As a multitalented creative force, equally adept at absurdist comedy and soul-searching drama, Tim Blake Nelson carved out a successful career as a writer, director and accomplished actor. Despite years spent struggling to find his footing on screen, Nelson was a successful playwright and stage performer, earning awards and critical acclaim for his work, including "Eye of God" and "The Grey Zone." He began to make strides on television in sketch comedy shows like "The Unnaturals" (HA!-CTV, 1990-92) and "Hardcore TV" (HBO, 1993), but ultimately steered himself towards features. It was not until his breakout performance playing a doltish escaped convict in "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" (2000) that he finally began to gain proper notice. He earned praise all around for directing a film version of "The Grey Zone," a unique look at the Holocaust as seen through the eyes of Jews who helped the Nazis. Alternating small indie films with higher-profile supporting roles in films ranging from political thriller "Syriana" (2005) and Steven Spielberg historical epic "Lincoln" (2012) to superhero flops "The Incredible Hulk" (2008) and "Fantastic Four" (2015), Nelson also worked steadily on TV, co-starring in short-lived comedy drama "CHAOS" (CBS 2011) and miniseries "Klondike" (Discovery 2014) and appearing in an arc on "The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" (Netflix 2015- ).
Born May 11, 1964 in Tulsa, OK into a Jewish home, Tim Blake Nelson's maternal grandparents fled Germany before the Nazis started World War II. After graduating Holland Hall School, Nelson matriculated at Brown University where he studied the classics and drama, earning the Workman-Driscoll Award for Excellence in Classical Studies. More keen on becoming an actor, he attended the famed Juilliard School, where he also began writing and directing one-act plays, some of which starred future stars Laura Linney and Jeanne Tripplehorn. Upon finishing Juilliard in 1990, Nelson was writing full-length plays while still pursuing his acting career. In 1992, his play "Eye of God" was produced by the Seattle Repertory Theatre and was named Best New Play by The Seattle Times. Also during this time, he co-starred on the sketch comedy series "The Unnaturals" (HA!-CTV, 1990-92), which earned him CableACE Award nominations for writing and performing. On American television, he was in "Hardcore TV" (HBO, 1993), a sketch comedy show featuring adult-oriented skits. Back on stage, he co-starred in "An Imaginary Life" at Playwrights Horizons in New York, then made his feature debut in Nora Ephron's "This Is My Life" (1992).
With his career as both a writer and actor on the rise, Nelson kept himself busy performing on stage while looking for whatever on-camera work he could find. After playing a detective in Hal Hartley's quirky comedy thriller "Amateur" (1994), he played the scurrilous and deformed Thersites in a Delacourt Theater production of Shakespeare's "Troilus and Cressida" (1995). A guest-starring spot on John Leguizamo's short-lived sketch comedy series, "House of Buggin'" (Fox, 1994-95) was followed by a small part in "Heavyweights" (1995), a family comedy about a group of overweight boys sent to a fat camp run by a militant fitness guru (Ben Stiller). Despite the consistency of work, Nelson was unable to make himself known to audiences in largely small nameless parts. He amplified himself a bit in "Larry McMurtry's Dead Man's Walk" (ABC, 1996), the fourth installment of the acclaimed "Lonesome Dove" saga, but for the most part, continued to carve out his fortunes on the stage. He did himself no favors as an anonymous cockroach in MTV's lame attempt at comedy, "Joe's Apartment" (1996), leading him to refocus his efforts on his true creative outlet.
In 1996, Nelson produced "The Grey Zone," a stark look at a group of Sonderkommandos, concentration camp prisoners working with the Nazis to help dispose of the corpses of their fellow Jews in exchange for medicine, cigarettes, better food and a few more months to live. Eliciting both horror and raves from critics and audiences, "The Grey Zone" - an allusion to an unclear moral ground - was an unsettling, but ultimately humanistic look at the Jewish enablers at Auschwitz, inspired by an essay written by Primo Levi. The following year, Nelson wrote and directed a film version of his play, "Eye of God" (1997), a widely acclaimed, Sundance-screened drama he developed at the Sundance Institute that echoed the strong themes of life and death from the play, while bringing a truly fresh and evocative visual approach to the material. Nelson returned to acting that year, playing an FBI techie in the crime drama "Donnie Brasco" (1997). After playing the small role of Private Tillis in Terrence Malick's stirring war film "The Thin Red Line" (1998), Nelson directed the dialogue-driven short "Kansas" (1998), the same year that his prison-set one-act play "Andarko" was staged in New York starring David Patrick Kelly.
