Sam Rockwell Recalls George Clooney Teaching Him How to Be a Leading Man: ‘Can’t Do Bozo the Clown in Every Scene’

The “Argyle” star top-lined Clooney’s 2002 directorial debut “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind”

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind Sam Rockwell
Sam Rockwell in George Clooney's "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind" (Credit: Miramax)

Sam Rockwell might not have become the versatile leading man he is today without some acting advice he got from George Clooney.

The “Argyle” star has been delivering standout performances for decades, perhaps most notably with scene-stealing character actor work, memorably supporting in features like like “Galaxy Quest,” “Matchstick Men” and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” the latter for which he won the 2017 Academy Award.

And while those roles give him fun, “big,” left-of-center material to work with, leading a movie often requires a different kind of approachable charisma. Clooney offered Rockwell advice on how to employ that while working with the actor on his feature film directorial debut, “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind,” in 2002.

“George Clooney taught me a lot. Because I’d come in with all these props, I’d be schmacking it up. I was the lead in the film, and he was like, ‘Hey man, we can’t do Bozo the Clown in every scene,’” Rockwell recalled on Monday’s episode of the “Smartless” podcast, before admitting that’s not exactly what the actor-director told him.

“He didn’t say that. But I was like Zero Mostel in there — one of the great actors, Zero Mostel,” Rockwell continued. “But, you know, he said [I had] too many props. ‘Let’s just keep it — you’re the lead guy here, you’ve got to keep it simple.’ I learned a lot from him about that.”

While podcast cohost Jason Bateman enthused that leading roles, in that sense, often are “not as spicy or as fun as some of the secondary or tertiary roles,” Rockwell said that it’s all part of acting within the “canvas” of a movie.

“You’re not necessarily the color red all the time,” he mused. “Kevin Costner in ‘Dances With Wolves,’ I mean, he’s, you know — they’ve got other people providing those colors on the canvas.”

“Yeah, you really suss that out when you read the script and you think about it and you develop it and you show up, like, where do I fit?” cohost Sean Hayes chimed in.

Rockwell starred as Chuck Barris in Clooney’s 2002 feature film adaptation of the game show impressario’s memoir, “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind.” Written by “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” Oscar winner Charlie Kaufman, the project costarred Clooney, Julia Roberts and Drew Barrymore.

Clooney has since directed a number of features, including the recent Amazon MGM Studios release “The Boys in the Boat.”

Listen to Rockwell’s full “Smartless” episode here.

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