Sam Rockwell grapples with race and anger in 'Three Billboards'

Sam Rockwell grapples with race and anger in 'Three Billboards'

Sam Rockwell grapples with race and anger in 'Three Billboards'

As a San Francisco native, Sam Rockwell says he doesn't know why he gets offered roles to play "a lot of rednecks and country guys," but he's taking the opportunity to try to understand complex and unlovable male characters.

Rockwell, 49, who recently played a Klansman and a brutish Texas colonel, currently co-stars as a racist, angry police officer in the movie "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri."

"I think he's very lonely. I think he was probably abused. His father hit him when he was a kid, and he's got a weird relationship with his mom," Rockwell told Reuters of his character, Dixon.

"All this adds to a lot of complexity," he added.

"Three Billboards," out in U.S. theaters on Friday, stars Frances McDormand as Mildred, a woman on a mission to get the local police in her small Missouri hometown to properly investigate the murder of her daughter.

The film, produced by Fox Searchlight, has already attracted awards buzz and strong critical praise for both McDormand and Rockwell.

McDormand's hardened, foul-mouthed Mildred places questions on three large billboards about the town's police efforts that cause her to clash with law enforcement, particularly Dixon.

"None of these characters live in the black and white. They live in the grey," Rockwell said.

"Three Billboards" writer and director Martin McDonagh said Dixon isn't a "representation of a thing or an idea or a group." Furthermore, Dixon's character in "Three Billboards" is forced to face humility and he ends the film in an unexpected place.

"If I was just writing a strictly racist brute, then you wouldn't have found the hope or the change or the humanity in him," McDonagh said.

While "Three Billboards" was first written about eight years ago, its exploration of a small, isolated town and a racist police officer has some resonance with present-day racial tensions in America. McDonagh and Rockwell said they hoped the film sparked conversations around the issue.

"I think it's good to put out a film that starts off in a place of anger and rage but kind of has a lot of hope and humanity to it too," McDonagh said.