An idiosyncratic actor known for both his versatility and sinewy, off-kilter sexiness, Sam Rockwell is one of the stage and screen's most imaginative and least predictable performers. Once dubbed "the male Parker Posey" for his voluminous work in independent films, Rockwell has also earned notice for his work in more mainstream fare, including Frank Darabont's The Green Mile (1999).
Born in Daly City, CA, on November 5, 1968, Rockwell enjoyed a steadfastly bohemian upbringing. The son of artists and actors, Rockwell moved to New York City with his parents when he was two. Three years later, his parents divorced, and he spent much of his youth traveling back and forth between them. Raised by his father in San Francisco, he spent his summers in New York with his mother, whose unconventional lifestyle -- replete with sex, drugs, and flamboyant hippies -- introduced Rockwell to some very adult pastimes at an extremely young age. It was through his mother that he became involved in theater, making his stage debut at the age of ten. He later attended San Francisco's High School of the Performing Arts, where, at the age of 18, he was chosen to star in Clown House (1988), an ill-fated thriller revolving around three brothers' fight to the death with a group of maniacal circus entertainers.
Following his screen debut, Rockwell moved to New York and proceeded to make 20 more films, including Last Exit to Brooklyn (1990) and Tom Di Cillo's Box of Moonlight (1996). It was the actor's work in the latter film that first won him recognition: as The Kid, a coonskin cap-clad free spirit whose backwoods existence alters the mundane life of a burnt-out engineer (John Turturro), Rockwell gave an engaging performance that sparked industry attention; unfortunately, the independent film disappeared at the box office. The actor next garnered attention for his lead role in John Duigan's Lawn Dogs (1997), a tale about the unconventional friendship between a white trash lawn boy (Rockwell) and a ten year-old girl (Mischa Barton) with a heart problem. Employing a heavy helping of magical realism to tell its story, the film earned fairly positive reviews, and Rockwell drew particular praise for his complex, low-key performance.
The actor subsequently appeared in a series of comedies that made good use of his quirky persona, most notably Safe Men (1998), which cast him and Steve Zahn as two singers of dubious quality who find themselves the unwitting targets of the Jewish mafia. In 1999, more mainstream audiences were introduced to Rockwell thanks to his memorable work in three films: A Midsummer Night's Dream, which cast him as the cross-dressing Francis Flute; Galaxy Quest, a comedy spoof in which Rockwell played a cast member of a failing circa-'70s sci-fi TV series; and The Green Mile, in which the actor got to fully exhibit his twisted versatility as Wild Bill, a death-row inmate whom Rockwell himself characterized as "a disgusting, racist, pedophile freak." Switching gears almost as much as humanly possible, Rockwell's following role in Galaxy Quest (1999) found him a quirky cast member of a Star Trek-like television sci-fi series. The contrast between Rockwell's ultra-lightweight Galaxy Quest characterization and his former role as a genuinely revolting criminal was a testament to his versatility, and though he would stick to comedy with Charlie's Angels, a series of small roles would follow before Rockwell teamed with actor George Clooney for Welcome to Collinwood and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (both 2002). Appearing as former host of the cult television sensation The Gong Show in the latter, Rockwell brought Chuck Barris' compellingly quirky (and partially fictionalized) biography to the screen under first-time director George Clooney. In addition to his work onscreen, Rockwell has continued to act on the stage, appearing in such productions as a 1998 off-Broadway run of Mike Leigh's Goosepimples.
Over the next several years, Rockwell would remain a constant force on screen, appearing in films like The Assassination of Jesse James, Choke, Frost/Nixon, Choke, Moon, Conviction, Cowboys & Aliens, and The Sitter.