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In spite of his prolific body of work, actor David Strathairn remained somewhat apart from Hollywood, thanks to his long-standing collaboration with friend and former college friend John Sayles, who directed the actor in several of the filmmaker's independent movies. Following his debut in Sayles' "The Return of the Secaucus Seven" (1980), Strathairn branched out to more mainstream fare with a supporting role in "Silkwood" (1983) and delivered one of his finer performances in "Eight Men Out" (1988), in which he played the morally flawed pitcher Eddie Cicotte from the famed Black Sox. After another acclaimed Sayles performance - this time as the off-kilter street wretch, Asteroid, in "City of Hope" (1991) - Strathairn began to stretch his wings with supporting roles in major studio productions: He was Tom Cruise's jailbird brother in "The Firm" (1993), Meryl Streep's workaholic husband in "The River Wild" (1994) and the upscale purveyor of prostitution, Pierce Pratchett, in "L.A. Confidential" (1997). He also delivered strong turns on the small screen, as he did portraying the emotionally distant father of a son with AIDS in "In the Gloaming" (HBO, 1997) and Helen Keller's father in the remake of...
In spite of his prolific body of work, actor David Strathairn remained somewhat apart from Hollywood, thanks to his long-standing collaboration with friend and former college friend John Sayles, who directed the actor in several of the filmmaker's independent movies. Following his debut in Sayles' "The Return of the Secaucus Seven" (1980), Strathairn branched out to more mainstream fare with a supporting role in "Silkwood" (1983) and delivered one of his finer performances in "Eight Men Out" (1988), in which he played the morally flawed pitcher Eddie Cicotte from the famed Black Sox. After another acclaimed Sayles performance - this time as the off-kilter street wretch, Asteroid, in "City of Hope" (1991) - Strathairn began to stretch his wings with supporting roles in major studio productions: He was Tom Cruise's jailbird brother in "The Firm" (1993), Meryl Streep's workaholic husband in "The River Wild" (1994) and the upscale purveyor of prostitution, Pierce Pratchett, in "L.A. Confidential" (1997). He also delivered strong turns on the small screen, as he did portraying the emotionally distant father of a son with AIDS in "In the Gloaming" (HBO, 1997) and Helen Keller's father in the remake of "The Miracle Worker" (ABC, 2000). But it was his performance as the iconic news anchor Edward R. Murrow, who openly challenged Senator Joseph McCarthy during the height of the Red Scare, in George Clooney's excellent period drama "Good Night, and Good Luck" (2005), as well as his portrayal of ruthless CIA officer Noah Vosen in "The Bourne Ultimatum" (2007), that propelled his career to a new level.
Born on Jan. 26, 1949 in San Francisco, CA, Strathairn harbored little ambition to be an actor when he was a youngster. But after graduating Williams College in Williamstown, MA, Strathairn attended a seven-week program at Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College in Venice, FL, where he learned the finer points of acrobatics, cramming into Volkswagens and slipping on banana peels. Clown college turned out to be the extent of his formal training. Strathairn learned his craft on the job, honing his acting skills while doing summer stock in New Hampshire where he befriended John Sayles. The director later cast Strathairn in his first feature, "Return of the Secaucus Seven" (1980), an ensemble drama shot on a shoestring budget about a group of old college friends who reunite ten years after they were arrested on the way to a peace protest in Washington D.C., only to bring with them problems old and new.
Sayles himself has said Strathairn could become a big star if he were just a little pushier instead of only taking as much of the scene as he should take to blend seamlessly into the fabric of a movie. Perhaps hearkening back to his hippy days, he has remained content to live quietly and act in movies that reflect his social conscience like Mike Nichols' "Silkwood" (1983), the true-life story of Karen Silkwood, a young nuclear power plant employee who mysteriously died in an accident just before she was going to blow the whistle on the plant's safety problems. Throughout the rest of the 1980s, Strathairn juggled studio movies with John Sayles films. After small parts in long-forgotten features as "Lovesick" (1983) and "Iceman" (1984), Strathairn reunited with Sayles for "The Brother From Another Planet" (1984), a bizarre and cheaply-made sci-fi comedy that focused on a mute alien (Joe Morton) stranded in Harlem and trying to fit into his new surroundings while discovering how difficult people of his color have it on Earth.
