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Rockwell relishes ‘anti-hero’ status

'Conviction' captures brother-sister bond

For Sam Rockwell, playing the wrongly convicted prisoner Kenny Walters in “Conviction” offered him a chance to return to his roots, “like ‘Lawn Dogs,’ stuff I started with,” he says.

“It feels like a leading role, even though it’s a supporting role,” he continues. “It’s a leading man, an anti-hero.”

The film probes the relationship between Walters, who spent 18 years in prison, and his sister, played by Hilary Swank. “Conviction,” in this case, has two meanings: on one hand denoting Walters being sent to prison, and on the other the decades-long struggle of a sister, certain of her brother’s innocence, to ultimately free him.

“I’ve been in a lot of low-budget movies, but there are more people seeing this film. Hilary gives it legitimacy,” Rockwell explains. “It’s based on a true story, but what drew me to it more was that I thought the relationship between the brother and sister was compelling.”

Rockwell says director Tony Goldwyn “really had a strong vision of what the guy was like, but he cast me for a reason, and he trusted me to do my own spin. He was very collaborative. He had a passion for his vision and let me do my thing, but he had a guiding hand.”

There were some emotionally harrowing scenes to play, Rockwell says, particularly in the prison.

“One scene we had to reshoot, because some film got destroyed when going through an airport X-ray machine,” Rockwell recalls. “That was very hard stuff to do to begin with. It was tough to do again, but these things happen sometimes.”

Rockwell says dialect coach Liz Himelstein and makeup artist Vivian Baker were invaluable in the making his character come to life.

Just like Kenny Walters ultimately getting out of prison. “I had a lot of help,” Rockwell says.

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