On the strength of "Eye of God," Nelson was tapped to direct "O" (2001), a modern-day update of "Othello" set at an elite private school that centered on an NBA hopeful (Mekhi Phifer), the dean's daughter (Julia Stiles), and a jealous teammate (Josh Hartnett). Though the film promised to bring an edge that was missing in the spate of contemporary teen updates of Shakespeare, it was ultimately mishandled by Miramax and sought distribution elsewhere until finally landing at Lionsgate. In the meantime, audiences caught Nelson in another contemporary Shakespeare update, playing a flight captain in "Hamlet" (2000), starring Ethan Hawke as conflicted heir of Denmark Corp. But it was his next feature, "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" (2000) that finally put the anonymous Nelson on the map. A Coen Brothers' film loosely based on Homer's The Odyssey, "O Brother" followed a trio of escaped convicts (George Clooney, John Turturro and Nelson) cut across the Depression-era south in search of hidden treasure, while even managing to cut a hit record along the way. Nelson brought irresistible charm and dignity to his portrayal of Delmar, the more wide-eyed and dimwitted of the group, portraying him as an unspoiled innocent rather than a babbling idiot.
After winning affection and attention from "O Brother," Nelson continued playing offbeat characters in films both big and small, including independent director Finn Taylor's quirky "Cherish" (2002), Miguel Arteta's sensitive "The Good Girl" (2002), and Steven Spielberg's sci-fi opus "Minority Report" (2002). But Nelson also effectively switched gears as a filmmaker, adapting his own play to direct the film version of "The Grey Zone" (2002), starring David Arquette, Harvey Keitel, Mira Sorvino and Steve Buscemi. Nelson had an entertaining turn as Dr. Pendanski in the crowd-pleasing "Holes" (2003), then played scuzzy small-time drug dealer Billy Deverell, owner of the Wonderland Avenue home in Los Angeles where porn legend John Holmes (Val Kilmer) was allegedly involved in the murder of four people (including Deverell), in the unsatisfying "Wonderland" (2003). Nelson kept busy with supporting turns in "Scooby Doo 2" (2004), "The Last Shot" (2004) and "Meet the Fockers" (2004), while the following year, offered a juicier dramatic role as Tom Loyless, a polio-inflicted newspaper publisher and owner of a top resort that attracts a pre-presidential Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Kenneth Branagh) in the award-winning telepic, "Warm Springs" (HBO, 2005).
After a return to television sketch comedy on "Stella" (Comedy Central, 2005-06) and an appearance as an unsavory neighbor in the indie psychological drama "Bereft" (2004), Nelson had a small, but pivotal role as a corrupt Beltway insider in the political potboiler, "Syriana" (2005). Nelson continued his streak of smaller, offbeat movies, landing a supporting role in the romantic drama "Come Early Morning" (2006), playing a greedy handyman in the family-friendly "Hoot" (2006), and lending his support to Billy Bob Thornton in "The Astronaut Farmer" (2006). Following a turn in the zombie horror spoof, "Fido" (2006), Nelson made a cameo as a choir member in "Lars and the Real Girl" (2007), then provided his voice for Jerry Seinfeld's "Bee Movie" (2007). Despite years spent in indie films that never saw the light of day or in bit roles in larger movies, Nelson finally earned his opportunity to be exposed to a large audience in "The Incredible Hulk" (2008), playing Samuel Sterns, a chemical plant worker who was exposed to gamma radiation that turned him into a super-intelligent being, The Leader, and becomes the arch-enemy of the Hulk (Edward Norton). The film underperformed with critics and audiences, however, and Nelson settled back into his character actor groove.
