Sam Rockwell (born November 5, 1968) is an American actor known for his leading roles in Lawn Dogs (1997), Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002), Matchstick Men (2003), The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (2005), Choke (2008), Moon (2009) and Seven Psychopaths (2012), as well as for his supporting roles in The Green Mile (1999), Galaxy Quest (1999), The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007), Frost/Nixon (2008), Conviction (2010), Iron Man 2 (2010), Cowboys & Aliens (2011) and The Way Way Back (2013).
Rockwell was born in San Mateo, California, the son of actors who divorced when he was five years old. He was raised by his father, Pete Rockwell, in San Francisco, while his mother, Penny Hess, stayed behind in New York (he spent his summer vacations with her). Rockwell had what The New York Times described in 1998 as a "footloose upbringing" and, at age 10, made his brief stage debut playing Humphrey Bogart in an East Village improv comedy sketch starring his mother.
He attended San Francisco School of the Arts with Margaret Cho but dropped out before graduating. He later received his high school diploma after his parents enrolled him in an Outward Bound-style alternative high school called Urban Pioneers because, as Rockwell explained, "I just wanted to get stoned, flirt with girls, go to parties." The school, the actor said, "had a reputation as a place stoners went because it was easy to graduate," but the program ended up helping him regain an interest in performing. After appearing in an independent film during his senior year, he graduated and moved to New York to pursue an acting career.
After his debut role in the 1989 horror film Clownhouse (produced by Francis Ford Coppola's production company), which he filmed when based in San Francisco, he moved to New York and trained at the William Esper Studios. His career slowly gathered momentum in the early 1990s, when he alternated between small-screen guest spots in TV shows like The Equalizer, NYPD Blue and Law & Order and small roles in films such as Last Exit to Brooklyn and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. He also appeared as the title character in The Search for One-eye Jimmy. During this time Rockwell worked in restaurants as a busboy and delivered burritos by bicycle. At one point, Rockwell even worked as a private detective's assistant. "I tailed a chick who was having an affair and took pictures of her at this motel", he told Rolling Stone in 2002. "It was pretty sleazy." A well-paying Miller commercial in 1994 finally allowed him to pursue acting full-time.
The turning point in Rockwell's career was Tom DiCillo's 1996 film Box of Moonlight, in which he played an eccentric man-child who dresses like Davy Crockett and lives in an isolated mobile home. The ensuing acclaim put him front and center with casting agents and new-found fans alike, with Rockwell himself acknowledging that "That film was definitely a turning point...I was sort of put on some independent film map after 10 years in New York."
He also won strong reviews for the 1997 film Lawn Dogs, where he played a working-class lawn mower who befriends a wealthy 10-year-old girl (Mischa Barton) in an upper-class gated community in Kentucky; Rockwell's performance won him Best Actor honors at both the Montreal World Film Festival and the Catalonian International Film Festival. In 1999, Rockwell played prisoner William "Wild Bill" Wharton in the Stephen King prison drama The Green Mile. At the time of the film's shooting, Rockwell explained why he was attracted to playing such unlikeable characters. He said, "I like that dark stuff. I think heroes should be flawed. There's a bit of self-loathing in there, and a bit of anger... But after this, I've really got to play some lawyers, or a British aristocrat, or they'll put a label on me."
After appearances as a bumbling actor in 1999's science fiction satire Galaxy Quest, in the 1999 Shakespeare adaptation A Midsummer Night's Dream as Flute, and as gregarious villain Eric Knox in Charlie's Angels (2000), Rockwell won the biggest leading role of his career as The Gong Show host Chuck Barris in George Clooney's 2002 directorial debut, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. Rockwell's performance was well received, and the film received generally positive reviews.
Rockwell has also received positive notices for his role opposite Nicolas Cage in Ridley Scott's Matchstick Men (2003), with Entertainment Weekly calling him "destined by a kind of excessive interestingness to forever be a colorful sidekick." He received somewhat more mixed reviews as Zaphod Beeblebrox in the 2005 film version of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. He then had a notable supporting role as Charley Ford, brother of Casey Affleck's character Robert Ford, in the well-received 2007 drama The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, in which Brad Pitt played the lead role of Jesse James. According to an interview on The Howard Stern Show, director Jon Favreau considered casting him as the titular character in Iron Man as the studio was initially hesitant to work with Robert Downey, Jr., who had been considered for his role in The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy. Rockwell appeared in the Iron Man sequel, released in 2010, as Tony Stark's rival weapons' developer, Justin Hammer. He is said to have accepted the role without reading the script. He had never heard of the character before he was contacted about the part, and was unaware that Hammer is an old man in the comic books.
Rockwell has never been married and stated in a 2007 interview, "I definitely don't want to become a parent. It's not my bag."
Sam has been in a relationship with actress Leslie Bibb since 2007, when they reportedly met in Los Angeles as he was filming Frost/Nixon. They both appeared in Iron Man 2.