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"I think any good actor is an anarchist,” says Sam Rockwell, “They have to be.” Dressed in jeans and a black T-shirt beneath whose sleeve can be glimpsed the tattoo of a cockerel hanging from a noose, wolfing a hearty breakfast in a café in New York’s East Village, Rockwell is talking about the cast of his latest film, Seven Psychopaths. He wore this hat, and you’re like: what the f--- is going on here? “There’s a real trap with some actors where they play so oddball they’re not accessible. He’s got this vulnerability that allows the audience in.It’s a dark comedy starring a rogues’ gallery of misfits, psychos and villains played by Rockwell, Colin Farrell, Woody Harrelson and Christopher Walken. “When Colin was first on the scene he was, like, smoking and drinking on red carpets. And you can’t wait for him to come on the screen again because you just don’t know what’s going to happen. Every time he’s on screen in Seven Psychopaths he lights it up. When he is not putting on bravura one-man shows in films like Moon or George Clooney’s Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Rockwell is galvanising blockbusters like Charlie’s Angels and Iron Man 2 with a little indie electricity.

Rockwell plays an aspirant LA actor named Billy, who believes himself to be the illegitimate son of Travis Bickle, the famous lunatic played by De Niro in Martin Scorsese’s 1976 classic, Taxi Driver. “It’s kind of crazy that I saw them that early but I did. We’re not psychos.” This much is obvious: Rockwell loves his fellow actors.I had those kind of parents where I watched all of these very sophisticated movies: Five Easy Pieces, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” he says. Taxi Driver is really a bible for film actors, a masterclass. It’s not your usual Hollywood backslapping, though.As a result of that upbringing, his head is a teeming database of other actor’s performances, which he samples at will: a bit of Robert Duvall here, a bit of Roberto Benigni there. A lot of emotional power, a lot of emotional depth but it’s contained and you just see the tip of the iceberg.” But, he adds of his role in Seven Psychopaths, “He can’t just be a badass. That was my subtext.” The same could be said of Rockwell himself: The Illegitimate Son of Travis Bickle could easily be the subtext of his entire career. He sounds a little like a boy who’s been allowed to hang out with his big brother’s friends.In person, he is a mixture of New York wiriness and easy-going Californian courtesy, his speech peppered with “hey mans” and other dudeisms, with the air of one of those children raised in the wild that François Truffaut liked to make films about… Rockwell and Walken sometimes talk about why everyone else thinks them so unhinged, and have reached the conclusion that it goes back to their showbusiness upbringing.