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Sam Rockwell

Rockwell (left) at the 2009 premiere of Moon at the Tribeca Film Institute
Born November 5, 1968 (1968-11-05) (age 41)
Daly City, California, U.S.
Occupation Actor
Years active 1989–present

Sam Rockwell (born November 5, 1968) is an American actor, appearing primarily in independent films.


Early life

He was born in Daly City, California, the son of actors who divorced when he was five years old.[1] He was raised by his father, Pete Rockwell, in San Francisco while his mother, Penny Hess, stayed behind in New York (he spent his summer vacations with her). He had what The New York Times described in 1998 as a "footloose upbringing" and, at age 10, made his brief stage debut playing Humphrey Bogart in an East Village improv comedy sketch starring his mother.[2]

He attended School of the Arts High School (San Francisco) with Margaret Cho and dropped out before graduation. He later received his high school diploma after his parents enrolled him in an Outward Bound-style alternative high school called Urban Pioneers because, as Rockwell explained, "I just wanted to get stoned, flirt with girls, go to parties."[3] The school, the actor said, "had a reputation as a place stoners went because it was easy to graduate," but the program ended up helping him regain an interest in performing. After appearing in an independent film during his senior year, he graduated and moved to New York to pursue an acting career.[4]

Early films

After his first film role in the 1989 horror film Clownhouse (produced by Francis Ford Coppola's production company) which he filmed when based in San Francisco, he moved to New York and trained at the William Esper Studios. His career slowly gathered momentum in the early 1990s, when he alternated between small-screen guest spots in TV shows like The Equalizer, NYPD Blue and Law & Order and small roles in films such as Last Exit to Brooklyn and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. He also appeared as the title character in The Search for One-Eyed Jimmy. During this time Rockwell worked in restaurants as a busboy and delivered burritos by bicycle.[5] At one point, Rockwell even worked as a private detective's assistant. "I tailed a chick who was having an affair and took pictures of her at this motel", he told Rolling Stone in 2002. "It was pretty sleazy." A well-paying Miller commercial in 1994 finally allowed him to pursue acting full-time.

The turning point in Rockwell's career was Tom DiCillo's 1996 film Box of Moon Light, in which he played an eccentric man-child who dresses like Davy Crockett and lives in an isolated mobile home. The ensuing acclaim put him front and center with casting agents and new-found fans alike, with Rockwell himself acknowledging that "That film was definitely a turning point....I was sort of put on some independent film map after 10 years in New York."[4]

He also won strong reviews for the 1997 film Lawn Dogs, where he played a working-class lawn mower who befriends a wealthy 10-year-old girl (Mischa Barton) in an upper-class gated community in Kentucky; Rockwell's performance won him Best Actor honors at both the Montreal World Film Festival and the Catalonian International Film Festival. In 1999, Rockwell played child murderer William "Wild Bill" Wharton in the Stephen King prison drama The Green Mile. At the time of the film's shooting, Rockwell explained why he was attracted to playing such unlikeable characters. He said, "I like that dark stuff. I think heroes should be flawed. There's a bit of self-loathing in there, and a bit of anger... But after this, I've really got to play some lawyers, or a British aristocrat, or they'll put a label on me."[1]

Hollywood recognition

After appearances as a bumbling actor in 1999's sci-fi satire Galaxy Quest, in the 1999 Shakespeare adaptation A Midsummer Night's Dream as Flute, and as gregarious villain Eric Knox in Charlie's Angels (2000), Rockwell won the biggest leading role of his career as The Gong Show host Chuck Barris in George Clooney's 2002 directorial debut, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. Rockwell's performance was well received, and the film received generally positive reviews.

Rockwell has also received positive notices for his role opposite Nicolas Cage in Ridley Scott's Matchstick Men (2003), with Entertainment Weekly calling him "destined by a kind of excessive interestingness to forever be a colorful sidekick."[6] He received somewhat more mixed reviews as Zaphod Beeblebrox in the 2005 film version of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. He then had a notable supporting role as Charley Ford, brother of Casey Affleck's character Robert Ford, in the well-received 2007 drama The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, in which Brad Pitt played the lead role of Jesse James. According to an interview on The Howard Stern Show, director Jon Favreau considered casting him as the titular character in Iron Man as the studio was initially hesitant to work with Robert Downey, Jr. who had been considered for his role in The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy. He has been confirmed to appear in the Iron Man sequel, scheduled for release in 2010. He is said to have accepted the role of Justin Hammer without reading the script. He had never heard of the character before he was contacted about the part, and was unaware Hammer is an old man in the comics.

In addition to big-budget feature films, Rockwell also keeps his feet firmly planted in the indie film world with projects such as The F Word and he recently played a very randy, Halloween-costume-clad Batman in a short, Robin's Big Date, opposite Justin Long as Robin. He also starred in the 2008 film Snow Angels opposite Kate Beckinsale and directed by David Gordon Green. He had worked on several occasions with the comedy troupe Stella, making cameo appearances in their short films and TV series.

