtown just to hang out. Last time, I just lived downtown, basically at the Hotel Vogue. Everybody stayed there: George [Clooney], Julia Roberts, Matt Damon. There was a great bar down in the lobby where we spent a lot of time. We would get breaded chicken fingers and have some vodka. If it was really cold, we would have snowball fights and then come back inside.”
Where would you and George go for dinner?
“Da Emma is a classy Italian place that George loved. We would have dinner there two or three times a week. Just beautiful Italian food with eggplant this and that. They treated us really nice, because we were regulars and George was there. One night, [Confessions] cinematographer [Newton] Thomas Sigel started a cake fight. Drew Barrymore, me, and Tommy started throwing cake at each other. The owners were nice about it.”
What were some other favorites?
“There is a famous Mediterranean restaurant called Milos. It has really fresh fish. Just fresh, beautiful, gorgeous food. The owner is fanatical about freshness and detail. All of his fish are caught especially for him by hook. He’s got fresh herbs in pots and all of the fish on display. He has a second location in New York, but this is the original. For sushi, there’s Soto in Old Montreal and Mikado on Laurier West. You can’t go wrong at either one.”
What was your favorite after-hours spot?
“There’s a great bar called the Roy Bar. It’s kind of your basic, nitty-gritty bar. We had a birthday party for some of the crew there. It was about halfway through the shoot, and we were looking to blow off some steam. So we went to the Roy Bar and had this raging party. By the end of it, people were just, you know, dancing on the pool tables. There were women taking off their shirts. It was just
insane, out of control, but fun.”
Where would you go to recover the morning after?
“Bar Olympico is a great coffee place, with really authentic, really good coffee. The vibe is kind of Seattle-like. Grungy, and you stand in line. People call it Open Da Night, because the old sign read ‘Open Day and Night,’ but the ‘y’ in ‘Day’ fell off. For $1.75 you get this really strong coffee. Much funkier than a Starbucks. Much more European.”
What’s the most unique thing you discovered?
“Underground Montreal. It’s a series of passageways that lead you throughout the entire downtown area. A couple hundred thousand people go through there everyday in the winter, so it’s sort of the center of the city. Because it’s cold, you can actually walk underground downtown. And it was cold. It just looks like a mall. All of the shops are there.”
Where did you shop?
“Roots. They have stores all over. It’s a place where they have all this insignia stuff all over the clothes. But it started in Canada. Roots is cool. I love their clothes. I went there a lot. There’s also a local leather place called M0851[formerly Rugby], which makes its own leather clothing, right near Globe on Saint-Laurent Boulevard.”
Where would you go to get away from it all?
“Quebec City. It’s fun. It’s pretty. It’s exotic. Very Canadian with a European flavor. It’s sexy because they speak French there, you know what I mean. There’s a great old hotel there, the Château Frontenac, right on the St. Lawrence River. Stay there and you’re in the middle of everything.”
What was the most interesting Montreal location you shot in?
“For Confessions, we went to Le Festin du Gouverneur, a dinner theater that has a French show in the style of old Quebec. It’s on an island off of Montreal, where the World’s Exposition of 1967 was held. It’s a big place, and it was made to look like a German beer hall. It was supposed to pass for Helsinki. I remember going in this place and it was downstairs, upstairs. There were like cellars and dungeons; we shot so many different things. There was a tunnel. It was so intricate, like a castle.”
Where was the fanciest place you went?
“Globe, which is a restaurant with sort of nouvelle cuisine. The chef is young and great. But Globe is also a bar. It’s in a cool area called Saint-Laurent Boulevard, which has a lot of restaurants and clubs. There were a lot of girls, a lot of models.”
Where would you go after dinner?
“The Confessions wrap party was at Club Lounge 737. It’s up on the top of a big office building, and you can see all around the entire city. It’s a great place with a disco downstairs and a place for a more formal party upstairs.”
What clothes would you pack for Montreal?
“In the summer, just your basic stuff. But we were there in the wintertime and it was very cold. So break out the Uggs. You know, those sheepskin boots. And scarves and long johns. Warm clothes. I wore a peacoat a lot.”
What’s your favorite outdoor attraction?
“I think for Heist we were there in the fall, so it wasn’t that cold. It was gorgeous. There was Mont Royal, that great park. It was designed by the famous turn-of-the-century landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, who also designed Central Park. I loved to walk there, in that sort of Greek area. Lots of dogs, lots of couples. I went there with my dad and we hung out. It has a lot of hills and is very big. It reminds me of the parks in London, like Regents Park or Hyde Park. It’s not like Golden Gate Park or Central Park. It has a European flair.”
