Family & Companions
Veteran character actor Peter MacNicol made a name for himself with a lengthy résumé populated by roles that while outwardly submissive, often displayed unexpected flashes of inner fire. Trained on the stages of the revered Guthrie Theater and proven on Broadway, the actor's screen debut came with a starring role in the fondly remembered fantasy film "Dragonslayer" (1981). However, he truly came to the attention of both audiences and critics as the odd-man-out in the doomed triangle of the heart-wrenching drama "Sophie's Choice" (1982), opposite Kevin Kline and Oscar-winner Meryl Streep. MacNicol later gave his comic instincts free reign as the manic Dr. Janosz Poha alongside Bill Murray and Sigourney Weaver in "Ghostbusters II" (1989). A brief run as a recurring character on the medical drama "Chicago Hope" (CBS, 1994-2000) paved the way for a career-making role on David E. Kelley's quirky legal comedy "Ally McBeal" (Fox, 1997-2002). For the six-season-run of the provocative series, MacNicol played law firm partner John Cage with equal parts eccentricity and humanity, endearing himself to fans of the show possibly more than any other character in the wacky series. Always in demand, he soon joined the successful crime drama "Numb3rs" (CBS, 2005-2010), as a theoretician assisting the FBI in solving impregnable cases. Adept at comedy and high drama, MacNicol's innumerable contributions to film and television ensured his ongoing screen presence for years to come.
Born Peter C. MacNicol on April 10, 1954 in Dallas, TX, he was the son of parents Barbara and John, an Episcopal priest. Raised in the Texas metropolis, MacNicol first attended the University of Dallas, and then the University of Minnesota, during which time he performed for two seasons with Minneapolis' renowned Guthrie Theater. After making the move to the East Coast, MacNicol made his Broadway debut in a well-regarded production of Beth Henley's "Crimes of the Heart" in 1981, and went on to perform frequently at Joseph Papp's New York Shakespeare Festival several times in the years that followed. He made his feature film debut in the fantasy adventure "Dragonslayer" (1981), opposite the esteemed English actor Sir Ralph Richardson, no less. In the special effects-laden extravaganza, MacNicol played Galen, a young apprentice to a wise old wizard (Richardson), tasked with destroying a 400-year-old dragon. Although the movie was not a major box office success, it eventually went on to achieve cult status with fantasy film fans. It also garnered MacNicol notice for his vulnerable performance as the meek, but determined Galen.
MacNicol's sophomore effort found him cast alongside Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline in a film considered by many to be the very best of that year - "Sophie's Choice" (1982). Directed by Alan J. Pakula, the film essayed the tragic love story of a guilt-ridden Holocaust survivor (Streep) and her emotionally disturbed lover (Kline), sharing an apartment with an aspiring novelist (MacNicol) in 1940s New York. "Sophie's Choice" went on to win Streep an Academy Award for Best Actress, and officially placed MacNicol on the list of young actors to watch. Over the next four years, the actor confined himself primarily to the stage before segueing to television with the superior production of "Johnny Bull" (ABC, 1986), a drama about a naïve English girl (Suzanna Hamilton) facing some harsh realities after relocating to a rural Pennsylvania mining town with her new husband (MacNicol). Developed at the National Playwrights Conference of the Eugene O'Neill Theater Company, the TV movie afforded the younger actor an opportunity to work with veteran pros Jason Robards and Colleen Dewhurst, as well as relative newcomer Kathy Bates. The following year, he provided much needed comic relief and heart to the action thriller "Heat" (1987), starring Burt Reynolds as a Vegas bodyguard looking to put his violent past behind him.
While "Heat" played on cinema screens, MacNicol maintained his stage presence with a 1987 production of "All the King's Men" at the Dallas Theatre Center in his Texas hometown. On theater screens he played a hardworking leader of a 1950s jazz quintet in the little-seen gem "American Blue Note" (1989), in addition to a hilariously demented turn as the thickly-accented museum curator possessed by evil spirits, Dr. Janosz Poha, in the sequel to the hit supernatural comedy "Ghostbusters II" (1989). Other supporting roles at the time included a pair of romantic comedies - "Hard Promises" (1991) and "HouseSitter" (1992). MacNicol took on his first stint as a TV regular on Norman Lear's short-lived political satire "The Powers That Be" (NBC, 1992-93), playing Bradley Grist, the obsequious aide to a clueless U.S. Senator (John Forsythe). Although the show came and went with little notice, MacNicol bounced back with several supporting roles in films that included the successful comedy sequel "Addams Family Values" (1993) and the nostalgic comedy/mystery "Radioland Murders" (1994). Back on television, he temporarily joined the cast of "Chicago Hope" (CBS, 1994-2000) for its first two seasons as Alan Birch, the kind-hearted hospital legal counsel whose sudden, violent death stunned and saddened audiences.
