Adam Rothenburg talks about working with Katie Holmes, Mariah Carey, and getting to roll around in big bills.
Diane Lane, Katie Holmes, and Queen Latifah star in Mad Money as three women out to rob the National Reserve Bank. In the film, up and coming actor Adam Rothenburg plays Katie Holmes' husband. His dim bulb conspirer almost wrecks their plans, throwing a mean monkey wrench into the situation. Alas, he damn near steals the show with his idiotic antics.
Born and raised in New York, Rothenburg was excited about getting to work with such a wonderful cast. He sites both Ted Danson and Katie Holmes as on-set confidants that helped him learn the ropes of the business. Not only can Adam be seen in this month's Mad Money, he will also soon be sharing the screen with Mariah Carey in Tennessee.
I recently got to sit down with Rothenberg and talk to him about his ultra-famous co-stars. We also chatted a bit about cribbage and losing at backgammon. Seems he owes Mad Money co-star Roger Cross a mad amount of cash.
Here is our conversation:
So, how's it going?
Adam Rothenberg: Good, good. How are you doing?
Great. Now, I met you in the other room about a half hour ago, and you were talking about how you were the most uptight person on the set of Mad Money. Why do you think that is?
Adam Rothenberg: I was just nervous. I just want to do such a good job, and there are all of these mine fields out there. Ultimately, there weren't. But when I came onto the project, I just felt like I needed to have all of the answers. And if I didn't have all of the answers, I was afraid that I would be outed as someone that didn't really belong there. I just thought there was this way that Hollywood people really spoke. I was worried that they would think I was stupid. So, it was a lot of baggage that I brought into it. But they beat it out of me after awhile.
Did you perceive that some of the more "known" actors on set had more leeway to be a little bit loose?
Adam Rothenberg: Yeah, that's exactly what the feeling was. I didn't know how to ask for what I wanted, or what I needed. So I was very quiet, uptight, and shy. I was almost overly respectful. Katie Holmes and Ted Danson had this inherent understanding of what that was for me. They would speak on my behalf a lot, and voice things for me. It was like they were looking inside my head. Ted would say, "I think we need another take because this joke would work better for Adam if we all did it again." It was really, really nice of them to be there for me. It was great.
I got a sense that all of the guys in the movie weren't really together on set too much. You even said that they were "studding you out". What was that experience like, having to deal with a mostly female working environment?
Adam Rothenberg: I didn't really miss any male camaraderie. Or anything like that. Yes, it was a female dominated movie. But I don't have a lot to compare it too. I didn't have a lot to do with the guys too much. But on the same note, I didn't have a lot to do with all of the girls either. It was mainly Katie and Ted that I worked with. In those scenes were everyone is working together, I am mainly hanging out in the background. Nodding. It didn't feel weird, or off, or strange.
Ted seems like the coolest person to get to work with. What was that experience like? It sounds like he sort of stuck up for you on set?
Adam Rothenberg: Well, it wasn't like anyone was picking on me. He was the voice for me when I was baring myself. Ted is an idol of mine. He is one of these guys that can talk to anybody. When he walks into a room, you just automatically feel good. The room is a little poorer after he leaves. He was a great guy to work with, and as a person, I have a lot of respect for him. I would always take notes. I'd write down, "I really want to be more like Ted." Ted can shoot the shit with anybody. He always says the right joke, and it is always said with just the right flare. He always knows the exact thing to do to put people at ease. He knows what will make people laugh. He is gifted. Yes, he is a very gifted person in certain ways.
Do you see your character as the catalyst for the women's plans going wrong? He seems to throw a wrench into their game.
