Sam Rockwell Wins Oscar for Best Supporting Actor

March 5, 2018

Character actor Sam Rockwell has joked about being known as “That guy from that movie.” Some recognize him as “That guy from ‘Moon,” or “from Galaxy ‘Quest,’” or “from ‘Iron Man 2,’” or “The Green Mile.” But that will change after Sunday night’s Academy Awards. Indeed, the 49-year-old actor won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor thanks to his performance as the dimwitted, racist police officer, Jason Dixon, in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

Rockwell is often cast as immoral, unlikable characters, many of which are from small towns. He says, “I’ve played so many hicks and country bumpkins. It’s hilarious because I’ve always lived in cities.” Actually, Sam was raised in both San Francisco and New York. But he admits, “I feel a little strange all the time, a little bit off-center. I never feel that people are as nutty as me.” So it makes sense when his roles are often described as “quirky” as well.

While in the backstage press room at the Oscars, Rockwell shared how he was given two to three months to prepare for the role of Dixon. “I worked with an amazing dialect coach … I did some ride-alongs with cops [in southern Missouri and Los Angeles] … I met with a skin graft doctor who introduced me to some burn victims,” he said. Sam has been in the business since he was just 10 years old, and two prominent acting coaches in his life are William Esper, who Sam says taught him the responsibilities associated with being an actor, and Meisner instructor Terry Knickerbocker who Rockwell thanked when receiving his trophy. Knickerbocker says of Rockwell, “He loves knowledge … He takes a script and works his way through it over and over again. We work the scenes until he has a very specific idea of what he’s going to do.”

The character of Dixon proved to be the focus of much public debate because of the way the film handled his violence and racism. In response, Rockwell was asked how he dealt with the controversy surrounding the sympathetic manner which Dixon is portrayed later in the film. “It’s a complicated issue,” Rockwell reflected. “I think, for me, the whole thing is [the character of Mildred and Dixon] have a lot of work to do. It’s not like they’re all of a sudden redeemed at the end of the movie. They have a lot of work to do–maybe some therapy, you know, it’s an ongoing thing. It’s also a movie. It’s a dark fairytale of some sorts. It’s not necessarily [true to life]. In real life, both of our characters would have probably gone to prison. That’s sort of how I see it.”

Rockwell’s performance was likewise awarded with a Golden Globe. He made fun of his newfound fame with song and dance while he was a guest on Saturday Night Live.

Before being able to make a living as an actor, Rockwell has described how he worked in restaurants. “Busing mostly,” he said. “I was a food runner. I was an extra on soap operas. And extra on commercials. Typical actor, huh? I delivered burritos by bicycle. All that stuff. My last real job was delivering food for this trendy restaurant … I hate jobs. This is better.”