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.