Strathairn continued amassing a résumé of impressive, art house features - much to the dismay of his representation looking to make their 10 percent - including a reunion with Sayles on "Matewan" (1987), a stark look at a 1920s coal miner's strike in West Virginia. After a bit part in the Daniel Day-Lewis comedy "Stars & Bars" (1988), Strathairn played Chicago White Sox knuckleball pitcher Eddie Cicotte, one of eight players on the 1919 squad who conspired with gamblers to throw the World Series in Sayles' glossy period drama, "Eight Men Out" (1988). More bit parts followed in "Call Me" (1988) and "The Feud" (1989) before Strathairn had a more substantial role playing the commanding officer of an American crew aboard a B-17 bomber flying a dangers mission during World War II in the unabashedly sentimental "Memphis Belle" (1990).
Making a rare foray into television, Strathairn played J. Robert Oppenheimer, the famed "father of the atomic bomb," in "Day One" (CBS, 1989), an ambitious historical docudrama about the Manhattan Project. He then made a brief appearance in "Without Warning: The James Brady Story" (1991), HBO's appeal for gun control centered about Ronald Regan's former press secretary James Brady, who was left paralyzed after an attempted assassination on the president in 1981. Strathairn proved to be a surprising romantic lead in his recurring role as bookseller Moss Goodman on the acclaimed series "The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd" (NBC/Lifetime, 1986-1991), starring Blair Brown as a divorced thirty-something woman looking for the right man to be the father of her child. Strathairn stood out in a small role in Sayles' engrossing drama, "City of Hope" (1991), then played shy Rennie in the director's acclaimed character drama "Passion Fish" (1992). "I don't know what a romantic lead is," said Strathairn. "To me, it's just another character."
With his distinctive low, measured voice coupled with his dark chiseled looks, the actor continued giving superb performances in smaller roles like Getzo, the sleazy thief, in "A Dangerous Woman" (1993) and Ray McDeere, Tom Cruise's insightful convict brother in Sydney Pollack's deft adaptation of John Grisham's novel "The Firm" (1993). Strathairn was memorable as Pierce Patchett, the stuffy, manicured high-end pimp in Curtis Hanson's excellent take on James Ellroy's "L.A. Confidential" (1997). In playing the role of husband, however, Strathairn did not always fair as well. David Gilman's polished dialogue gave him a chance to shine opposite Bonnie Bedelia in "Bad Manners" (1997), based on Gilman's play "Ghost in the Machine," but there was only so much he could do with the material.
Sometimes Strathairn's quiet, but intense onscreen demeanor served as a detriment to his performance, particularly in sharing the screen opposite such heavyweight actresses as Meryl Streep in "The River Wild" (1994), Jessica Lange in "Losing Isaiah" (1995), Kathy Bates in "Dolores Claiborne" (1995) and Glenn Close in HBO's "In the Gloaming" (1997). Strathairn's dilemma was not his own; he suffered from having to work with underdeveloped roles opposite female stars playing meatier characters that served as the driving force of the films. While his female counterparts were dynamic and larger-than-life, Strathairn was the quiet, emotionally-stunted man relegated to the background, waiting for a shining moment of redemption. Film reviewers took notice, with one commenting that "Strathairn should stay away from bland supporting husband parts that make him seem weak."
Among his many theater credits are performances in New York Shakespeare Festival productions of "Salonika" (1984) and Vaclav Havel's "Temptation" (1989), Lincoln Center's "Hapgood" (1994), opposite Stockard Channing, and the Roundabout Theater's all-star version of "Three Sisters" (1997), with Amy Irving, Lili Taylor and Jeanne Tripplehorn. He returned to the small screen for "Evidence of Blood" (TMC, 1998), playing a mystery writer who returns home for the funeral of a friend only to find himself embroiled in an investigation involving a 40-year-old unsolved murder. After a supporting role in the German-made "Die Giraffe" ("The Giraffe," 1998), Strathairn played a stuffy priest who argues faith with a rambunctious, but stunted young boy (Ian Michael Smith) in the schmaltzy coming-of-age drama, "Simon Birch" (1998).
Strathairn was seen in numerous projects throughout 1999. He played the friend of a character actor (Robert Costanzo) who, along with two other acting buddies (Adam Arkin and Jon Tenney), compete for the role of a lifetime - playing Al Capone in an upcoming Martin Scorsese film - in the comedy feature, "With Friends Like These." A role as Duke Theseus in the contemporary take on "William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream" was followed by another collaboration with Sayles in the complicated and ambiguous thriller, "Limbo." Strathairn played Joe Gastineau, a man twice thwarted by fate - an injury ended his accomplished basketball career and a boating accident killed two friends and ended his career as a fisherman. Sleepwalking through life as a handyman in Juneau, Alaska, J is reawakened by a barroom singer with her own disappointing life (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio). Wrapping up the year, Strathairn had a supporting role in Showtime's "Song of Hiawatha," then played a novice farmer in rural Wisconsin whose wife (Sigourney Weaver) is accused of sexually abusing the neighbor's son in "A Map of the World."
