March 30, 2011 -- Sam Rockwell (interviewed by Jeremy Renner) (

Hollywood has committed a crime. For 20 years, in a town that tosses superlatives around like balls in a dog park, the great unwashed have failed to fully recognise the burgeoning talents of one Sam Rockwell. 
The man who has given the world a lawn-mowing loaner (Lawn Dogs), game show host/CIA assassin Chuck Barris (Confessions of a Dangerous Mind), an unbalanced astronaut (Moon), journalist James Reston Jr. (Frost/Nixon) and a greedy handful of other oddballs, inmates, and stubbly scene-stealers, has been left out in the Californian cold by AMPAS and Hollywood Foreign Press voters and frankly, it just won’t do. Thankfully, Rockwell isn’t in it for the accolades and keeps making movies – most recently he’s been doing the press rounds for Hilary Swank-headliner Conviction, in which he plays wrongfully convicted Bay Stater Kenneth Waters. His performance is meaty, edgy, heart-breaking and oh, so, Sammy. Oscar or no, this underrated actor is at the top of his game. Hollywood, how do you plead? Guilty as charged. One of his biggest fans, fellow thespian and 2011 Oscar nominee Jeremy Renner – that hard-core bomb-diffusing nut-job from The Hurt Locker – was more than happy to catch up with his buddy on behalf of The Lab.


JEREMY RENNER—Hey man! So the last time I saw you was in Toronto. Have you been on a press tour for Conviction since then?

SAM ROCKWELL—Yeah. We’ve been doing a lot. It’s a grass roots tour. We went to London and San Francisco, Mill Valley, DC, Philly, Washington. Trying to get everybody excited.


JR—Because you didn’t have a big release, right?

SR—We started slow. Fox Searchlight’s really smart about that. They did the same thing with The Wrestler, and Slumdog Millionaire. They’re really good about getting it out there in the right way, and making sure the right people see it. I took my dad to London – that was cool. I barely saw him or London, though. We had some fish and chips and went to the park.


JR—That’s the sad part of the whole process; you don’t get to really enjoy anything because you’re working.

SR—Yeah and as you know your brain is scrambled eggs, and you have to go have a drink or go to the gym or something to relieve all that stuff and then you get up in four hours and get on a train or whatever.


JR—We did it for 18 months on The Hurt Locker so I know what it’s like. You have no life. And you really want to be out there and support the movie because you should be proud of it. You’re fucking tremendous in it, by the way.


SR—You saw the movie?

JR—Yeah, but I had to watch it on my computer. Watching it on the small screen was good enough but ridiculously enough the movie had my name printed across the whole screen like they do on scripts, which was kind of annoying. All through the whole movie it just said “Jeremy Renner.” I felt like I was in the movie with you.


SR—Well I’ll re-enact it for you next time I see you with a sign on my chest that says “Jeremy Renner.” And I’ll do it without any pants on.


JR—I remember you told me some of the film got screwed up or something and you had to do a reshoot?

SR—All the film from a very big 16-hour day was destroyed; it was put through an X-ray at the airport by a security person. It was a scene where I find out that I’m not the blood type of the killer and I’m going to get out of prison and then a scene where I also find out it doesn’t matter because Martha Coakley’s going to try me as an accomplice anyway – she doesn’t care that I’m not the blood type. All the prison stuff was shot in four days and it was really emotional. The last day was the 16-hour day that was destroyed and I think one of us said, “I’d hate to do that again.” The next day Tony Goldwyn, our amazing director, takes us into Hilary’s trailer and says, “I’ve got some bad news, I have to talk to you guys,” and I was saying, “Tony, you know that scene yesterday where I fight with the guards? I feel like it could’ve been more violent, I wish we could’ve done it more,” and he says, “Well you may get another chance.”


JR—At least you didn’t feel really good about what you’d done and you had the chance to improve it. But you’re neurotic that way – you always think you can do something better.

SR—We did make it better. But it’s funny what stress does to you. When he said we had to do it again my back seized up and I started getting nauseous. Not to be overly dramatic but it was kind of like a death. Hilary [Swank] was trying to problem solve, being the optimist, and I just walked out and had a cigarette. It was so depressing.