Adam Rothenberg: He is a bit of a screw-up. But I think the great thing about my character is his simplicity. He is along for the ride, and as stupid as he might be, he just loves his wife so much. That is what I love about their relationship. There is no pathos in their marriage. They just love each other. It is that simple. When she decides to rob the bank, it is just as simple as "Why not?" It is hard for me to call him a screw-up because he is so happy. You know? Yeah, he is a screw-up, but he is charmed in a way. Maybe he is charmed because he is stupid, but it doesn't really matter. He is happy. The weird thing about him and his wife is that they are the two people in the story that were pretty happy while they were poor. It was just a gas to go over that edge.
Is it a challenge to play someone that is a little bit below your intelligence level?
Adam Rothenberg: I guess so. I didn't even think of him as dumb, even though he very clearly is. It is a very simple and direct approach, and the lines sort of point to him not being the sharpest knife in the drawer. The less labor I would put into it the night before, the better I would come off. I would try to be a good actor, and I would try to work on it. But the more I worked on it, the more brooding and intense this character would become. Because you have all of these things going on in your head. So, it looked like this character had a lot of things going on in his head. That translates to the screen. And it didn't really work. I had to abandoned the security of working on it and show up fresh. Blank. I had to work on it in the moment.
The appeal of this film is universal, as are the themes. How do you personally feel about the themes that are presented in the context of the narrative?
Adam Rothenberg: To be honest with you, I'm not sure what the themes are. I know there is that question, "Can money buy you happiness." That is sort of ambiguous, because at the end they become very happy. Because they have the money again. I don't belabor the themes found in this movie. It is a caper movie. I just kind of leave it at that.
What is funny is that I brought up How to Beat the High Cost of Living, and no one that worked on this seems to have seen that film.
Adam Rothenberg: I haven't seen it.
This film is very similar to that one.
Adam Rothenberg: Who is in that movie?
The two women from Kate & Allie. Jane Curtin and Susan Saint James. And the girl from King Kong. Jessica Lange. They rob a mall in Eugene, Oregon. I thought maybe the screenwriter of Mad Money had taken some ideas from that film. But he said he's never seen it.
Adam Rothenberg: This is based on a true story from England, I think.
How to Beat the High Cost of Living is based on a true story, too. From the early 80s. It has very similar themes, but I guess no one has seen it. Now, can I ask you where you hail from originally?
Adam Rothenberg: New Jersey.
Yeah, I could tell. I have this friend that you remind me of. You have very similar mannerisms.
Adam Rothenberg: Yeah, I think that is an East Coast thing. (Laughs)
Coming from there, what was it like shooting in Shreveport, Louisiana? And did Burt Reynolds come and visit? I know he is notorious for dropping by film sets in the area.
Adam Rothenberg: Burt Reynolds?
Yeah, he teaches some college courses there, and I know he likes to drop by certain film sets sometimes.
Adam Rothenberg: What does he teach?
I believe he teaches Theater Arts and Film theory. I think he also taught in Florida for awhile.
Adam Rothenberg: That is awesome. He never showed up while I was there. That would have been really cool. I didn't know he even did that. Previous to this film, I had driven through Louisiana. New Orleans. It was hot. The people were great. I love Southern people. The people there were sweet and great, especially when you come from the North. You are aware of your own lack of warmth around these people. Small talk is an art. They would naturally and easily fall into these benevolent little conversations. I would be up to get my coffee, and they would start in with me. I would retract and say to myself, "Wow, Adam, you are a New Yorker." It really made me aware of the difference.
From what I understand, you guys all got colds at the same time on set. That sounded kind of miserable.
Adam Rothenberg: I remember Ted being deathly ill. I never got sick.
That's a good thing.
Adam Rothenberg: Yeah. I made better.
You guys were talking about a backgammon obsession on the set of this film. Is it true that you really owe your co-star Roger Cross a lot of money?
Adam Rothenberg: I owe him quite a bit of money. It is true. I brought this backgammon board to set thinking I was the only person on the planet that played backgammon. Since I can always beat my girlfriend at it, I thought I had a knack for it. I brought it in and challenged Roger. He won the first game, then he won the second game. I started betting, because I wanted to make it interesting. And I wanted to cry by the end of the day.
