Sam Rockwell
Photo by Larry Busacca

Sam Rockwell: “It’s just being there for the first time”

Short Profile

Name: Samuel Rockwell
DOB: 5 November 1968
Place of Birth: San Mateo, California, USA
Occupation: Actor

Mr. Rockwell, what was the smartest thing that you did in your career?

It was probably studying acting with William Esper. I did that for two years when I was 24 years old in ’91. I was in desperate need of training and I had done theater, but I needed some training. I studied Meisner for two years and then I met my acting coach there, Terry Knickerbocker. I still coach with Terry. It’s been a huge thing for me.

Was studying acting about learning technique or did it also influence the way you approach your work in general?

It’s everything. It’s the foundation, it’s the discipline. Acting is a discipline like anything else, you know? If it’s done well, like carpentry or anything else, there’s a discipline to it, a science to it.

An art to it?

Hopefully it’s an artsy job. (Laughs) I think it’s important that it’s fulfilling, that there’s a Zen quality to it. I don’t think there’s enough of an apprenticeship in acting these days, except maybe in London or Chicago. There’s an apprenticeship in theater that doesn’t really happen as much in the movies. It used to be that a lot of movie stars came from the theater, you know?

Christopher Walken, Meryl Streep

Exactly. Robert DeNiro, Dustin Hoffman, Jon Voight, Robert Duvall… all those guys. Gene Hackman.

Do you think that has to do with all the superhero blockbusters and their sequels that are being made now?

I think it has a lot to do with it. It’s a different business right now.

“To avoid fame as an actor is foolish. It’s inevitable.”

Would you ever play the lead in one of those films?

If the part is a good part I would probably do it. Moon is a movie I could have done just as easily with David Fincher, you know what I mean? And in a way you want as many people to see your work as possible because you work your ass off and hopefully it touches people in some way. As a writer you probably want a lot of readers, right?

Of course.

It’s the same thing, really. You want to touch people with your work.

That’s true, but the nature of the work is key. Something with a political message is very different from a mindless Hollywood blockbuster, for example.

I think it depends on your taste. I happen to like those comic book movies. I like The Avengers, I like Iron Man. I get a big kick out of those movies. I also like, you know, The Rover, The Piano Teacher, or My Dinner With Andre. I like small movies and I like big movies.

But would you worry about the effect that the success of a big movie might have on your life?

To avoid fame as an actor is foolish. It’s inevitable that if you’re going to be an actor, you’re going to be famous on some level if you’re going to be a successful actor. It’s naïve to think you can avoid all that. You can pick your route, you know, you don’t have to do your laundry in front of the paparazzi… There are people who are more low-key like Daniel Day-Lewis or Viggo Mortensen. I don’t need to be showing my personal life to the press. You really just want to work with good people and do good work with good writers and good actors. That’s the main thing. If it involves more exposure than other things, it’s okay. It just depends on the scenario.

You’ve said you wanted your career to be like Gary Oldman or John Malkovich. Do you think you’ve managed to accomplish that?

Yeah. I feel pretty good about what I’ve done. I want to continue to challenge myself. I think it’s about continually challenging yourself.

“You’re looking for adventure. You’re looking to feel that spontaneous moment. I think you’re trying to experience that through your work.”

Does that involve being continually frustrated with where you are?

No. I don’t know, that sounds negative. But life is struggle. Life is about struggle. You’re not supposed to be happy all the time. It’s about challenging yourself and pushing yourself, you know? You become content. That’s not happiness.

So when things get too comfortable do you start looking for a new challenge?

Yeah, it’s part of the journey of life that you keep your mind active. You’re looking for adventure. You’re looking to feel that spontaneous moment. I think you’re trying to experience that through your work. There’s a euphoric moment sometimes when you’re acting. It’s just being there for the first time.

It’s like traveling – once you’ve been somewhere, you can never go there for the first time again. So you have to go somewhere new the next time.

Yeah, that’s it, that’s exactly right. You can only go to Hooters for the first time once – and then that’s it!