Character actor Joel McKinnon Miller was a staple of episode television for over two decades, essaying blue-collar types in both dramas and comedies like "Big Love" (HBO 2005-11) and "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" (Fox 2013- ). His no-nonsense brush cut and imposing frame did much to disguise the fact that Miller had studied opera and theater in college and appeared regularly in stage productions for years. Miller began working on television and in films in the early '90s, quickly amassing a formidable list of credits, including a series regular stint on "Big Love" as a practicing polygamist. Though his work on the HBO series was serious, Miller also proved a talented comic player, as evidenced by turns in "Brooklyn" and other sitcoms. Though his name was unfamiliar to most television viewers, Miller's face and talent was widely recognized as one of the most prolific and versatile in the business.
A native of Rockford, Minnesota, Miller began acting as a high school student and continued to pursue it as a student at the University of Minnesota Duluth. He left the school without earning his degree to work with the Minnesota Opera and Children's Theatre, and then toured with American National Theatre and Academy (ANTA) for a year. His experience with ANTA provided him with the opportunity to audition for the prestigious Acting Company. Miller toured with the Company for the next three years before landing in New York, where he worked Off Broadway and in regional theater. In 1991, he made his television acting debut in an episode of "Murphy Brown" (CBS 1988-1998), which was soon followed by his first feature film, "Forever Young" (1992). Miller decided to remain in Los Angeles, where he worked steadily in a variety of bit and supporting parts for series like "Picket Fences" (CBS 1992-1996) and modest features like "Dead Men Can't Dance" (1997), an independent military thriller which, in casting Miller as a sergeant, provided him with a flattop haircut that became his signature look.
By the late '90s and early 2000s, Miller was balancing guest roles on series like "The X-Files" (Fox 1993-2002), "ER" (NBC 1994-2009) and "Curb Your Enthusiasm" (HBO 2000- ) with smaller parts in films like "The Truman Show" (1998), "Rush Hour 2" (2001) and "Men in Black II" (2002). These turns made Miller a ubiquitous presence for audiences, and led to bigger parts in projects, most notably fourth billing in the holiday TV-movie "Secret Santa" (NBC 2003) and an amusing turn as a janitor whom Ray Barone (Ray Romano) accidentally demeans - over and over again - in a 2005 episode of "Everybody Loves Raymond" (CBS 1996-2005). The following year, Miller began an extended run on "Big Love" as Don Embry, a former polygamist and business partner to series lead Bill Paxton. Over the course of the show's five seasons, Miller's character graduated from recurring role to series regular and from trusted friend to sacrificial lamb who outed himself as a polygamist in order to preserve Paxton's bid for state senate. From there, Miller moved into guest and recurring turns on "Melissa & Joey" (ABC Family 2010-15) and "American Horror Story" (FX 2011- ) before returning to series regular work with the police sitcom "Brooklyn Nine-Nine," which cast him as dull-witted detective Scully.
Cast (Feature Film)
Cast (TV Mini-Series)
First television appearance in "Murphy Brown"
Feature film debut in "Forever Young"
Receives signature flattop for "Dead Men Can't Dance"
Major supporting role in "Secret Santa"
Five-year run as Don Embry on "Big Love"
Series regular on "Brooklyn Nine-Nine"