Sam Rockwell remembers his favourite roles in a prolific Hollywood career

Sam Rockwell Larry Busacca Getty 2 finalLarry Busacca/GettySam Rockwell.

With over 80 screen credits to his name, Sam Rockwell has built a prolific career out of walking that fine line between character actor and leading man.

Some of his best work involves playing the strong supporting role in movies like “Galaxy Quest,” “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” and “Iron Man 2.” But he’s also fully capable of being the face of a film, in works like “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind,” “The Winning Season,” and “Moon.

With such a diverse filmography, we were curious what motivates Rockwell to take the parts he chooses. Here, he speaks candidly about three of them.

Philip Seymour Hoffman motivated how Rockwell played his characters in 'Don Verdean.'

Lionsgate

In Rockwell's latest movie, 'Don Verdean' (out this weekend), he plays a biblical archaeologist who gets in over his head while trying to track down one of history's most notable artifacts. From the director of 'Napoleon Dynamite,' the brand of comedy could have allowed Rockwell to play the role in his usual outgoing style, but he settled on a more subdued feel. Partly because he had just lost one of his best friends.

'Phil had just passed away,' Rockwell told Business Insider. Hoffman died of an accidental drug overdose last year. 'They had to push shooting about a week because I had to go to his funeral. He was on my mind a lot because he was a transformational actor and that was what I was going after with the part of Don Verdean.'

He almost didn't do 'Moon.'

Sony Pictures Classics

One of Rockwell's most memorable roles to date was playing Sam Bell in Duncan Jones' sci-fi movie 'Moon.' But it took some stern words from Jones for Rockwell to finally come around to taking the role.

'I met Duncan for this movie where he wanted me to play a bad guy, and I didn't want to play a bad guy at the time,' Rockwell said. 'So we started talking about sic-fi movies and a year later, when I was making 'Frost/Nixon,' I get this call that I have to read his new script called 'Moon.' I didn't have time to read it but finally Duncan calls me and goes, 'Are you going to read my f-----g script or what? We wrote this part for you.' I told him to give me three days and he said ok but he has to move on because they were going to shoot it soon. And I said, 'If you were going to move on who would you cast? I'm just curious.' And he said, 'Paddy Considine.' And I was just thinking, man, that guy is really good. So I was like I have to read this f-----g thing. It's one of the more popular movies I've done. It's brought up more than I thought it would ever be.'

The success from 'Confessions of a Dangerous Mind' was a 'strange time.'

Miramax

Having already built up a healthy list of supporting and leading roles by the time he took the part of game-show host/purported hitman Chuck Barris in 'Confessions of a Dangerous Mind,' Rockwell still couldn't expect the national attention thrust on him, as the film was the directorial debut of George Clooney. What followed were bigger offers, like starring in the long-awaited screen adaptation of 'The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy,' but the failure of that film and other indies stripped Rockwell of his leading-man status.

'I'd done lead roles up to that point, but they were films nobody saw,' he said. 'So it was good practice for me playing Chuck. I remember I watched a lot of 'Serpico' before we shot the movie. I think the paranoia angle. It was truly one of the highlights of my career. But it was strange, I was on the cover of GQ and I did 'Hitchhikers,' but I went back to doing character parts again. An acting career is interesting. There's ebbs and flows and movies that I feel are milestones in my mind -- 'Snow Angles,' 'Conviction,' 'Choke' -- not necessarily a lot of people have seen them. But what are you going to do? I didn't think anybody was going to see 'The Way Way Back' and that's the movie that's changed my career recently in the parts I'm offered.'

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