Sam Rockwell, Jacob Kogan, and Vera Farmiga in Joshua
(© Searchlight Pictures)
Sam Rockwell, Jacob Kogan, and Vera Farmiga in Joshua
(© Searchlight Pictures)
With movie audiences lapping up gore-soaked horrorfests like Saw and Hostel, is there also room at the multiplex for a virtually bloodless but still terrifying thriller like Joshua? An audience favorite earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival, this supremely creepy film -- which hits theaters on Friday, July 6 -- focuses on the title character, an unusually mature 9-year-old Manhattan boy (flawlessly played by 12-year-old Jacob Kogan) who has a very severe reaction to no longer being an only child.

In addition to Kogan and rising film star Vera Farmiga as Joshua's already disturbed mother, Abby, the principal cast features three stage veterans: Sam Rockwell as the boy's father, Brad, a hedge-fund manger; Celia Weston as Brad's too-devoted mother, Hazel, who tries to convert the boy to evangelical Christianity; and Dallas Roberts as Abby's brother, Ned, a successful pianist and composer.

"I think thrillers like this are cathartic for audiences -- kind of like going on a roller coaster," says Rockwell, a member of Off-Broadway's revered LAByrinth Theatre Company, adding that he watched films like Rosemary's Baby to prepare for the part of Brad. The popular actor was director and co-author George Ratliff's first choice for the role, even though his mostly low-key character is a distinct change from the eccentrics he often plays on film. "It was fun for me not to chew the scenery for a change," says Rockwell, who has starred on screen in over 20 films, including Box of Moonlight and Charlie's Angels.

"I tried to make Brad a real, normal guy, who has an interesting dilemma. He has this kid who he really loves; he wants to be a good father and to be non-judgmental. But he realizes there's something wrong with his son and he just can't put his finger on it. And as well-adjusted as Brad is, his anger does eventually get the better of him." The role marks Rockwell's second consecutive film turn as a father; he also plays one in the still-to-be-released Snow Angels. In real life, however, Rockwell has no children -- and plans to keep it that way for now. "I am not really the parental type and I have too much respect for those who are to do it badly. Raising a kid is a serious matter," he says.

Weston, who is also childless, relished playing Hazel, who comes to help her son out after Abby has a breakdown -- with unexpectedly unpleasant consequences. "She is the most unconditionally loving figure in Joshua's life, but she has no idea that he's playing her liked a fiddle," says Weston. "I think she's a really good person, even if she's not sympathetic toward Vera's character. I think she's raised a heathen."

The actress, who received Tony Award and Drama Desk nominations for her work in The Last Night of Ballyhoo, found filming Joshua to be a very positive experience. "George is so supportive and gave us all great security," she says. "My only frustration about working on independent films is that you have such limited time to shoot. I really would have liked to play some scenes more than once. But I loved being with a group of actors who were really focused on the work and not waiting for someone to bring them their extra-special latte from Starbucks. And it was really nice filming in New York and going home to my own apartment every night."

Roberts has the most hands-on experience with kids, being the father of both a 2-year-old and a newborn. "No one is prepared to be a father, you just learn immediately how to do it," he says. Still, he had no trouble fitting into the role of the childless and somewhat clueless Ned. "I don't think Ned sees the influence he has over Joshua," he notes. "I also think Ned is the type of guy who tries to make the best of every moment; he is certainly the most successful in his family of dealing with their history of depression."

The actor, who's thrilled Off-Broadway audiences in such plays as Adam Rapp's Nocturne and Lanford Wilson's Burn This, will return to the New York stage in October in Second Stage's production of Edward Albee's Peter and Jerry, which consists of the playwright's classic one-act The Zoo Story along with a recently written prequel. "Edward said he didn't know anything about me, but I went in on a Thursday, read for him, and got the job the next day," he says. "I enjoy working in film, but there's really nothing better than being a theater actor."