The 49-year-old has received acclaim for a string of performances as lonely, eccentric or downright psychopathic societal outcasts in movies such as “Lawn Dogs,” “The Sitter” and “Snow Angels.”
“I like that dark stuff. I think heroes should be flawed. There’s a bit of self-loathing in there, and a bit of anger,” he told The New York Times as he was filming the part of a deranged psychopathic prisoner in “The Green Mile.”
“But after this, I’ve really got to play some lawyers, or a British aristocrat, or they’ll put a label on me.”
Martin McDonagh’s black comedy “Three Billboards” tells the story of a grieving mother at the end of her tether over the failure by local police to capture the man who raped and killed her daughter 12 months earlier.
Rockwell plays emotionally-stunted Jason Dixon, a racist, violent sheriff’s deputy who deals with his inner rage by drinking himself into a stupor every night and picking fights at the local bar.
Rockwell was the odds-on favorite for the statuette, having already scooped a Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Award for the performance.
He bested Richard Jenkins (“The Shape of Water”), Christopher Plummer (“All the Money in the World”), Willem Dafoe (“The Florida Project”) and his co-star Woody Harrelson to take home the Oscar.
“You guys rock. You have inspired me, you always have,” Rockwell said to his fellow nominees Sunday as he accepted the award.
– ‘Pretty sleazy’ –
Born on November 5, 1968 in Daly City, California, the child of actors Pete Rockwell and Penny Hess, Rockwell started out life in New York but spent most of his childhood in San Francisco with his father after his parents separated.
His acting break came when he was still in high school, with a part in Victor Salva’s 1989 indie horror comedy “Clownhouse” as one of three young brothers terrorized by three escaped mental patients disguised as clowns.
Rockwell graduated from high school and began taking guest spots in TV series such as “NYPD Blue” and “Law and Order,” as well as stage work in New York while training at the William Esper Studio.
Strapped for cash, he juggled acting with a string of part-time jobs as a restaurant bus boy, a burrito delivery cyclist and even a private investigator’s assistant.
“I tailed a chick who was having an affair and took pictures of her at this motel. It was pretty sleazy,” he recalled in a 2002 interview with Rolling Stone.
By the mid-1990s, he had begun securing movie roles, including an acclaimed performance as a chaotic eccentric in Tom DiCillo’s “Box of Moon Light,” opposite John Turturro and Catherine Keener.
A starring role as an outcast who works as a landscape gardener for the rich in fantasy drama “Lawn Dogs” (1997) further bolstered Rockwell’s reputation as he began picking up trophies on the awards circuit.
The actor gave strong performances in a string of hits over the following years, including as space adventurer Zaphod Beeblebrox in “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” and as David Frost’s passionate Watergate adviser in “Frost/Nixon.”
He was considered for the part of the title character in “Iron Man” before losing out to Robert Downey Jr but appeared in the sequel, as Tony Stark’s rival weapons developer, Justin Hammer.
His most recent movies include Eric Bowen’s 2015 remake of horror classic “Poltergeist,” McDonagh’s previous movie “Seven Psychopaths” (2012) and Jon Favreau’s “Cowboys and Aliens” (2011).
He will play former president George W. Bush opposite Christian Bale as Dick Cheney in Adam McKay’s upcoming “Backseat,” set for release late this year.