Did you ever get time to go out to lunch?
“Sometimes I would go to Schwartz’s, this kosher-style deli. It’s kind of a typical deli/diner. For smoked meats, the famous place is Ben’s, and it lives up to its reputation. For steaks, everybody likes La Queue de Cheval, which has big steaks and a beautiful setting. We got some good Thai food at Chang Thai downtown, close to the Hotel Vogue.”
Where would you go to get into character for Confessions of a Dangerous Mind?
“I would lock myself in my room at the Hotel Vogue and watch Gong Show tapes. I wouldn’t so much be in character, but I would practice the dialect. I would watch his mannerisms and I would look at the script. I would have the hotel open the windows. A lot of hotels these days, you can’t open the windows, which is ridiculous. And they said, ‘You have to sign a waiver saying you won’t jump out the window.’ They got this guy and he had to like pry it open. I would push out the window and the cold air would come in.”
Who’s more fun to go out with, Clooney or Mamet?
“Oh, they’re both fun to go out with. It depends on what you want. If you want a quiet dinner, you would go with Mamet. If you want to go out on the town, you would go with George. We would go to the Italian restaurant probably, then we would probably go to the hotel bar, hang out, eat peanuts, and drink beer. Sometimes we would just go to the hotel bar and sometimes Globe. We didn’t veer off too much.”
Tell us about a night in Montreal you won’t soon forget.
“Confessions was a great cast. We went out one night to Buonanotte, another restaurant on Saint-Laurent Boulevard, where they push back the tables and it turns into a nightclub. It was a birthday party for [George Clooney’s assistant]. Morgan Freeman was doing a film in Montreal at the same time, and he showed up and we danced and danced. We had a great time. A crazy, crazy, crazy party.”
Any closing comments?
“Hell, I think you could write a whole story on the Roy Bar. It was fantastic. Some of the things I don’t think I want in print. I got into some trouble there. Oh, let’s just say I almost got arrested. But I can’t really get into it. I can’t really tell you. I had fun, but it could have been too much fun, why don’t you just say that. The police are very nice in Montreal. Very nice. I was let off the hook by a nice French Canadian woman cop.”
here are the hot spots — and cold spots — sam rockwell hit while on location in montreal.
fairmont le château frontenac
quebec city, expensive
loews hotel vogue
coffee shop, inexpensive
north american, very expensive
la queue de cheval
le festin du gouverneur
(514) 279-4809 or (514) 844-5705
restaurant club lounge 737
mont royal park
a 95-acre historic quarter located in the heart of the city underground montreal, located beneath downtown
here are the hot spots we like to hit in montreal.
moderate, (877) 788-2040.
one of the newest hotels to enter montreal’s thriving boutique boom. designed by joining two 1850 buildings, the hotel’s ambience combines european charm with modern elegance and amenities.
le meridien versailles montreal
moderate, (800) 543-4300.
located in old montreal, this hotel is chic yet cozy. it’s popular with the business crowd for extended weekend stays.
expensive, (514) 890-6691.
a contemporary spin on the regional cuisine, french fusion inspires intoxicating combos like seared foie gras and xeres-poached apricots.
inexpensive, (514) 842-3447.
one of the most popular breakfast joints in town, offering hungry montrealers a healthy start to their day. expect long lines.
main deli and steakhouse
inexpensive, (514) 843-8126.
if the legendary schwartz’s is too crowded, head across the street to this late-night standby serving smoked-meat sandwiches and platters. service is fast and friendly even in the wee hours.
serves more than 50 flavors of martinis in a retro setting complete with lava lamps. live music nightly.
on friday and saturday nights, the packed dance floor sizzles with salsa fans at this latin hot spot.
la maison simons
this esteemed 90,000-square-foot department store is known for good value at moderate prices.
lola & emily
two friends opened this trendy shop that melds couture labels with reworked vintage pieces designed by montreal artisans.
saint joseph’s oratory of mount royal
one of the country’s most visited shrines, this basilica’s huge dome is second only in height to saint peter’s in rome. frequent recitals showcase its grand organs and 56 bell chimes.
st. catherine street
this major commercial street cuts through the center of downtown and is filled with stores, restaurants, theaters, and more.