Family & Companions
Though his first love was always the stage, actor Ron Rifkin made a name for himself as a prominent character performer on the spy drama "Alias" (ABC, 2001-06) and the soapy family drama, "Brothers & Sisters" (ABC, 2006-11). Prior to his small screen success, Rifkin was predominantly a theater actor who made occasional forays into features while starring on a seemingly endless string of short-lived television shows, beginning with the early-1970s sitcom, "Adam's Rib" (ABC, 1973). For several years, he struggled to find his footing in the acting world, as he landed numerous guest stints and small feature roles that failed to add up to a significant career. Rifkin had a few shining moments with recurring parts on "One Day at a Time" (CBS, 1975-1984) and "Falcon Crest" (CBS, 1981-1990). But his need to gain financial security led him to leave acting altogether during the mid-1980s so he could make a living selling coats designed by his father. The pull of acting proved too great, however, which led to a triumphant return to the stage with his award-winning performance in "The Substance of Fire" (1991). The role earned him considerable attention and eventually led to a rejuvenated career that included prominent co-starring turns in big studio films like "L.A. Confidential" (1997) and "The Sum of All Fears" (2002). Rifkin embraced his second chance to the fullest while embarking on a career that proved to be far more successful than its original incarnation.
Born Oct. 31, 1939 in New York, NY, Rifkin was raised in an Orthodox Jewish home by his immigrant parents, Herman and Miriam. After attending Yeshiva, a school that focused on the study of the Torah and other classical Jewish texts, he went to New York University with the intention of going into medicine. But instead he discovered acting, which he studied at NYU and later at the famed Actors Studio with the iconic Lee Strasberg. Climbing his way up the New York theater scene in the late 1950s, Rifkin eventually made his Broadway debut in the original production of Neil Simon's "Come Blow Your Horn" (1961). Following a few more years performing summer stock, he began appearing on the small screen with a guest starring role opposite Sally Field on her classic series, "Gidget" (ABC, 1965-66). At the end of the decade, Rifkin made his film debut in the chain-gang adventure film, "The Devil's 8" (1969), and soon followed up with the sci-fi actioner, "Silent Running" (1971). Rifkin landed his first regular series role on "Adam's Rib" (ABC, 1973), a short-lived sitcom in which he was the law partner of a Los Angeles Assistant District Attorney (Ken Howard).
After making strides in films and on television, Rifkin found he was more enamored by the stage, which led to continued work as a theater actor. As he made appearances in regional productions of "Three Sisters," "Rosebloom" and "Ghetto," Rifkin continued to appear onscreen, again landing another short-lived regular role on the sitcom "When Things Were Rotten" (ABC, 1975). After a film reprisal of a previous stage role with "The Sunshine Boys" (1975), he had supporting roles in the made-for-television movies "The Night That Panicked America" (ABC, 1975), a docudrama about Orson Welles' famed 1938 broadcast of "The War of the Worlds," and "The Dream Makers" (NBC, 1975), a character drama centered around a Payola scandal. Following a small role in the comic thriller, "The Big Fix" (1978), which turned out to be his last feature role for well over a decade, Rifkin settled into a series of television appearances, including the courtroom melodrama "In the Glitter Palace" (NBC, 1977) and the short-lived show-within-a-show, "The Mary Tyler Moore Comedy Hour" (CBS, 1979). He next joined the cast of "One Day at a Time" (CBS, 1975-1984), playing the boyfriend of Ann Romano (Bonnie Franklin) during the show's tumultuous sixth season.
Turning to more dramatic fare, Rifkin had a recurring role as Dr. Lantry on the popular primetime soap, "Falcon Crest" (CBS, 1981-1990). He snagged a supporting role in the misguided sequel, "The Sting II" (1983), which he followed with a string of small screen appearances, including the epic seven-part miniseries "The Winds of War" (CBS, 1983) and the family drama, "Another Woman's Child" (CBS, 1983). In 1984, Rifkin stepped away from acting to enter into the family fashion business. For the next several years, he primarily focused on selling Ronlee coats, an apparel line started by his father that earned him a considerable amount of money. Despite the success and financial security - something he failed to achieve as an actor - Rifkin nonetheless felt miserable for having left his true vocation. While not entirely divorced from the craft - he appeared in the miniseries "Dress Gray" (NBC, 1986) and played Beat poet Allen Ginsberg in "Conspiracy: The Trial of the Chicago 8" (HBO, 1987) - he was largely absent from the stage and screen.