Rockwell played Victor Mancini in the film Choke, based on the novel by Chuck Palahniuk. Critic Roger Ebert said of his performance that he "seems to have become the latter-day version of Christopher Walken -- not all the time, but when you need him, he's your go-to guy for weirdness."[7] In 2009 he starred in the critically-acclaimed science fiction film Moon, directed by Duncan Jones, for which his performance was praised.[8]


Since 1992, Rockwell has been a member of the LAByrinth Theater Company, where Philip Seymour Hoffman and John Ortiz are Co-Artistic Directors. In 2005, Hoffman directed him in Stephen Adly Guirgis' hit play, The Last Days of Judas Iscariot. This past August, Rockwell work-shopped an upcoming LAByrinth production, North of Mason-Dixon, scheduled to debut in London in 2007 and then premiere in New York City later the same year. Other plays in which Rockwell performed are: Dumb Waiter (2001), Zoo Story (2001), Hot L Baltimore (2000), Goosepimples (1998), Love and Human Remains, Face Divided, Orphans, Den of Thieves, Dessert at Waffle House, The Largest Elizabeth, and A Behanding in Spokane.

Personal life

Rockwell has never been married, and stated in a 2007 interview, "I definitely don't want to become a parent. It's not my bag."[9]


Year Film Role Notes
1989 Clownhouse Randy
Last Exit to Brooklyn Al
1990 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Head Thug
1991 Strictly Business Gary
1992 In the Soup Pauli
Light Sleeper Jealous
1994 The Search for One-eye Jimmy One-eye Jimmy
1995 Mercy Matty
1996 Basquiat Thug
Box of Moon Light The Kid, aka Bucky
Glory Daze Rob
1997 Lawn Dogs Trent
1998 Safe Men Sam
Celebrity Darrow's Entourage
1999 A Midsummer Night's Dream Francis Flute
The Green Mile 'Wild Bill' Wharton
Galaxy Quest Guy Fleegman
2000 Charlie's Angels Eric Knox
2001 BigLove Nate short film
Made Hotel Clerk uncredited
Heist Jimmy Silk
2002 13 Moons Rick
Welcome to Collinwood Pero
Confessions of a Dangerous Mind Chuck Barris
2003 Matchstick Men Frank Mercer
2004 Piccadilly Jim Piccdilly Jim/Jim Crocker
2005 The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Zaphod Beeblebrox
Robin's Big Date The Bat-man short film
2007 Joshua Brad Cairn
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford Charley Ford
2008 Snow Angels Glenn Marchand
Choke Victor Mancini
Frost/Nixon James Reston Jr.
2009 Moon Sam Bell Nominated — Detroit Film Critics Society Award for Best Actor
Nominated — Saturn Award for Best Actor
The Winning Season Bill also producer
Everybody's Fine Robert
G-Force Darwin voice only
Gentlemen Broncos Bronco/Broncanuss
2010 Betty Anne Waters Betty's brother in post-production
Iron Man 2 Justin Hammer in post-production
2011 David Mayes: The Movie David Mayes in pre-production

Awards and nominations

Year Group Award Film/Show Result Win/Nom
1997 Montreal World Film Festival Best Actor Lawn Dogs Won 1–0
1997 CIFF Best Actor Lawn Dogs Won 2–0
2000 Screen Actors Guild Outstanding Performance By A Cast In A Theatrical Motion Picture The Green Mile (w/ Tom Hanks, Michael Clarke Duncan, David Morse, James Cromwell, Patricia Clarkson, Jeffrey DeMunn, Graham Greene, Bonnie Hunt, Michael Jeter, Doug Hutchison, Barry Pepper, Harry Dean Stanton) Nominated 2–1
2003 Berlin International Film Festival Best Actor Confessions of a Dangerous Mind Won 3–1
2003 Phoenix Film Critics Society Awards Best Actor In A Leading Role Confessions of a Dangerous Mind Won 4–1
2003 Satellite Awards Best Performance By An Actor In A Leading Role, Musical Or Comedy Confessions of a Dangerous Mind Nominated 4–2
2004 Satellite Awards Best Performance By An Actor In A Supporting Role, Musical Or Comedy Matchstick Men Nominated 4–3
2007 CIFF Best Actor Joshua Won 5–3
2008 Satellite Awards Best Actor In A Motion Picture, Musical Or Comedy Choke Nominated 5–4
2008 Sundance Film Festival Special Jury Prize Choke (w/ Anjelica Huston, Kelly Macdonald, Brad William Henke) Won 6–4
2009 Screen Actors Guild Award Outstanding Performance By A Cast In A Motion Picture Frost/Nixon (w/ Frank Langella, Michael Sheen, Kevin Bacon, Oliver Platt, Toby Jones, Matthew Macfadyen, Rebecca Hall) Nominated 6–5
2009 Seattle International Film Festival Best Actor Moon Won 7–5
2009 CIFF Best Actor Moon Won 8–5
2009 Scream Awards Best Sci-Fi Actor Moon Nominated 8–6
2009 British Independent Film Awards Best Actor Moon Nominated 8–7
2009 The Golden Schmoes Movie Awards Best Actor Moon Won 9–7


  1. ^ a b "Sam Rockwell; One-Man Gallery of Rogues, Crooks and Oddballs". by Laura Winters, The New York Times.. 1998-09-13. Retrieved 2008-03-25. 
  2. ^ “Sam Rockwell,” by Miranda Spencer. Biography, January 2003.
  3. ^ "Today's Buzz Stories: Rockwell turned around". Showbuzz.. 2002-12-23. Retrieved 2007-02-10. 
  4. ^ a b "AT THE MOVIES; A Career Picks Up". by Bernard Weinraub, The New York Times.. 1998-01-23. Retrieved 2007-02-10. 
  5. ^ “Sam Rockwell,” by M.B. Rolling Stone, 10/3/02.
  6. ^ "Movie Review: Matchstick Men". by Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly.. 2003-09-10.,,483992,00.html. Retrieved 2007-02-10. 
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^ Interview -

External links

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