Sam Rockwell is in LA for the premiere of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. The film is winning rave reviews, and earning praise for Rockwell’s performance as a racist Missouri cop, garnering Best Supporting Actor buzz.
It’s not the first time Rockwell has worked with writer and director Martin McDonagh, Three Billboards is their third collaboration. Rockwell describes receiving a McDonagh script as “opening a Christmas present,” a true gift for the actor.
Rockwell’s performance sticks with you as his character Jason Dixon transforms during the course of a film that is filled with tragedy, comedy, and the darkest perverse storytelling — hallmarks of the kind of roles McDonagh writes for his characters. Rockwell’s Dixon is a product of his upbringing and surroundings. He lives at home with his aging mother, and can’t seem to help himself when it comes to abusing his powers as town sheriff. He wants to be a good police officer and do a good job, but often goes about it in all the wrong ways. Rockwell tells me to get into the headspace of playing the racist officer Dixon he met with a former white supremacist. “The greatest piece of advice he gave me was that it wasn’t about hating black people, it’s about hating yourself and that’s how I approached it,” Rockwell says.
We had a rapid-fire session before he had to do a photoshoot and another interview. Have a read of our chat below and watch for Rockwell to be a serious contender in the Supporting Actor category.
This film is 115 minutes of absolute brilliance. What was it like for you receiving that script and reading it?
It’s a no-brainer. It was like you’re opening a Christmas present because each page is amazing. Every time you read one of Martin’s scripts, it’s an amazing gift, each page had a twist and turn. It was such a delightful and amazing script. It’s like getting a bike on Christmas morning.
How did you get into your character’s head?
With Martin and I, it’s so easy. We discuss nuance, but we’re on the same page. We might make slight adjustments where he’d want a different cadence or tempo, and we would talk about it. But working with Martin is so easy. I had so much fun.
All the smoke in the fire scene made me a bit sick and I got a virus and I was sick during some of the shooting, so that was my toughest week because I was so run down.
What was it like seeing the finished production?
It was extraordinary and that was amazing. I saw it in Toronto and the reaction was stellar. The movie was something I was blown away by.
What part did you most enjoy filming?
I loved the scene where you see Frances and Peter Dinklage playing pool and me harassing Caleb. That was one of my favorite films to scenes.
There’s also the other bar scene where your character overhears this important conversation, but then gets beaten up.
That was all staged so I didn’t get hurt during that because as you know that’s all choreographed.
You mentioned the other day that you met up with a former white supremacist to get into the headspace of the racist cop.
I did. I met with this former white supremacist who pulls people out of hate groups. The greatest piece of advice he gave me was that it wasn’t about hating black people, it’s about hating yourself and that’s how I approached it. We all have bad days and I accentuated that part of myself. I like this dark material and dark side of humanity is something I find interesting. I related to that aspect of the loneliness.
I also met with some cops in Southern Missouri and some burn victims. You don’t always have the luxury to do that research, but for this I did. I worked with Martin, an acting coach, and dialect coach.
How long was the makeup process?
We spent three hours applying the burn makeup, but it wasn’t too bad because we’d sit there and I’d watch Peaky Blinders.