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Celebrating the Great Sam Rockwell: Actor's Actor and Scene-Stealer [Video Clips]

Photo of Anne Thompson and Maggie Lange By Anne Thompson and Maggie Lange | Thompson on Hollywood October 2, 2012 at 4:14PM

In Martin McDonagh's raucous ensemble comedy “Seven Psychopaths" (October 12), one actor stands out among his accomplished peers: Sam Rockwell. He's up against the best: Woody Harrelson, Christopher Walken, Michael Stuhlbarg--poor Colin Farrell never stood a chance.
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Sam Rockwell

In Martin McDonagh's raucous ensemble comedy “Seven Psychopaths" (October 12), one actor stands out among his accomplished peers: Sam Rockwell. He's up against the best: Woody Harrelson, Christopher Walken, Michael Stuhlbarg--poor Colin Farrell never stood a chance. No one can smirk and sneer more cynically, look more crazy, or move his eyebrows with more abandon than Rockwell as he steals almost every scene.

Check the clip below to prove it.

Despite delivering amazing work in such films as Fox Searchlight's “Conviction,” opposite Hilary Swank, which earned him a TOH Oscar Watch, Rockwell is not a marquee star. Why not? Because he gives every role a raw emotional edge that can push audiences away. He can be scary, dangerous, unhinged--and heartbreakingly vulnerable.

Also, Rockwell's indie films tend to draw small audiences, from the relentlessly grim “Snow Angels," directed by David Gordon Green, to the George Clooney/Steven Soderbergh-produced remake "Welcome to Collinwood." In fact Clooney went on to cast Rockwell to star as bigger-than-life game show host and spy Chuck Barris in his directorial debut, the freewheeling "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind," which performed dismally at the box office.

Each of Rockwell's starring roles has garnered him raves. Rockwell surged onto the scene in 1996 when “Box of Moonlight” premiered at Sundance. As bizarre Davy Crockett-obsessed man-child “The Kid,” Rockwell's wily, unpredictable persona was on display. He went on to star as a sex addicted med-school drop out in 2008's “Choke” and as astronaut Sam Bell in the well-reviewed micro-mini “Moon," a part that was written for him for writer-director Duncan Jones. "Choke" actor-director Clark Gregg has added Rockwell to the cast of "Trust Me," a movie about child actors.

Thus Rockwell does best in ensembles like his biggest draw so far,  “Iron Man 2," in which he played Tony Stark's adversary, a rival weapons dealer. Few know that Jon Favreau considered giving Rockwell Robert Downey Jr.'s role. His bigger-budget films include the unlikeable prisoner William “Wild Bill” Wharton in “The Green Mile" and the bar owner in “Cowboys & Aliens.” After receiving praise for his work with Nicolas Cage in Ridley Scott's 2003 film “Matchstick Men,” Entertainment Weekly wrote that he was "destined by a kind of excessive interestingness to forever be a colorful sidekick."

We want more. See our fave performances in the clips below.

This article is related to: Sam Rockwell, Seven Psychopaths


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.