|Name: Sam Rockwell
Born: November 5, 1968
Strengths: Charisma, Chemistry
Best Role: Moon
Though movie fans became accustomed to seeing actors of burning talent and presence light up the screen all the way up to the 1970’s, the modern movie industry has unearthed few modern day Brandos, Clifts, Pacinos, or DeNiros. One actor who comes close, however – though many might be surprised by this assertion – is Sam Rockwell.
A maverick actor if ever there was one, Sam Rockwell has made a name for himself as a quirky comedy actor with immense presence who every now and then springs up with tour de force dramatic performances that few can equal. He has a natural instinct for comedy which affords him even broader range and he has that rare gift of bringing the house down as his boxing match in Welcome to Collinwood or his dexterous cameo in Gentlemen Broncos demonstrates. He’s shown a genuine talent for darker roles with movies like Jerry and Tom, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, and Snow Angels wherein he respectively plays a creepy hit-man’s apprentice, a man on the brink of insanity, and a terrifying abusive husband. And it’s fair to say, that in each of these films, dark or funny, Rockwell’s character defined the film.
To claim Rockwell has all the presence of the great actors won’t shock his fans who have been hooked on his off-kilter charm and indie edge since his early days of Box of Moonlight and Lawn Dogs. But to argue he has their talent might take some convincing even for his hardcore fans. However, one need look no further than Duncan Jones’ sci-fi gem Moon in order to appreciate the breadth of this man’s skill and the near perfect combination of defining presence and acting class. In that movie, Rockwell puts in a deeply touching and profoundly human performance and, in the process, manages to do what no other actor has since Al Pacino. Namely, to play two very different versions of the same character so believably that their personality transition appears seamless and that nobody doubts that they are indeed watching the same person, just at two difference points in their development. This is a monumental achievement because actors nearly always slip up in these circumstances by giving the sense of separate characters and/or a less than credible transition. But Rockwell did it with apparent ease and though Pacino had the more difficult task – in acting out the transition itself – it still must go down as one of the great acting achievements.
Of course, Rockwell has taken on other hefty roles in movies like the flawed Conviction but not many. This isn’t down to a lack of talent but instead perhaps his most interesting characteristic as an actor – his penchant for supporting roles (often in indie films) despite A-list credibility. Whereas most actors are desperate to rise to the point where they are being repeatedly offered the leads in high profile films, Rockwell appears to have steadfastly resisted, avoided, or outright refused such parts. By Duncan Jones’ own account, the director actually had to write Moon as a one-character film in order to guarantee that Rockwell wouldn’t ask for a secondary part – as he had done the first time Jones offered him a role. Why this is the case is difficult to say. Perhaps, Rockwell likes to avoid the stress of a high profile role or maybe he just doesn’t believe in himself. However, the willingness to take on the only role in a profound and beautiful piece of science fiction like Moon would indicate neither is the case.
More likely, Rockwell simply realises that Hollywood studios are by nature timid and restrictive entities that don’t afford lead roles much room for growth for fear that the audience will hold it against the film. As such, more often than not, the most interesting work comes with playing the support roles or ensemble roles that executives are less afraid to take risks with – that of the best friend, the big brother, or the apprentice. And so, Rockwell has played them all – and stolen the show from the leads as he’s done so. This self-marginalisation may frustrate his fans on one level and it has probably precluded him from “A-lister” status in Hollywood but it’s that integrity and his tendency to bring his charisma and weight to side parts that’s endeared so many of them to this talented actor’s craft in the first place. Just like the great Robert Mitchum did his in heyday, this modern day maverick is less influenced by ego or legacy and driven more by his personal sensibilities. It’s a rare thing to behold in today’s acting world and just one more reason to appreciate him.
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