He can play seriously silly or dangerously dramatic with an ease many actors envy. Sam Rockwell has appeared in a number of big-screen hits including "Seven Psychopaths," "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" and "The Green Mile." He is the son of working actors who divorced when he was young. At 44, he remains unmarried and is content with that status. He stars in "The Way, Way Back" as Owen, the manager of a water park. His character helps a shy boy, in town for the summer with his mother, played by Toni Collette, find his confidence.
Excerpts from an interview:
Q: What kind of dad did you have?
A: I have a great dad. He's amazing. He's a very special guy. He was a single parent for a long time. He's pretty great.
Q: You lived with him?
A: I did, I did, and I would visit my mother in the summer. Then he remarried, and I had a stepmother for a while.
Q: Because you were an only child, were you shy or just the opposite?
A: I moved around a lot, so I had to make friends, you know, very quickly with new people. I developed probably unorthodox social skills.
Q: What do you mean, "unorthodox"?
A: I don't know. You have to when you are an only child. You either make friends or you don't, so you find the right people to be surrounded with. Usually it's through their sense of humor. That really gauges someone's intelligence, their sense of humor.
Q: Being an only child, did you also find you were good at entertaining yourself?
A: Yeah, absolutely. I played cowboys and aliens and Indians and cops and robbers by myself. You know, I did a lot of stuff like that.
Q: Do you see yourself as more of a leading-man type?
A: I sort of see myself as both. I do both. I do what the role requires, but usually if I do any kind of a leading-man character it is more of an anti-hero.
Q: But what about your own expectations?
A: I didn't really have any expectations. I had very low expectations about the whole thing. I just kind of wanted to get into it for the adventure of it.
Q: Both your parents were actors, so what did you see as adventuresome?
A: The lifestyle was sort of a bohemian kind of adventure. You know, it's a hard lifestyle at first when you are a struggling actor, and you are working in restaurants. It's not necessarily an easy lifestyle, but it's spontaneous. Your life can change with a phone call.
It can be adventurous just roaming around the streets of New York, you know? So I didn't really take the craft of acting very seriously until I went to acting school when I was about 23.
Q: Your parents were working actors, so how have they enjoyed your success?
A: They are very supportive. My mother is a painter now. She is in New York. I am kind of bi-coastal, but I am primarily in New York. My girlfriend has a place in L.A. So we go back and forth for our profession.
Q: Sometimes when you read a book, you find yourself thinking in the author's voice. Do you do that when you are in character for a while?
A: Yeah, you pick up similar rhythms that the writer might have. You can pick up their rhythms, and if you've done a couple of their plays or films, you can start to see some of their rhythms in the writing, and you start to feel their point of view. For sure.
Q: I've read that parenting and marriage were things you were not interested in. Is that still true?
A: Yeah, you know, it's not really my cup of tea. It's just not my thing. Some people think I'm crazy, but I don't, really. I don't need to do that. I've got a dog, a German shepherd.
Q: Sam, do you see yourself as ambitious when it comes to your career?
A: Yes and no. I mean, I am ambitious, but I don't really chase a lot of stuff. If somebody is not interested in what I have to offer, I'm not gonna chase them down. People at this point kind of know what I can do. It's either you're buying what I'm selling or you're not.
Q: Have you always been so relaxed about your career?
A: Well, not always. Sometimes ... there are always frustrations and that kind of stuff. I've been up for big roles in films and theater and not gotten them. I was up for "The Unforgiven" and "Dead Poets Society" and "No Country for Old Men." I've been up for a few movies. I sort of tested for "Collateral" for the Jamie Foxx part. But then I've also had such great success. The lifestyle of an actor and the process of creating a role is so much fun.
Q: What did you like about creating your character for "The Way, Way Back"?
A: Well, it was my chance to do my Bill Murray impersonation, you know, my Richard Pryor, Walter Matthau impersonation. So it was a lot of fun for me. Those are movies that I grew up on -- "Meatballs" and "Bad News Bears" and "Bustin' Loose." So it was my chance to kind of do that archetype.
(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.shns.com.)