Sam Rockwell: “People like to have labels for actors and, the truth is, every actor is a character actor”

"I think in every character, you're finding a version of yourself." - Sam Rockwell

“I think in every character, you’re finding a version of yourself.” – Sam Rockwell

It feels right to finally call Sam Rockwell an Oscar-winner. The journeyman actor has won almost every acting award imaginable in the lead-up to the Oscars, making him the overwhelming favorite to win the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his memorable performance as a racist cop in Three Billboard Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Rockwell spoke to the New York Times about his career, including about a label often applied to him — “character actor.”

Rockwell points out that while he’s often labeled a “character actor,” he sees “character” as an unnecessary adjective. He explains, “I’m not a household name like Brad Pitt. People like to have labels for actors and, the truth is, every actor is a character actor. When I say actor, I mean actresses as well. Toni Collette is a good example of someone who can do both leading lady and transformational characters, in which you are barely recognizing them. I think Billy Crudup, Christopher Walken, Robert de Niro – they are all great examples of that.”

While Rockwell says he can’t relate to his Three Billboards‘ character’s racism, he can relate to other aspects of the character. He says, “I think in every character, you’re finding a version of yourself. I do not relate to racism because I was not brought up that way. I can relate to self-loathing. The reason a person lashes out the way Dixon does is because he hates himself, so anybody can relate to that. I am drawn to complex characters; they’re all filled with so many feelings, and that’s what makes them interesting. The first Iron Man, Tony Stark, was an interesting character. He drinks too much, he’s a womanizer, and then he has this epiphany. That’s what’s interesting.”

In addition, Rockwell is asked if he felt intimidated by working with Frances McDormand playing a tough-as-nails character opposite his imbecilic one. He answers, “I think it’s the biggest compliment to Frances that people are asking: “Were you intimidated by her?” Not really, but I was nervous to get in the ring with a great actor. I’ve worked with a lot of great actors. She’s really a force. I think what’s great about her is her integrity. Her sense of truth is like an iron bar. All these people – Woody [Harrelson], Martin [McDonagh], Frances – are true anarchists, they really are. I think it comes through in their work. I’m not exactly conventional either.”

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