Sam Rockwell: a life in film

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Sam Rockwell shows us his acting mettle in 'Moon', but isn't it high time he made it on to the Hollywood A-list?

Currently starring in Brit sci-fi hopeful ‘Moon’, and with baddie-duties in ‘Iron Man 2’ coming up next year, it seems impossible that Sam Rockwell won’t be big news in the coming months. A likeable and versatile actor who has shone opposite such crafty, screen-hogging presences as Nicolas Cage (‘Matchstick Men’), George Clooney (‘Confessions of a Dangerous Mind’) and, erm… Tim from ‘The Office’ (‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’) it seems only a matter of time before he breaks into the big time. But should superstardom somehow fail to open its door to him, then it wouldn’t be the first time that the fickle fate of film has deemed that Rockwell could do with a couple more times around the block before he’s toplining blockbusters and being weighed down with gongs.


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Dog days: Rockwell in 'Lawn Dogs'

Despite racking up minor credits in art-house notables ‘Last Exit to Brooklyn’ (1989), Paul Schrader’s ‘Light Sleeper’ and ‘In the Soup’ (both 1992), it would be a few years before he found his feet in the likes of winsome indie curio ‘Box of Moonlight’ (1996) and the sublime, ‘Mockingbird’-esque ‘Lawn Dogs’ (1997). The latter would win him some small degree of mainstream recognition, and after 1998’s brace of superior post-Tarantino crime capers – hitman parable ‘Jerry and Tom’, co-starring Joe Mantegna, and ‘Safe Men’ in which he played a character obsessed with wearing fake buttocks – he would be cast as the faeces-flinging, scene-stealing ‘Wild Bill’ Whitman in Frank Darabont’s otherwise stultifying ‘The Green Mile’ (1999). On any other day of the week it would be a break-out performance, but the movie gods decided otherwise.

The very different, but equally attention-grabbing role of expendable side-player in the pitch-perfect, high-octane Star Trek spoof ‘Galaxy Quest’ (also 1999), in which he edged the likes off Tim Allen and Alan Rickman of the screen also threatened to send him over the top. It did land him a flavour-of-the-month outing as the villain of the stilleto-spikin’ ‘Charlie’s Angels’ rejig, but otherwise he was back at the character actor coalface in David Mamet’s masterly ‘Heist’ (2001) and derivative ensemble bank-job frippery ‘Welcome to Collinwood’ (2002).

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'Confessions of a Dangerous Mind'

‘Collinwood’ co-star/producer George Clooney evidently saw Rockwell’s promise and promoted him to bona fide leading man in his enjoyable, if over-directed CIA fairytale ‘Confessions of a Dangerous Mind’ (2002). Rockwell excelled in the role of the surely (surely!?!) delusional gameshow host Chuck Barris whose claims to having been a button-man for the Agency offered Rockwell plenty of scope to chew the scenery. But despite the kind of column inches that Clooney’s directorial debut would go on to accrue, Rockwell’s performance slipped through the cracks. It seemed unlikely that the same fate would befall his turn opposite Nicolas Cage in Ridley Scott’s con-man caper ‘Matchstick Men’ (2003), but, alas, the film barely registered.

Rockwell’s next tilt at the big leagues was in the big-budget adaptation of Douglas Adams’s fifth-form fave ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ (2005). His role as two-headed interstellar egomaniac Zaphod Beeblebrox looked set to send him ballistic. He seemed born for the part, and the films trailer managed to convey Adams’s peculiar sense of Britishness while delivering a clutch of jaw-dropping effects. Unfortunately Rockwell was a little lacklustre in a role that one would expect him to knock out of the park.

 

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'The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy'

His next notable performance would come in the winning third banana role of Charley Ford in Andrew Dominik’s majestic anti-Western ‘The Assassination of Jesse James’ (2007), which saw him return to his character actor roots. Leading man status in low-budget Chuck Palahniuk adaptation ‘Choke’ followed the next year, proving that he could still carry a film, even if it was one that resembled nothing more than a TV Movie from the future. The same year found him beavering away in the background of Ron Howard’s cumbersome ‘Frost/Nixon’ with a minor role that seemed unlikely to do much for his career.However, it was still a Ron Howard film, and though it might not have set the box-office alight, the right people must have seen it, because Rockwell’s dance card is fuller than ever.

So here we are again, with Rockwell’s career looking set to go through the roof. ‘Moon’ will be followed up with voice duties for Disney’s 3D CGI guinea pig adventure ‘G-Force’ and a pivotal role in next year’s ‘Iron Man 2’. After many fits and starts, a few blind alleys and the odd big-budget misfire, we can at last confidently, vigorously and without reservation predict that this year will be Sam Rockwell’s year.

Won’t it?

Author: Adam Lee Davies



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