JR—Did you get diarrhea?

SR—I think probably. And then the whole day it was like somebody died. They were going to re-shoot it at the end and then Hilary said, “No, we’ve got to get back in there right away.” So we went back to the prison the next day, and brought the whole crew back. We were walking to the trailer in the morning and Hilary pointed two fingers at her eyes and then at me as if to say, “You and me, all day, you and me.” In other words, let’s stay connected.


JR—Did it feel weird once you set back up in the prison, or did you feel like you had a running start?

SR—It felt weird, and I asked them to switch the order of the scenes. They shot the fight scene with the guards first, because I thought that was the hardest one, and I did the first take and it really sucked ass. I remember thinking, I’ve got to get on top of this. I can’t let this opportunity slip away. It was one of those moment where you’re like am I going to step up to the plate? And then the second take was great, and then the rest of the day was pretty good, but it was scary. Have you ever had to do a reshoot?


JR—I don’t think I ever had to reshoot something but I certainly know that feeling at the end of a day when everyone’s tired and it’s probably one of the most important scenes of the movie and it’s your close up. I kind of thrive on those moments. It gets my adrenaline going and forces me to really dig. I certainly love that pressure – it makes me better.

SR—I think it makes me better too.


JR—Because you were working with Hilary too, which must have been a blessing? She’s such a tremendous actress. It’s great to be banging heads with wonderful talent because you want to be better for them as well.

SR—I love that – that’s why I want to work with you. She’s amazing, though. She’s a force of nature. I’ve been meaning to ask how did you come up with that idea of drinking the soda when you get killed in 
The Town?

JR—That was something [director] Ben [Affleck] saw on a real interrogation room surveillance tape where a guy was arrested for something. The guy’s being very quiet, and the detectives are trying to get some answers out of him and he wouldn’t answer anything. And then he asked for a soda and they gave him one. You don’t really hear anything on the tape but the detectives tell him to think for a minute and leave the room. As soon as they’re gone, the guy takes a sip of the soda, pulls a gun out and blasts his brains out. Ben thought that was such a strange thing, that he wanted a soda before he shot himself, so he put that in the movie.

SR—That’s so fucking awesome. I love that shit.


JR—Let’s talk for a second about the Boston accent, because we both had to do it for a movie. Did you guys work with dialogue coaches?

SR—We all worked with one of the best dialect coaches in the country – Liz Himelstein, who’s a protégé of Tim Monich who’s really good. We drilled these Gilbert and Sullivan songs with the accent. I like to drill the accent with other text, not just use the screenplay, so your lines don’t get stale. You watched tapes of real convicts, right?

JR—Ben taped them. I asked for an accent coach.

SR—What did they say?

JR—“That’s not happening!” So I just hung around a bunch of ex-bank robbers, and ex-cons and they taped a bunch of stuff, which we watched. I was having a little trouble with it initially. But then I asked three guys from Charlestown to tell the same ‘Knock-knock’ joke and they all sounded different. I learned it’s more about the personality so I didn’t feel pressured into having a technically perfect accent. The biggest compliment I got from anybody was people saying, I know guys like your character; I grew up with guys like him; I hated guys like him. It felt really great that the personality came out without the accent stifling it.

SR—You fucking nailed it man. You nailed it. It was cool when you were making The Town because my girlfriend was shooting a movie in Boston too.


JR—That was so kick ass that we got to hang out for all that time. You’d already filmed Conviction then, right?

SR—Yeah, a year and a half ago, before Iron Man 2. We filmed it in Michigan, fucking Michigan. Everybody talks like Fargo there. I was scared shitless. It’s a tough accent and people are quick to criticise it if it’s not good too.


JR—Did you shoot any exteriors in Boston because it certainly looked like it?

SR—No. But they might have shot some second unit stuff.


JR—How long was the shoot?

SR—We shot for maybe 35 days, not even. It was a quickie. I had about four or five weeks to prepare. I was at Sundance doing phoners with the dialect coach and avoiding the parties. It’s the only year I’ve been to Sundance and I haven’t been hung over!