It's pretty funny, because you don't hear about a lot of people that actually play backgammon. Or cribbage.
Adam Rothenberg: I love cribbage. I just learned how to play that.
That game is so addictive. But I get so mad when I lose.
Adam Rothenberg: Yeah, I know.
I Hate it.
Adam Rothenberg: That is a really odd game, cribbage.
It seems like it takes so much effort just to lose.
Adam Rothenberg: Yeah, you can win by three. And sometimes you get screwed because it's not even your turn.
Was it your girlfriend that got you into backgammon, too?
Adam Rothenberg: No, backgammon was something that I brought to the table. And she just now taught me cribbage, because that was something her grandfather used to play with her all of the time.
Was backgammon an old family tradition around Christmas time or something?
Adam Rothenberg: No, I think I picked it up while I was doing Streetcar at the Kennedy Center. The actress I worked with had a fondness for backgammon, and I sort of fell into it. I discovered this fondness for it and became obsessed.
Earlier, Cross was talking about visiting the National Reserve Center. That wasn't something you participated in for the preparation of this film, was it?
Adam Rothenberg: No, I didn't actually go do that. Those guys started weeks earlier. I missed a lot of the good stories. A lot of the paparazzi stories had already happened. I came into the project a few weeks later, when everything was humming along pretty well.
So, you didn't get to witness any of the exciting paparazzi falling out of the trees and what not?
Adam Rothenberg: Nope. I missed all of that.
So, like this film, have you ever had a huge amount of actual money in front of you at one time that you could roll around in?
Adam Rothenberg: Cash? No. The closet thing I ever came to was when I was doing this play in Scotland. And the people didn't pay me the whole time I was there. Then, in the last week, they gave me this backlog. Which, I think, was something like a thousand pounds. I remember having a thousand pounds when I came into my room. And I threw it all over the apartment when my girlfriend walked in. It was sort of a joke.
Pounds look so much like play money. Anyway.
Adam Rothenberg: That is the sad thing. It shouldn't. It does feel like play money. Cash feels like play money to me. That is the weird thing. If I get a chunk of cash as a per deim. For the life of me, I can't process the fact that it is responsible money. Unless it is in a computer. When it is in the ATM, that's when it feels like real money. Cash just feels like a good time.
The director Callie Khouri said an interesting thing to me. She said she doesn't consider this a chick flick. How do you see Mad Money fitting into the genre? Is this a cross-over?
Adam Rothenberg: What would be a sort of cross-over movie?
Well, the way she described it is: 27 Dresses comes out on the same weekend as this and Cloverfield.
Adam Rothenberg: 27 Dresses is a total chick flick.
And all of the guys are going to go see Cloverfield.
Adam Rothenberg: Right.
But the guy and girl that are on a date and arguing, this is the compromise that they would both go see.
Adam Rothenberg: I think the movie is indeed a cross over. But I think it's going to be hard to get people to believe that. Because it is about three women. Which is so obvious. But it doesn't fall into any of the pitfalls that befuddle a chick flick. There are no long conversations about "Does he like me?" It is very muscular. It is sort of a masculine movie, because it is driven by ambition. Stealing. Focus. External problems come in and disrupt their lives. They have to take action. I could see how this would have a masculine energy.
One last question. You have an upcoming movie called Tennessee. How was that experience and what was it like getting to work with Mariah Carey?
Adam Rothenberg: That, again, was great. I am always surprised when I meet super famous people. It is not that exciting. Well, it's not that. It's just that they are so real. Everyone on set is very nervous on that first day. We want people to like us. So you generally come together pretty perfectly, because you have a common goal. Mariah Carey was really nice. She was great. And I'm sure we will hear more about the film as it gets closer to its release date.
Great, well. That's my time. Thanks for talking with me today.
Adam Rothenberg: Yeah, my pleasure, Paulington.
Mad Money opens this weekend, January 18th, 2008.