In decidedly more light-hearted fare, MacNicol did the best with what he could as Renfield in Mel Brooks' anemic spoofing of the vampire sub-genre, "Dracula: Dead and Loving It" (1995). On television, MacNicol eventually hit weekly series paydirt when he took on the role of quirky law firm boss John 'the Biscuit' Cage on the hit courtroom comedy "Ally McBeal" (FOX, 1997-2002), created and written by "Chicago Hope" mastermind David E. Kelley. The eccentric lawyer - plagued by innumerable nervous tics and phobias - was a perfect fit for the performer's comedic gifts, earning MacNicol successive Emmy nominations in 1999 and 2000, with a well-deserved win in 2001. A creatively satisfying time for the actor, he was also given the opportunity to direct several episodes of the series. Apart from his series, MacNicol played another museum curator who is exasperated by his oddball houseguest (Rowan Atkinson) in "Bean" (1997), a comedy based on a beloved British TV series, which suffered greatly in its cross-Atlantic adaptation. He also played the lead in the adaptation of Southern novelist Eudora Welty's mystery melodrama "The Ponder Heart" (PBS, 2001), as an eccentric man of wealth suspected in the disappearance of his teenage bride (Angela Bettis).
Fresh off his "Ally McBeal" run, MacNicol co-starred with Valerie Bertinelli in the made-for-TV adoption drama "Crazy Love" (CBS, 2003), prior to taking on a regular role as Dr. Larry Fleinhardt on the criminology procedural drama "Numb3rs" (CBS, 2005-2010). A brilliant theoretical physicist, Fleinhardt assisted mathematical genius Charlie Eppes (David Krumholtz) and his brother, FBI Agent Don Eppes (Rob Morrow), in solving the most enigmatic of crimes. In a similar vein, MacNicol joined Keifer Sutherland for the 2007 season of the action drama "24" (Fox, 2001-2010) as the ethically-challenged White House Chief of Staff Tom Lennox. For years, MacNicol had been voicing characters for various animated shows and features, a sideline of work he continued with great success on the superhero series "The Spectacular Spider-Man" (The CW, 2008-09) as Doctor Octopus, Peter Parker's multi-armed nemesis. Another recurring role included that of pediatrician Dr. Robert Stark on the hit medical drama "Grey's Anatomy" (ABC, 2005- ) in 2010.
Cast (Feature Film)
Cast (TV Mini-Series)
Acted for the first time at age nine; played a statue of St. Peter in a play (date approximate)
Moved to New York City
Made NYC stage debut in the off-Broadway production of Beth Henley's "Crimes of the Heart"; recreated role on Broadway
Feature film debut as the star of the fantasy adventure "Dragonslayer"
Landed breakthrough movie role as Stingo, a playwright enamored of the title character (Meryl Streep) in "Sophie's Choice"
TV-movie debut, "Johnny Bull" (ABC), starring Jason Robards and Colleen Dewhurst, and directed by Claudia Weill; developed at the National Playwrights Conference of the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center
Played a major supporting role as an art restorer with an impenetrable accent in the popular genre sequel "Ghostbusters II"
Made TV series debut as a regular, playing a U.S. Senator's press aide on the Norman Lear-produced sitcom "The Powers That Be" (NBC)
Offered an hilarious turn as a peppy camp counselor (teamed on screen with Christine Baranski) in "Addams Family Values"
Guest starred on "Cheers" (NBC)
Returned to regular series work as hospital attorney Alan Birch on the David E. Kelley-produced medical drama "Chicago Hope" (CBS), asked to leave show after only one season; Kelley had character murdered in a surprise twist
Played Renfield to Leslie Nielsen's Transylvanian bloodsucker in Mel Brooks' spoof "Dracula: Dead and Loving It"
Co-starred as a harried museum curator who mistakens a bumbling security guard (Rowan Atkinson) for an art expert in the boisterous comedy "Bean"
Joined cast of the hit Fox series "Ally McBeal" as law firm head John 'Biscuit' Cage; earned Emmy nominations in 1999, 2000 and 2001
Made TV directorial debut with an episode of "Ally McBeal" (Fox)
Voiced the title snowman in "Snowden's Christmas" (CBS) and Fido in "Olive the Other Reindeer" (Fox)
Appeared in the PBS production "The Ponder Heart"
Voiced X, the Eliminator on the animated series "Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law"
Cast as Dr. Larry Fleinhardt on "Numb3rs" (CBS)
Joined the cast of Fox's "24" as a high-ranking government official
Landed recurring role on ABC medical drama "Grey's Anatomy"
Portrayed John McCain's campaign manager Rick Davis in HBO's "Game Change"
Cast in featured role in the sci-fi action feature "Battleship"