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Sam Rockwell Biography

Home > Actors > R > Rockwell, Sam > Biography

Birth Name: Sam Rockwell
Born: 11/05/1968
Birth Place: Daly City, California, USA

Sam Rockwell was born on Nov. 5, 1968, in Daly City CA, near the San Francisco Bay area. His parents, who were both aspiring actors, moved to New York City when Rockwell was two years old. When the couple split up several years later, Rockwell moved to San Francisco with his father he but grew up spending summers with his mother in Greenwich Village, tagging along with her to downtown theaters and after parties. While hanging out at a theater rehearsal one summer day, a director suggested that 10-year-old Rockwell would be a hilarious addition to a comedy sketch. He was instantly attracted to the stage, and began appearing in productions every year after that. Rockwell's bohemian lifestyle seemed to suit him, but as he grew into a restless teenager, even high school theater offerings could not hold his interest and he dropped out. His parents intervened, enrolling the stoner teen in an alternative schooling program that successfully got him back on track, aided in no small part by his focus on acting.

After Rockwell was cast in the TV film "Clownhouse" in 1988, he decided to move to New York full time and pursue acting. He trained at the acclaimed William Esper studio while holding down the requisite restaurant jobs. He auditioned steadily, landing guest spots on cop dramas and independent films like "Last Exit to Brooklyn" (1989) and "In the Soup" (1992), as well as joining downtown's LAByrinth theater company. In 1994, a lucrative beer commercial enabled Rockwell to put punch out on the restaurant clock for good. However, his career did not really take off until his off-center performance in Tom DeCillo's festival favorite "Box of Moonlight" (1996), in which he portrayed a whacked out, backwoods loner who helps enable the spiritual rebirth of staid engineer John Turturro. Though the insanity was in DeCillo's script, Rockwell dispatched it effortlessly, suddenly finding himself courted by directors impressed by his flair with "goofball misfit" characters.

Rockwell wrapped many projects within a year of "Box of Moonlight," including a starring role as a working-class landscaper who bonds with a wealthy 10-year-old girl (Mischa Barton) in "Lawn Dogs" (1997). The ease with which Rockwell portrayed a complex relationship between two characters that would seem to have nothing in common earned him Best Actor honors at both the Montreal World Film Festival and the Catalonian International Film Festival. He followed up with a pair of hilarious mob-gone-wrong comedies "Jerry and Tom" and "Safe Men" in 1998 before taking the stage for a two and half month run in a production of Mike Nichols' dark comedy, "Goose Pimples."

Rockwell's decade of independent films had led to comfortable "working actor" status, but now he began to get noticed by big-budget directors and Hollywood movie studios. First to the party was Woody Allen, who helped give Rockwell a boost with a bit part as an entourage member in "Celebrity" (1998). But it was Rockwell's chilling supporting role as "Wild Bill" Wharton in the Oscar-nominated "The Green Mile" (1999) that made audiences sit up and take notice of this new face at the cineplex. The film helped cement Rockwell's reputation for unpredictable, off-kilter characters, making him the go-to indie actor for Hollywood films that wanted some artistic street cred in their supporting cast. He did just that in "Galaxy Quest" (1999), playing a goofy struggling actor; and in "Charlie's Angels" (2000), in a turn as villainous software billionaire Eric Knox. Rockwell balanced his big-screen status with a return to the stage, appearing in "Dumb Waiter" and "Zoo Story" off Broadway and "Hot L Baltimore" at the Williamstown Theater in Cape Cod.

Rockwell was well on his way to household name status with George Clooney's directorial debut "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind," (2002) in which he brilliantly played a funhouse mirror version game-show host-turned-self-proclaimed CIA assassin, Chuck Barris. In 2003, he was cast in the critic's pick "Matchstick Men" (2003), and singled out by critics for his scene-stealing appeal as the promising protégée of a phobia-addled con artist (Nicolas Cage). Rockwell enjoyed the unique honor of appearing in yet another film with "galaxy" in the title when he was cast as Zaphod Beetlebrox in "The Hitchhikers's Guide to the Galaxy" (2005), a British film based on the perennial favorite sci-fi books by Douglas Adams. Critics were split on the film overall, but it was an international box-office success and Sam turned out a memorable performance as the three-armed, flowing-haired president of the galaxy.

Back on earth and in New York, Rockwell was directed by Philip Seymour Hoffman in a critically acclaimed LAByrinth Theater production of "Judas Iscariot." The versatile and unpredictable actor did not disappoint on either account when he took on the unusually "normal" role of the father of a disturbed boy in the 2007 psychological thriller, "Joshua;" however the film appeared to be Rockwell's first misstep in Hollywood. He promptly returned to his element with the affecting drama "Snow Angels" (2007), nominated for a Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, before inhabiting a Revolutionary war reenactor and con man in "Choke" (2008), based on the novel by Chuck Palahniuk. In director Ron Howard's acclaimed "Frost/Nixon" (2008), he had a supporting part as journalist James Reston, Jr., which he followed with a starring role as a space-station employee suffering from isolation and loneliness in the moody sci-fi drama "Moon" (2009). After voicing team leader Darwin in the rather forgettable "G-Force" (2009), Rockwell portrayed rival weapons manufacturer to billionaire Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) in the hit sequel "Iron Man 2" (2010).

Following his modus operandi of alternating work in mainstream projects with roles in smaller, more demanding films, Rockwell was next seen in director Tony Goldwyn's based-on-fact drama "Conviction" (2010). For his unfiltered portrayal of Kenny Waters, a man wrongly convicted of a murder whose sister (Hilary Swank) worked tirelessly for decades to secure his release, the actor received a score of Best Supporting Actor nominations. Keeping with tradition, Rockwell popped up again in a big-budget blockbuster alongside Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford. Cast as a good-hearted saloon keeper who joins a posse in a desperate attempt to rescue his abducted wife, Rockwell gave a solid performance that was unfortunately not enough to lift the unwieldy "Cowboys & Aliens" (2011) above its one-note premise. Always attracted to somewhat unhinged characters, he was at his comically menacing best as Karl, the mercurial drug dealer out to collect a debt from Jonah Hill in the scatological adventure comedy "The Sitter" (2011). Despite his admirable contributions, "The Sitter" earned little but scorn from critics and indifference from audiences. The following year, writer-director Martin McDonagh's violent dark comedy "Seven Psychopaths" (2012) found Rockwell surrounded by a top-flight ensemble cast that included Colin Farrell, Woody Harrelson and Christopher Walken. With a manic energy perfectly suited for the role of Billy - an out-of-work actor and part-time dog-napper - Rockwell's performance earned him an Indie Spirit Award nod for Best Supporting Male.

In 2013, Rockwell turned up as Owen, the quirky manager of a water park, in the well-received feel-good indie film "The Way Way Back," written and directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, the duo behind the Academy Award-winning script for "The Descendants" (2011). In sharp contrast to the ensemble comedy, which also starred Steve Carell and Liam James, Rockwell later starred in the tense crime drama "A Single Shot," with a tightly wound role that generated serious awards buzz.