Film: These days the Kid cuts grass in Kentucky

Sam Rockwell is best known as The Kid in `Box of Moonlight', an outcast living in a trailer in the middle of nowhere. Now he stars in `Lawn Dogs' as ... well, an outcast living in a trailer in the middle of nowhere. But, he tells Ryan Gilbey, there the similarity ends.

I have met at least three people who want Sam Rockwell dead. All of them are film critics, a breed known to be gnarled and bitter but not generally given to twisting pins into wax effigies of bright young actors. And what is Rockwell's crime? He simply appeared in the lyrical comedy Box of Moonlight as a wise and wacky drop-out in a Davy Crockett suit who teaches John Turturro's uptight construction supervisor how to savour life.

It took the writer-director Tom DiCillo four years to finance Box of Moonlight, but through all this time he held strong on his choice of Rockwell to play The Kid, despite pressure to cast Johnny Depp or Jason Priestley. Rockwell, for his part, had to keep his hair long while waiting for the film to be made: "If I got a job playing a cop or something, I'd ask Tom if I could cut it," he remembers. "And he'd say, `Yeah, cut your hair, we don't have the money yet - but don't cut it too short because we might get it soon.' Things went on like that for a long time."

Even after the film was finally made, it had a tough time attracting a distributor, and, worst of all, it was rejected outright by the selection committee for the Cannes Film Festival. That it got shown at all is largely down to Janet Maslin, the New York Times film critic, and the first to champion Box of Moonlight after it was screened at the Sundance Film Festival. Maslin singled out Rockwell and quoted the opinion of the Miramax boss Harvey Weinstein: "He's a movie star."

It was a turning point. Previously, Rockwell had done some acclaimed work on television series such as NYPD Blue and Law and Order, as well as fleeting appearances in a few very respectable films - playing with a knuckleduster in Last Exit to Brooklyn and goofing around in a daft hat as Jennifer Beels' tubby brother in In the Soup.

He recalls the first time he was proud of his own acting. "I was in this play, Face Divided, where I played the husband of a woman who abuses our child. I had this scene where I described the kid's face to my wife - we were on the emergency ward and we'd spent the evening denying what had really happened. Then I say `I saw her face, I know you beat her up,' and I describe her face with the wires in it, and as I did it I got very emotional, which was a discovery for me. To be able to do that night after night, to realise that I could consistently craft an acting moment - it was a revelation to me."

Theatre had been Rockwell's passion since he was 10, when he acted in an improvisational comedy alongside his mother, whom he describes as "an American Alison Steadman". Film came later. Rockwell had originally auditioned for the lead in DiCillo's first feature, Johnny Suede, which eventually went to Brad Pitt. When he was offered the chance to play The Kid, he wasn't about to turn it down because of a little hitch like zero finance. He hung in there. "It was a dream role," he says. "They don't come around too often." Perhaps not. But by a strange coincidence Rockwell has chosen to follow his sweet, winning performance as an outcast living in a trailer in the middle of nowhere with Lawn Dogs, in which he gives a sweet, winning performance as an outcast living in a trailer in the middle of nowhere. There is even a scene that is directly reprised from Box of Moonlight, in which Rockwell strips naked to dive into a river.

But despite surface similarities, those who thought that in Box of Moonlight Rockwell was simply doing a junior version of Robin Williams' twinkly man-child routine will be surprised by his depth and poignancy in Lawn Dogs. He plays Trent, a poor uneducated Kentucky handyman who mows the lawns of his affluent neighbours and strikes up a friendship with a young rich girl who feels an affinity with his outsider status. There are whole scenes when Rockwell seems entirely guarded, not only from his fellow actors, but also from the audience. If The Kid was a role which demanded vaudevillian excess, Trent is the opposite, a jamboree bag of secrets, and not all of them are disclosed.

"I really connected with his loneliness," Rockwell recalls. "Low self- esteem and loneliness are the keys to any juicy character, whether it's Hamlet or Stanley Kowalski. Trent is not naturally a winner, but he's a winner in spite of his handicaps. I'm actually in therapy right now trying to figure this stuff out. Really. Because there was a lot of my childhood where I felt like something wasn't quite right, that I didn't fit."

He lived with his father and stepmother, who were both "kinda straight", in San Francisco, with a month's break in the summers to stay with is mother in New York. "I'd hang out with all her Bohemian friends, acting with them, drinking beer, smoking dope, kissing girls. Then I'd have to go back to San Francisco and be normal. I felt like an alien."

Rockwell has just completed work on Woody Allen's next, as yet untitled, feature, in which he sports a horrific bleached hairdo and stars alongside Leonardo DiCaprio and Kenneth Branagh. Now he's about to return to the New York stage as a breather from films - not because theatre is necessarily easier, but the idea of indulging in concentrated bouts of acting as opposed to spending 12 hours in your trailer to commit 10 minutes' worth of work to celluloid obviously has greater appeal. Rockwell is playing a racist car salesman in a New York production of Mike Leigh's Goose Pimples.

"The bastard improvised the whole thing," he laughs, "but it's us who have got to learn every damn `uh?' or `eh?' " He has perfected his London accent, he says, by watching old episodes of Only Fools and Horses. Lovely jubbly.

`Lawn Dogs' is reviewed overleaf.

News
people

Actress sees off speculation about her appearance in an amazing way

Arts and Entertainment
Serge Pizzorno of Kasabian and Noel Fielding backstage at the Teenage Cancer Trust concerts
musicKasabian and Noel Fielding attack 'boring' musicians
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and Ellen Page are starring together in civil rights drama Freeheld
film
Voices
'Irritatingly Disneyfied': fashion vlogger Zoella
voicesVicky Chandler: Zoella shows us that feminism can come in all forms
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
News
people

Sport
nflAtlanta Falcons can't count and don't know what the UK looks like
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
High notes, flat performance: Jake Bugg
music

Review: Despite an uphill climb to see Jake Bugg in action, his performance is notably flat

News
The Putin automaton will go on sale next month in Germany
videoMusical Putin toy showing him annexing Crimea could sell for millions
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    PE Teacher, Full Time Role, Gillingham School

    Competitive Salary: Randstad Education Group: We are urgently seeking an exper...

    Telecoms Engineer - Telecoms Admin - £35,000 - 5 month FTC

    £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: 5 month Fixed Term Contract - Telecommunicati...

    Norwegian Speaking Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £18000 per annum + competitive OTE: SThree: Progressive in Manchester is seeki...

    IT Systems Business Analyst - Watford - £28k + bonus + benefits

    £24000 - £28000 per annum + bonus & benefits: Ashdown Group: IT Business Syste...

    Day In a Page

    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

    'You need me, I don’t need you'

    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
    How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

    How to Get Away with Murder

    Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
    A cup of tea is every worker's right

    Hard to swallow

    Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
    12 best children's shoes

    Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

    Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
    Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

    Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

    Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
    Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

    Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

    Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

    Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

    UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London