I wrote this article over years ago on my old blog, loveyourfilms.com and it was so nice to see Sam Rockwell finally get the recognition he deserves on Oscar night a few months ago.
Some years ago I remembered having a conversation with a co-worker about who is/was the greatest guitarist ever. He was convinced that the best guitarist was some guy who none of us had ever met and who wasn’t and isn’t famous and never will be. I argued with him on this point but as time has gone by I believe he is right. I think the same may be right for actors. The best actor is probably some man or woman doing small theater in a nowhere town who doesn’t have the confidence to try and make it big. That’s not to say there aren’t some outstanding working actors. It’s also fair to say that some actors, including famous ones, don’t get their due justice.
The focus here is to bring awareness to people who do and do not know who Sam Rockwell is and just how underrated his acting is. In all fairness to Sam, there have been unwise choices, but the great ones outweigh those. There are times that he acts for the love of acting or even for the experience of who he may be working with or for the enjoyment of playing the character he’s encompassing.
Most people first caught a glimpse of Rockwell in the Tom Hanks movie The Green Mile as Wild Bill Wharton. That same year he was in the cult comedy Galaxy Quest as Guy Fleegman. A couple of years later he would make a small appearance in Jon Favreau’s indie hit Made. It may have been a small role, but it was a hilarious and memorable scene as the hotel clerk. After a couple of shorts films and some very indie movies he met George Clooney and eventually won one of his most defining roles. Clooney was about to embark on his first directing project, an adaptation of the Chuck Barris autobiography, Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind. Rockwell won the prized role of game show host and creator Chuck Barris. He nailed it. With one of the best acting performances of the year, he made you feel like you were watching The Gong Show all over again and played the role of a CIA assassin to perfection.
He next teamed up with Nicolas Cage and Allison Lohman in the con man comedy, Matchstick Men. He career appeared to be on the rise. Then, as happens so many times, taking a role in what would be an epic failure. The highly anticipated adaptation of a beloved sci-fi classic novel and British mini-series, A Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. The moved fell to critical and financial dismay. The next couple years would be commercially lean for Rockwell, and he wouldn’t grab notable recognition until he was in the independent western movie, The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford. He would play Robert Ford’s brother, Charley. The one trouble with the Jesse James film wasn’t critical acclaim or poor box office numbers because it exceeded everyone’s expectations in those areas. Unfortunately for him, Casey Affleck was so good he stole the show from Rockwell and received his first Oscar nomination for best supporting actor. Rockwell was back in the shadows as fast as he came out. Rockwell was every bit as good as Affleck just going unnoticed.
He continued to work and took a smaller but critical role the next year in the critically acclaimed Ron Howard project, Frost/Nixon based on the Broadway play. Once again acting out-shined Rockwell with stellar scenes that are instructional videos on great acting, between Frank Langella and Michael Sheen.
Returning to the indie scene, he tackled his best role and by far his most challenging. The low budget sci-fi thriller, Moon, seemed doomed from the start. With a budget of only 5 million and filmed during the writers strike and at the helm was a first time director, it seemed destined to fail. The pressure weighed all on Rockwell’s shoulders. With at least 95 percent of the scenes being him alone talking to a computer voice only rock-solid performance could save the movie. As far as indie movies go? It was a smash success! Sam had done it. He had made the film without question with a once in a lifetime performance. Sadly again not many knew about Moon nor did the awards committees see fit to honor the significant role he made.
Rockwell has worked steadily including roles in Iron Man 2 and Cowboys and Aliens working with his good friend Jon Favreau. We can only hope that one day Mr. Rockwell will get his due justice, meanwhile keep your eyes open for what could be his next great performance.