Sam Rockwell is an actor who works in both indie film and big studio movies. He’s can be unpredictable in his acting choices, and goes darker than other actors do, especially those without the depth or confidence of an actor like Rockwell. He’s highly regarded by critics, but isn’t as well-known or as lauded as other actors who may play it more ‘safe’.
He may be a bit scary for some of the more conservative folk in the Industry; and the Academy Award may have alluded him…but that’s just for now. If I had a crystal ball, I think it would tell me that an acting Oscar will be in Sam Rockwell’s future. Sooner than later, perhaps…
In his current film, ‘Conviction’, Sam Rockwell plays a real life person who was falsely accused of murder. In the following interview, the actor talks about what kind of research he did to authentically know what living in prison, on death row, is. His acting preparation, which enabled him to make the character choices, in creating a real life person, is here too; and learning a Bostonian accent…
Did you have footage or tapes of him to work off, or stories from the family?
I have footage of him, I had tape of him talking to his lawyer about the case back in 81. Betty Anne and all of her relatives told lots of stories. Then there was all the research for prison that I did on my own, and that was extensive stuff that I did on my own, as quickly as I could.
How did you work on the Boston accent?
I had to learn it very quickly. It’s a very tricky accent. I was intimidated, but once I got the cadence of it, it was actually really fun. It’s all over the place.
What kind of research did you do into prison, and what did you get out of that?
The inside of the prison, emotionally and the visiting room, it was very important that we feel his experience. Without that, it wouldn’t be a movie. And Hilary, her concern, and the characters are always trying to take care of each other. They’re tough people. Very openhearted people. What I think is really new for Hilary, there’s something very soft and maternal, what she does in the part. It’s not just this tough, hey, tough cookie thing. She’s got a steel spine. She’s an extraordinary person.
The one thing that’s striking is that when you’re inside, the cells are very small, very very small. The other thing is you’re completely open. Everybody can see you, so you have no privacy. And it’s also very loud. So you do everything in front of people. It’s literally like being a caged animal, especially in the older prisons.
Tony [Goldwyn, director] said he auditioned a lot of people for the role who didn’t quite get Kenny, didn’t get that he had a lightness and a darkness to him. But he said you got it. Where did you get that from?
I think it came out of the prison research and the conversations I’ve had with people who have been in there. In the makeup chair I’d read In The Belly of the Beast [by Norman Mailer] a lot, and that would get me into it. It just stimulates your imagination, so when you go in those scenes you take that with you. There’s movies in this genre, this kind of Dead Man Walking and The Hurricane, all these great performances. You say, what do I have to offer to this canon of worth? There’s some pretty heavy duty players.
You’ve worked with a lot of actors turned directors, now including Tony Goldwyn. How does he compare to the others [including Jon Favreau, George Clooney, Clark Gregg and Ron Howard]?
Without being corny, they’re all amazing directors. But yeah, Tony is very compassionate, and he’s got a very concrete idea of what he wants, but he’s also very open to collaboration, and extremely sensitive to your process. He created a very safe bubble for us.
Speaking of The Academy Awards…
Every year I do a blog, in addition to Hollywood Actor Prep, for the Oscars. Only 2 months prior to the date of the Academy Awards broadcast, I’ve already got my press pass in place for once again, OscarPrep.com…I’ll make an announcement right here, when the site has got-it-goin-on, once again this year…
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