Choke Director Clark Gregg Takes Us Back to His Hotel Room

Choke director Clark Gregg and Sam Rockwell

For the record, Clark Gregg did not have his fly down for the entire interview.

Another reporter and I are sitting on a plush couch in Gregg’s hotel room, as he hands me a bottle of water and the second largest Snickers bar I’ve ever seen to my colleague. When Gregg realizes his fly is down and zips it up with a joke after handing us food items, I understand exactly why he was perfect for directing Choke.

He also explains that he probably overlooked his fly because he hasn’t had much time to breathe in the past few weeks. He’s been flying all over the place promoting the film and, after setting down his suitcase, he has about fifteen minutes to talk to us and about five to eat dinner before being shuffled off to a screening of Choke at the University of Maryland.

It’s either that rush or genuine excitement that launches him directly into talking about the film, giving us an overview of why he wanted to do it, calling it a “punk romantic comedy,” and lobbing praise on almost everyone who had a hand in the project.

For the record, “Punk Romantic Comedy” is probably the most accurate labeling of this film that I’ve heard.

Choke has been a long time coming. Gregg optioned the work because he “thought the book would make a good movie” over five years ago, and has battled financing and fluctuating interest ever since. It’s clear that author Chuck Palahniuk had great faith in Gregg, though, after allowing him to re-option the work and making “giant financial concessions” himself in order to get the film made. Gregg attributes this to an early meeting the two had where he shared his vision of Choke as a love story and Palahniuk enthusiastically gave the go-ahead, glad to find someone who “got” the book as it was intended to be.

It’s also clear that Gregg had faith in the project itself, too. He tells of how he waited until all the right pieces fell into place, claiming that he “had to deliver on the film” because of Palahniuk’s dedication. This is where he leans forward and makes the salient point about filmmaking, noting that “just trying not to screw up doesn’t yield quality.” Whether he means this about life in general is unclear, but I like to think he does.

This is also where he issues some strong words for everyone else out there in Hollywood:

“I challenge anyone to make a romantic comedy without anal beads from now on,” he says, smiling to let me know either A) he’s totally serious or B) he knows it’s completely absurd. It’s somehow difficult to tell.

Of course, Gregg should have a lot of faith and pride in the project considering the talent he’s worked with on it. He spends most of the interview praising the actors and crew, specifically Sam Rockwell and Anjelica Huston.

“Sam was kind of Chuck [Palahniuk]’s alter-ego,” Gregg says, going on to say that the production went smoothly because of Rockwell. “He was easy through the whole process. No one could complain…because Sam wasn’t complaining.”

Gregg also tells us that Rockwell spent a lot of time on set with an old-school Walkman on his hip and headphones covering his ears. The director assumed that the actor was listening to music to relax between takes, but when he finally asked him about it, he learned that Rockwell was actually listening to the book-on-tape version of ‘Choke.’ He’d done so to keep in the spirit of the material and to sneak in lines he loved from the book that had been omitted from the script version.

The spirit of the set must have gotten to Anjelica Huston as well. Gregg says he was incredibly grateful that the Academy Award Winner signed on at all and expected to treat her with a sense of deference around the rowdier elements of the shoot – but Huston jumped right in the mix and even read some of the smaller roles during rehearsals and table reads, adding another level of energy to the production. Of course, in one his stranger stories, Gregg claims that Huston signed onto the project partially because, when she met him for the first time, she claimed he looked like the female Irish nanny that raised her. She told him a very personal story about her childhood, tears welled up, and Gregg was able to persuade her to get on board.

For the record, Clark Gregg looks nothing like the female Irish nanny that raised me.

Of course, I can’t let Gregg go without asking if he’d been rejected from film school. In true Reject fashion he claims it’s, “one of the few things I haven’t been rejected from in life.” Instead, Gregg studied acting, eventually working under David Mamet and developed an interest in directing only after he’d been around sets for a while. He watched several directors at work and thought, “I would do that. How do I do that?”

Now, that’s exactly what he’s doing, and after his first outing with Choke we may see more of him behind the helm. For now, though, Gregg has acting roles in the forthcoming 500 Days of Summer and, if we all keep our fingers crossed, he’ll be reprising his role as Agent Coulson in the sequel to Iron Man.

Choke arrives in theaters tomorrow, September 26th.

A veteran of writing about movies for nearly a decade, Scott Beggs has been the Managing Editor of Film School Rejects since 2009. Despite speculation, he is not actually Walter Mathau's grandson. See? He can't even spell his name right.

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