After appearing in the Civil Rights drama, "Freedom Song" (TNT, 2000), Strathairn starred as a small-town loner who finds an abandoned baby in the woods and sets off to find the mother in "A Good Baby" (Cinemax, 2000), a project workshopped at the Sundance Institute's Screenwriter's lab. Strathairn took part in the ABC remake of "The Miracle Worker" (2000), playing Helen Keller's strict, but loving father who is on the verge of institutionalizing his deaf-blind daughter because of her erratic behavior. After a regular role on the short-lived police drama, "Big Apple" (CBS, 2001), he appeared in "Harrison's Flowers" (2002), playing a prize-winning photojournalist who's reported dead while on assignment in war-torn Yugoslavia. Refusing to believe the report, his wife (Andie MacDowell) sets off on a journey to find him, but is confronted by the harsh realities of his world. Then in "Blue Car" (2002), he played a p try teacher who helps a young student (Agnes Bruckner) unleash her potential, but finds their relationship growing more complicated as her life outside the classroom becomes more difficult.
An appearance in "The Lathe of Heaven" (A&E, 2002) as the best friend and confidant of a man (Lukas Haas) who can alter reality through dreams was followed by playing a police psychologist in the insipid cop thriller "Twisted" (2004). He then had a brief recurring role on "The Sopranos" (HBO, 1999-2007), playing A.J.'s high school counselor, Mr. Wegler, whose conversations with Camela over her son's poor performance in school lead to a full-blown romance that ends when he thinks he's being used. He then played a former astronaut who found God after a near-fatal accident and went on to become a rich televangelist in the made-for-TV movie, "Paradise" (Showtime, 2004). Strathairn gave an Oscar-worthy performance as CBS news legend Edward R. Murrow in George Clooney's excellent McCarthy-era drama, "Good Night, and Good Luck" (2005). He was nominated for several awards, including a Golden Globe and Oscar for Best Actor.
Hot off his Academy Award nomination, Strathairn costarred in "We Are Marshall" (2006), playing Donald Dedmon, the university president who considers abandoning the school's football program after a tragic plane crash that kills nearly all members and staff of the team. In "The Notorious Bettie Page" (2006), Strathairn was Estes Kefauver, a crusading senator from Tennessee who investigates the impact of pornography on the nation's youth thanks to the provocative bondage photos of notorious pin-up girl Bettie Page (Gretchen Mol). After voicing the narration for PBS's four-part miniseries "The Supreme Court" (2006), Strathairn joined an impressive cast in the well-reviewed courtroom thriller "Fracture" (2007), playing a world-weary District Attorney from Los Angeles who watches his cocksure deputy D.A. (Ryan Gosling) scramble to prosecute a confessed murderer (Anthony Hopkins) after the seemingly open-and-shut case starts to rapidly unravel. He next played CIA officer Noah Vosen, the leader of a secret operation on a mission to hunt down über-secret agent Jason Bourne (Matt Damon), in "The Bourne Ultimatum" (2007), which he followed with a small role as a father in "The Spiderwick Chronicles" (2008).
Following another paternal turn in the poorly received horror flick, "The Uninvited" (2009), Strathairn delivered a sterling performance as a boarding school science teacher and mentor to an autistic woman (Claire Danes), who went on to revolutionize the humane handling of livestock in slaughterhouses in the acclaimed biopic, "Temple Grandin" (HBO, 2010). The role earned him an Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie and a Best Supporting Actor nod at the Golden Globes later in the year. Strathairn followed up with a turn as Alonzo, King of Napels in Julie Taymor's alternative adaptation of William Shakespeare's "The Tempest" (2010); starred opposite Rachel Weisz and Vanessa Redgrave in "The Whistleblower" (2011); and played the attorney prosecuting Beat poet Allen Ginsberg (John Franco) in the experimental film, "Howl" (2010). In a return to the small screen, Strathairn portrayed Lost Generation author John Dos Passos opposite Clive Owen's Ernest Hemingway in the acclaimed television movie, "Hemingway & Gellhorn" (HBO, 2012), a role that earned him an Emmy Award nomination in the same category he won for with "Temple Grandin." Back on the big screen, he reprised his role as CIA officer Noah Vosen in "The Bourne Legacy" (2012) and played Abraham Lincoln's (Daniel Day-Lewis) Secretary of State, William Seward, in Steven Spielberg's highly anticipated biopic, "Lincoln" (2012).
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