After co-starring in drama "American Violet" (2008) and satire "Saint John of Las Vegas" (2009), Nelson wrote and directed comedy-drama "Leaves of Grass" (2009), also playing a supporting role. Nelson played a key role in crime comedy "Flypaper" (2011) and high school drama "Detachment" before returning to TV in a supporting role in comedy drama "CHAOS" (CBS 2011). After appearing in Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln" (2012), Nelson co-starred in "Blue Caprice" (2013), a thriller based on the real-life case of two snipers terrorizing Washington D.C., and James Franco's William Faulkner adaptation "As I Lay Dying" (2013), Nelson reteamed with Franco for the biopic "Bukowski" (2017), filmed in 2013 but delayed for several years, and the crime drama "Child of God" (2013). After co-starring in drag race drama "Snake and Mongoose" (2013) and Tommy Lee Jones' historical western "The Homesman" (2014), Nelson co-starred in the miniseries "Klondike" (Discovery 2014), a drama about the Alaskan gold rush. Reuniting with James Franco, Nelson co-starred in another Faulkner adaptation, "The Sound and the Fury" before co-starring in political drama "Kill the Messenger" (2014) and appearing in a story arc on Tina Fey's "The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" (Netflix 2015- ). Nelson's next directorial effort, philosophical drama "Anesthesia" (2015), was followed by appearances in the box office flop "Fantastic Four" (2015) and art house drama "The Confirmation" (2015). Nelson next appeared in cult favorite science fiction comedy "Colossal" (2016) and had a small role in Ang Lee's "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk" (2016) before co-starring in the comedy "Deidra and Laney Rob a Train" and literary drama "Sidney Hall" (2017) and reteaming with James Franco for horror experiment "The Institute" (2017).
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Was a writer and performer on the sketch comedy show "The Unnaturals" (HA! TV Comedy Network and CTV: The Comedy Network)
Appeared in the off-Broadway staging of Caryl Churchill's play "Mad Forrest" alongside Calista Flockhart and Juilliard classmate Jake Weber
Played a comedian compatriot of Julie Kavner's Dottie in Nora Ephron's "This Is My Life"
Featured in the stage production "An Imaginary Life" at Playwrights Horizons in New York City
Appeared on episodes of HBO's sketch comedy "Hardcore TV"
Played a detective in Hal Hartley's "Amateur"
Starred as Thersites in the Delacourt Theater production of "Troilus and Cressida"
Made a guest appearance on John Leguizamo's short-lived comedy-variety show "House of Buggin'"
Produced "The Grey Zone," at New York City's Manhattan Class Company (MCC) Theater
Was featured in the ABC miniseries "Larry McMurtry's Dead Man's Walk"
Was an FBI technician in the crime thriller "Donnie Brasco"
Wrote and directed the acclaimed independent drama "Eye of God," based on his own play
Wrote and directed the short "Kansas"
Starred in the prison-set drama "Andarko" with David Patrick Kelly
Played Private Tillis in Terrence Malick's adaptation of "The Thin Red Line"
Had small role in a modern feature adaptation of "Hamlet," directed by Michael Almereyda
Co-starred with George Clooney and John Turturro as an escapted con in the Coen Brothers 1930s-set "O Brother, Where Art Thou?"
Adapted the screenplay of his play "The Grey Zone" for the big screen; also directed and edited; released theatrically in U.S. in 2002
Directed the prep school-set "Othello" update "O"
Appeared as the unlikely love interest in the quirky independent film "Cherish"
Had a small but notable part in Steven Spielberg's "Minority Report"
Co-starred with Jennifer Aniston in the critically hailed "The Good Girl"
Starred alongside David Arquette and Emily Mortimer in "A Foreign Affair"
Cast opposite Matthew Broderick and Alec Baldwin in the comedy "The Last Shot"
Cast opposite Robin Williams in "The Big White"
Co-starred with George Clooney and Matt Damon in the geopolitical thriller "Syriana," based on the real-life memoirs of CIA agent Robert Baer
Co-starred in "The Amateurs," an independent comedy about a sleepy town that comes together to film a porno
Co-starred in Joey Lauren Adams' screenwriting and directing debut "Come Early Morning"
Co-starred in Richard Kelly's ensemble drama "Southland Tales"
Cast opposite Billy Bob Thornton in "The Astronaut Farmer"
Directed, wrote, and co-starred in "Leaves of Grass"
Landed a supporting role in "The Big Year"
Cast alongside Drew Barrymore in "Big Miracle," a drama centered on a campaign to save a family of gray whales trapped by rapidly forming ice in the Arctic Circle
Portrayed politician Richard Schell opposite Daniel Day-Lewis in Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln"
Appeared in the experimental adaptation of "As I Lay Dying."
Appeared in the crime drama "Kill the Messenger"
Played Wayne in "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk"
Appeared in the comedy "The Confirmation"
Appeared as Garth in monster-movie crossover hit "Colossal"
Was cast as Truman in "Deidra & Laney Rob a Train"
Co-starred with Michelle Monaghan and Elle Fanning in "Sidney Hall"
Co-starred in James Franco thriller "The Institute"