The race for Best Supporting Actor at the Oscars this year is shaping up to be another impossibly competitive contest. Jared Leto, Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi, Steve Coogan, Harrison Ford, Geoffrey Rush, Daniel Bruhl, Chris Cooper, Bradley Cooper, Jonah Hill, Casey Affleck, George Clooney and so many others already are staking a place in this crowded field. Fox Searchlight alone has viable contenders in its fall films with 12 Years A Slave’s Michael Fassbender and Enough Said’s James Gandolfini, who could grab a rare posthumous nom for one of his final film performances.
But Searchlight also has another contender who might be forgotten since his film came out way way back in June. Right. June. Can we remember back that far? When The Way Way Back was winning acclaim at the beginning of summer, the one name pundits found to ignite a nascent Oscar supporting contest was the wryly funny, smart and memorable turn from the criminally never-nominated Sam Rockwell as Owen, the wisecracking manager of Water Wizz Water Park and mentor to 14-year-old Duncan (Liam James), who has one unforgettable summer working there. Rockwell, who easily could — and should — have been nominated for last year’s Seven Psychopaths or his extraordinary work in another Searchlight film, Conviction (2010), always has been good. He’s an actor’s actor who first gained major notice after more than a decade acting in TV and films by playing game show host and CIA looney Chuck Barris in Clooney’s Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind (2002). Mainstream moviegoers probably know him best as Justin Hammer in Iron Man 2, while he has also gained a cult following for 2009’s Moon, a low-budget predecessor to Gravity (a film Rockwell says he loved). But his performance in The Way Way Back (which also deserves recognition for the sharp original screenplay from writer-directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash of Oscar-winning Descendants fame) was a real standout — and that’s in a cast that includes fine work from Steve Carell, Toni Collette and Allison Janney, among others. No one pitched Sam Rockwell to me in this endless season of pitching. I sought him out to talk about it.