Sam Rockwell’s been working in Hollywood for nearly 25 years, but somehow film fans are still discovering that he’s one of the best character actors in the business.
Earlier this summer, Rockwell wowed critics with his performance as endearing slacker (and waterpark employee) Owen in the indie comedy “The Way, Way Back.” While the 44-year-old star is most recognizable to mainstream audiences from his roles in “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind,” “Matchstick Men” and “Iron Man 2,” he’s made his bones in low-budget films such as “Moon,” “Choke,” “Conviction” and “Seven Psychopaths.”
The film tells the story of a down-on-his-luck, out-of-work dairy farmer named John Moon (Rockwell), who accidentally shoots and kills a teenage girl while deer hunting. While covering his tracks, John discovers a stash of $100,000, and takes the money in hopes of winning back his estranged wife and turning his life around. Unfortunately for John, that money belongs to someone very dangerous, and they’ll stop at nothing to retrieve it. “A Single Shot” costars William H. Macy, Jeffrey Wright, Jason Isaacs and Kelly Reilly.
I recently caught up with Sam Rockwell to talk about his new movie. And the Ninja Turtles. But mostly the movie.
David Onda: This guy you play in “A Single Shot” is a very a complicated character.
Sam Rockwell: Yeah, it is. It’s a fun ride for me. It’s a complex guy.
Onda: And fans of the thriller genre will be pleased, because John Moon gets himself so deep in the muck of his situation, that it seems very unlikely he’ll find a way out.
Rockwell: Yeah, that’s right. It’s a film noir piece, almost like a detective story, but it’s set in the Appalachian, so it’s a different kind of venue. He’s in a denial, I think, about what he’s done. At first, I don’t think he is really emotionally dealing with what he’s accidentally done to this girl, and he thinks he’s gonna sort of fix everything with money and it’s not really working out. So, he’s in a bit of a fantasy land. He thinks he’s gonna get his family back and life’s gonna be OK. He’s kind of running away from the problem and making a few poor choices, and then it bites him on the ass later.
Onda: You spend a good chunk of this movie essentially alone as your character internally struggles with what he’s done and the turmoil that results. In some ways it feels like a solo performance.
Rockwell: Yeah, that can be fun to do, because you’re working out a kind of activity for yourself. It’s a fun challenge. You kind of create your own world, in way. I like those kinds of scenes sometimes.
Onda: Tell me a little bit about your scenes and chemistry with Jeffrey Wright, who plays this very bizarre character, as well as William H. Macy.
Rockwell: [laughs] Yeah, they really did it, didn’t they? They really came in and knocked it out the park. And that was really fun. All these actors are great. Those two characters you just mentioned, those guys really came in with some heavy [expletive]. Jeffrey, especially, had a huge responsibility because of the scene at the end where I come to his house – a lot of that scene is exposition, and he had to figure out an emotional motor to drive that scene, and he really found it in spades. He really tapped into a great character. He was just lovely to work with. Just a [expletive] beautiful guy; he’s a great actor.
Onda: And rumor has it William H. Macy is one of the nicest men in Hollywood, too.
Rockwell: Yeah, yeah. I’ve worked with him three times now. He’s a [expletive] great guy. Funny as hell. Funny as hell. And just great to be around. And such a great actor. He just went for it.
Onda: You and Jeffrey sport these backwoods dialects that practically drip from your mouths. Did you work with a coach?
Rockwell: Yeah, I worked with Liz Himelstein, who I worked on “Conviction” with. She did “Fargo,” and she’s a pretty amazing dialect coach. And I had a guy tape my lines on a tape recorder from West Virginia.
Onda: Was there any inspiration for your woodsmen hunter look?
Rockwell: We were trying to be authentic, and we were mixing in different things that we thought would give us a good anti-hero. We wanted something kind of streamlined, but realistic.
Onda: Did you use a beard coach?
Rockwell: [laughs] Yeah. Always. Always a beard coach.
Onda: Your filmography is so strikingly diverse with indies like “A Single Shot,” as well as big budget films, comedies, dramas, action films – that can’t possibly be calculated, can it?
Rockwell: Well, no. It’s luck and some choices that are made at the time. It’s really just what’s the best scenario out there at that particular time. You just do the best you can, but hopefully you shake it up a little.
Onda: When you look back on the last 10 years of your career, would you say you’re making the best films of your career? How has your process of choosing roles changed?
Rockwell: I think that the main thing is, the last few years I’ve started to play men, you know? Real, grown up men instead of man-boys. That’s the main difference for me. I think that’s always what I’ve been headed towards. I never really was comfortable playing the innocent. These are really prime roles for me to get to play.
Onda: Then again, you’ve gotten rave reviews for your performance in “The Way, Way Back,” and Owen is somewhat of a man-boy.
Rockwell: Yeah, that guy’s a man-boy in the sense that, yeah, he hasn’t really grown up. That is true. Although, there is something world-weary about him, which kind of puts him in the adult category.
Onda: One of your first movies was “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” in 1990. How often do you get asked about that?
Rockwell: [laughs] I get asked about it a little bit. I met one of my dearest friends on that movie, a guy named Leif Tilden, who is a very dear friend of mine. He played Donatello – he was the guy in the suit for Donatello. We became very close. And, oddly enough, this actor Josh Pais was a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle… he was also in “Safe Men.”
Onda: “A Single Shot” is currently available with XFINITY On Demand. Out of all the movies available, why should people check out this one?
Rockwell: It just depends if you’re in the mood for that kind of thing. If you wanna take a real ride with these characters, then it’s a good kind of Sunday night movie. It’s in the vein of a film noir thriller, and also has a gothic kind of haunting Edgar Allen Poe “Tell-Tale Heart,” “Crime and Punishment” kind of vibe to it. We’re challenging the audience to go on a really dark ride with us.
“A Single Shot” is now available with XFINITY On Demand. Click here to begin the process of ordering at home.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.