JR—Do you have a favorite scene you like in the movie?

SR—We used two cameras for coverage in the prison but there was one scene where we hadn’t gotten our second camera yet. It was the first scene in the prison with me and Hilary where I’ve just tried to commit suicide. We did it the orthodox way – your turn, my turn – on coverage. It’s a very even keel tennis match – the acting problems are evenly distributed between the two of us – so I’m really proud of that scene. Hilary’s swinging for the fences and I’m swinging for the fences. I think that’s probably my favorite one.


JR—It’s a really good relationship. You guys looked really great on screen together. Obviously I loved all the stuff in the prison, but the scene that really popped out for me was a little staple Sammy in that bar scene near the beginning.

SR—The bar scene was fun, man.


JR—That could be any given Sunday with you and me in New York or something. What’s on the programme now for you, because tonight you go to the Hollywood Film Festival, which is the biggest kick-off for the Oscar awards campaign, right?

SR—I don’t know a lot about it, but it’s all about getting the movie out there and getting people to look at the performances. This is an independent film; this is a movie that 10 years ago would’ve been a studio movie, but studios aren’t making dramas anymore. That’s the state of things.


JR—It’s kind of sad, right? Not good for actors like us.

SR—This is an interesting topic, because you and I are often up for the same parts. I’m always really happy when my friends get something, even if I wanted it, or if somebody really good gets it like Josh Brolin in No Country for Old Men. I read for that, and I wanted that, but when I saw him do it, I thought he was great.


JR—I think the same way. And probably one of the reasons why we’re good friends is we think a lot alike. We don’t get too emotionally involved in it. I’d probably feel a little weird if I got fired off of a job and then someone came in, like Eric Stoltz in Back to the Future – that would be hard to swallow right.

SR—Yeah, that would suck.


JR—But I love losing out roles to you or to another tremendous actor. I have no problem with that whatsoever.

SR—Ambition is usually a bad word but I think it’s OK to be competitive in a healthy way if your friends or people you admire like Phil Hoffman or Billy Crudup or Mark Ruffalo inspire you to do better. If Liev’s [Schreiber] kicking some as, I want to kick some ass. They make you want to bring your A-game. But there is the petty competitive stuff that I don’t like. You would’ve been great in Conviction, I would’ve loved to play your part in The Town, but when I saw you do The Town, I couldn’t see anyone else in that part because I thought you were that guy. I just wish there was more of that community with actors.


JR—I know it’s hard but we can create that community. We can go up for the same role, work each other’s lines for that audition and then drive together to the audition and go kick ass. I look at it like, you’re tremendous and if I don’t get it of course I want you to have it.

SR—I think it’s such a cutthroat business and everybody’s out for blood. It’s important to keep your humanity and your integrity and just know that there are many roses in the garden. And it’s just about doing good work and what’s meant to be is meant to be. It’s a good life and any of the complaints we have about press and stuff are all limousine problems. When I met you at that hotel in Calgary my girlfriend at the time had already met you and she said, “You’re going to like this guy, Jeremy.” And I thought, I’ll be the judge of that. I remember meeting you at the bar and there was something about you, maybe it’s because we’re both from Northern California or because you reminded me of someone from high school, but she was right.


JR—We’ve definitely been kindred spirits ever since we got to really get to know each other back then, huh?

SR—Swank wants us to all get together. She’s dying to get you and me in a room. We tried pretty hard to hang out in Toronto; you literally tackled me on the street as I was walking to your hotel to do press. And now you’re in Prague filming the new Mission: Impossible with Tom Cruise.


JR—It baffles my mind. I grew up watching him and sometimes I can’t believe we’re sitting there working together.

SR—It’s amazing. We’re so lucky. The people you and I have both worked with: John Malkovich, Robert De Niro, Gene Hackman, Hilary Swank, and now you’re working with Tom Cruise. The reason I know how to do the splits is because of watching Risky Business over and over. I used to practice doing that slide in the socks to that song from the movie. Now you know what a dork I am.