Sam Rockwell’s Screentest

If you own Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, as I do, then you know there is great footage in the special features of Rockwell’s various screentests. We see him doing the scene where George Clooney recruits him to the CIA. It’s great because what you see in the screentest is what you see in the final movie. Including the bits of food flying out of his mouth as he splutters with amazement at what is being offered to him. He clearly had a vision of what he wanted to do, and it was already in place during the audition. This is work, people. Actors make it up to the final moment sometimes before being cast. All kinds of things can happen. The movie can be delayed, and then when it starts shooting, you are no longer available and they cast someone else. Or you are strongly in the running for it against someone else, and it’s between you and the other guy, and they go with the other guy. But up until that moment, you must act as though you will be cast, you must put as much of your heart into it as you would if you were already cast. You can hold nothing back. You must be willing to get your heart broken. You must be willing to “put yourself out there”, and then, for whatever reason, have the powers-that-be say, “Sorry. It’s not going to work out.” It is the toughest part of being an actor. Actors are rejected far more than they are cast. So it’s really fun to see screentests, because everything is unknown at that point. You are still trying to get the part. But you can’t look like you are trying. You have to already seem like you are the part.

All of the screentests are great. Rockwell obviously was a strong contender for the role, the strongest. Clooney had him in mind. Rockwell was not an unknown. This was not a casting call with a wide net. This was a targeted search. So that is a factor as well. The recruiting scene, with the flying food, is great because once the scene ends, the two of them burst out laughing. The whole thing is so ridiculous. It must have been difficult to keep a straight face. In the final version of that scene, as Clooney makes him the offer, there is a long closeup of Rockwell, and his face is frozen as he listens, his mouth puckered in a little “Oh” shape, eyes alarmed and still. You can’t believe how long he keeps that face. The camera stays on him for quite some time, and the face never changes. It gets funnier and funnier each time I watch it. And all of that is there already in the screentest. Clooney could barely keep it together acting with that.

There’s a whole ridiculous clip in the special features of Rockwell dancing around as Chuck Barris. The fact that Rockwell is a good dancer is no secret. But watch him here. It’s hilarious. It’s fantastic because he is in such an unselfconscious zone. An actors stock-in-trade, obviously. You can’t be cautious, you can’t hold back.

Yeah. He’s not holding back here.

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16 Responses to Sam Rockwell’s Screentest

  1. Rob says:

    I LOVE that film. It has one of the great quotes of all time:

    “I came up with a new game-show idea recently. It’s called The Old Game. You got three old guys with loaded guns onstage. They look back at their lives, see who they were, what they accomplished, how close they came to realizing their dreams. The winner is the one who doesn’t blow his brains out. He gets a refrigerator.”

    Sam nails Chuck Barris on The Gong Show. Rockwell is a national treasure. Just off the charts. He can do anything.

  2. sheila says:

    I have these weird semi-shameful memories of The Gong Show from my childhood. I don’t think I quite understood it. It made me feel bad, as a small child …. and yet, I watched it religiously.

    I agree that Rockwell is a national treasure. And he’s only in his 40s – we have so much to look forward to!

  3. Rob says:

    The Gong Show was totally ridiculous but, somehow, Barris made it funny. That show is canceled in a week with any other emcee. It was probably my first true guilty pleasure.

  4. sheila says:

    If memory serves, too (and granted I haven’t watched The Gong Show since it was on) – Rockwell does a creepily dead-on imitation of Barris. With the random clapping and the mirage of dirty-hot-creepy-hangover-sex around him at all times.

  5. Rob says:

    It was uncanny, Sheila. He even looked like Barris. The film did the cutaways just like the show used to do and it was just a joy to anyone who had seen the original. A fantastic tribute. The spy stuff was a blast, too. Very underrated film.

  6. sheila says:

    I love the bits about taking the Dating Game winners to Eastern Bloc countries. And how about Brad Pitt and Matt Damon briefly seen as contestants on the Dating Game?? Hysterical.

    I had thought that “The weirdest place I make whoopie is in the ass” thing was an urban legend. I can’t remember what Clooney said on the commentary about actually finding that famous clip – do you remember? It was so funny to see it!

    Yes. Loved the movie. Loved everything about it.

  7. Rob says:

    I only vaguely remember that quote. I don’t own the movie and have only seen it once (June 2005 according to my own post). I set the DVR to record it the next time it came on but it hasn’t hit a station I get since (5 YEARS!!!). Will have to check our library to see if they have the DVD. I think I read somewhere that Damon and Pitt did that scene for nothing to help Clooney out. I loved that bit where he said he didn’t know if he was madder that the guy played him or that it took seven of them to make a trade.

  8. sheila says:

    Oh, everyone worked for scale in this movie, including Julia Roberts. Nobody got paid regular salaries. You can feel that raw passion in the movie, i think. Everyone’s there because they want to be there – and they’re all there to support Sam Rockwell. Brilliant!

  9. sheila says:

    Rob: funny thing from the commentary: At the CIA training camp, there’s a slow pan in the airplane hangar of all the trainees watching a demonstration. We see one guy, another guy, and then Sam Rockwell. Each one is wearing a shirt with his name on it. The two guys we see before Rockwell have the names “Oswald” and “Ruby”. So stupid and so funny. Then, at the gun range, Oswald’s gun jams. You would never get it if you hadn’t made that connection before – but now it’s all I can see. Oswald’s is the only gun that jams. Hilarious.

  10. Rob says:

    I have to see that DVD. Happy Thanksgiving, Sheila. :)

  11. Damn, where’s Gene, Gene, the Dancing Machine? And the rubber turkeys and warm bodies they used to toss at him on the zany jig? Now that was an unselfconscious zone if there ever was one!

  12. Jen W. says:

    He’s good, but not as good as Cousin Mike in this week’s Glee! :)

  13. sheila says:

    Jen – Ha! Well, yes, that goes without saying!! :)

  14. allison bennett says:

    I know this is an old post….but I just searched Sam Rockwell on your site because I wondered what you thought of him. I just saw Conviction on my airplane back to LA last week and was blown away anew at his talent. I had heard nothing of this movie and didn’t have particularly high expectations….but he was just phenomenal. Actually, the movie itself was pretty damned good. I think he is one of the most under-utilized — male talents in Hollywood today.

  15. sheila says:

    Allison – 100% agree. Have you seen Moon???

    When you finally return to the East Coast, let’s please have a sleepover so we can see it together. I cannot believe he wasn’t nominated – unbelievable performance. Please don’t look it up to see what it’s about – because I guarantee you won’t want to see it if you read a plot synopsis.

    Please just trust me on this one!!

  16. Solid Muldoon says:

    This movie was the first time I had ever heard of Sam Rockwell. I have sought out everything he has done since. Moon is a must-see. Don’t let anybody tell you anything about it, though. Just see it.

    And who knew Clooney had this in him? This movie is so assured and bold.

    Great performances all around. Laughs and pathos and just plain weirdness.

    I was a huge fan of The Gong Show. I used to cut class to watch it in the student center when I was in college and I wasn’t the only one. The room was packed.

    The network told them they were cancelled when they still had months of shows to do. Yikes! Talk about taking the leash off. The last episodes of The Gong Show may not be the BEST television shows ever, but the are the MOST television shows ever.

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