Sometimes, there comes a moment in a working actor’s life where just the right role suddenly galvanizes awards attention. I’ve been tracking Sam Rockwell since he broke out at Sundance in 1996 with Tim DiCillo’s Box of Moon Light. Rockwell has been knocking out great juicy performances ever since–often in smaller indie films such as George Clooney’s Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, or David Gordon Green’s Snow Angels. He’s also a stalwart supporting player in Frost/Nixon, The Green Mile and The Assassination of Jesse James, and hilarious in Galaxy Quest and Iron Man 2. He held his own opposite Mickey Rourke–not an easy thing to do. Jon Favreau rewarded Rockwell with a role in the upcoming sci-fi western Cowboys and Aliens. And Rockwell also held the screen against himself in the complex and moving BAFTA-winning sci-fi indie Moon, which generated serious Oscar talk last year–but didn’t have a proper Oscar campaign behind it.
Finally, Conviction brings Rockwell the role of his career, playing the real-life rebellious and volatile Kenny Waters, who grew up neglected and abused on the wrong side of the tracks and ended up with a murder conviction, in prison for life. His sister, Betty Anne Waters (Hilary Swank), finished high school, put herself through college and law school, over eighteen years, in order to figure out a way to prove that he was innocent of the crime. Rockwell shows us how this guy feels–angry, hopeful, despairing, suicidal, never sure if it will work out, hanging onto his sister to deliver his freedom. It’s tough, real, upsetting stuff.
See my flip cam interview with Rockwell, below.
The climactic prison scenes had to be shot over again because the grueling 16-hour day’s shoot was ruined by an airport X-ray. But doing it over made it even better, director Tony Goldwyn told me in Toronto. While two-time Oscar winner Swank gives yet another stellar performance, Rockwell, who is an actors’ actor, should finally earn the recognition that he deserves.
Fox Searchlight eventually picked up the $12.5 million movie, which is in limited release, and has been sending Swank, Rockwell, supporting actress hopeful Juliette Lewis (who goes overboard with mossy teeth) and Waters herself on a national promo tour. They all wound up at my Sneak Previews class, where the movie played well. In an effort to keep the promo budget in line, the actors are driving themselves to L.A. events–and Lewis got into a fender bender on the way home from the Writers Guild. “It’s an easy place to save money,” said Swank.