Rifkin made a slow comeback after realizing he just could not stay away, starting with a few notable appearances on stage, including "Temple" opposite Jude Nelson, which led to a revival of Arthur Miller's "American Clock" at the Williamstown Theater Festival. He also returned to series television, landing a co-starring role on "The Trials of Rosie O'Neill" (CBS, 1990-92), a courtroom drama about a corporate lawyer (Sharon Gless) who reenters the workforce as a public defender following a difficult divorce. Rifkin next had a guest starring turn in the very first episode of the long-running procedural, "Law & Order" (NBC, 1990-10), which he followed with a cameo appearance in Oliver Stone's "JFK" (1991). With full confidence in returning to his beloved profession, Rifkin made the most of his second go-round when he took the stage in "The Substance of Fire" (1991) as Isaac Geldhart, a Holocaust survivor and book publisher who courts financial disaster while pushing away the love of his family in order to not compromise his principles. The off-Broadway production, written by playwright Jon Robin Baitz, earned Rifkin critical kudos as well as Best Actor wins at the OBIE and Drama Desk awards.
Rifkin's triumph in "The Substance of Fire" opened the floodgates to bigger and better film, stage and television projects, making his decision to return to acting fulltime a fortuitous one. After writer-director Woody Allen cast him in a small part for "Husbands and Wives" (1992), he gave Rifkin a larger role in the mild "Manhattan Murder Mystery" (1993). Back on television, he returned to "Law & Order" as a different character and was on an episode of the sci-fi anthology series, "The Outer Limits" (Syndicated, 1995-2002). He next had a recurring role as cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Carl Vucelich during the second season of "E.R." (NBC, 1994-2009), which he followed with small parts in features like Jack Nicholson's "Wolf" (1994) and "Last Summer in the Hamptons" (1995). Rifkin reprised his award-winning stage role of Isaac Geldhart for the feature adaptation of "The Substance of Fire" (1996), which received a limited release after a short festival run. Following another short-lived return to series television with "Leaving L.A." (ABC, 1997), he had a memorable supporting turn as District Attorney Ellis Loew, whose tolerance of crime and corruption leads to two on-the-edge homicide detectives (Guy Pearce and Russell Crowe) forcing his confession by dangling him from an open high-rise window.
Returning to the stage, Rifkin made his Broadway musical debut in a revival of "Cabaret" (1998), which earned him a Tony Award for Best Supporting Actor. With his feature career revitalized because of his head-turning performance in "L.A. Confidential," Rifkin began landing prominent roles in a variety of films like the hostage thriller "The Negotiator" (1999), the religious-themed romantic comedy "Keeping the Faith" (2000), and the nostalgic romance "The Majestic" (2001), directed by Frank Darabont and starring Jim Carrey. In 2001, Rifkin finally landed a regular series role that lasted longer than half a season when he was cast as the cold, calculating and mysterious former head of the secret intelligence agency, SD-6, on "Alias" (ABC, 2001-06). During his five seasons on the show, he continued to appear in a variety of feature and television projects, including "Flowers for Algernon" (CBS, 2000), the Tom Clancy nuclear thriller "The Sum of All Fears" (2002) with Ben Affleck and Morgan Freeman, and the mysterious supernatural thriller, "Dragonfly" (2002) with Kevin Costner. But it was "Alias" that elevated Rifkin's status, helping to turn him into a well-recognized star.
During the summer of 2002, Rifkin reunited with Jon Robin Baitz in a production of "Ten Unknowns" at Boston's Huntington Theatre. In the winter of 2004, Rifkin yet again reunited with Baitz to star in his new play, "The Paris Letter," at the Kirk Douglas Theater in Los Angeles, which was followed by the production moving across the country in the summer of 2005 to the Laura Pels Theatre in New York. After "Alias" took its final bow in the spring of 2006, Rifkin co-starred in "Pulse" (2006), a remake of the Japanese supernatural horror movie "Kairo" (2001). Returning once again to the small screen in a regular role, Rifkin found even more success with "Brothers & Sisters" (ABC, 2006-11), a soapy family drama created by Baitz. Rifkin played Saul Holden, the closeted brother of the feisty Walker family matriarch (Sally Field) who watches her children run her deceased husband's food company.
Cast (Feature Film)
Cast (TV Mini-Series)
Made Broadway debut in Neil Simon's "Come Blow Your Horn"
Played Mel, opposite Sally Field as the title character, on the ABC sitcom, "Gidget"
Made feature film debut in "The Devil's Eight"
Played Roy Mendelsohn, Adam's law partner, on the short-lived CBS sitcom, "Adam's Rib"
Cast as the evil Prince John on the short-lived ABC sitcom, "When Things Were Rotten"
Cast as a dentist on the short-lived CBS sitcom, "Husbands, Wives and Lovers"
Played Artie Miller, the writer-director, on the short-lived show-within-a-show, "The Mary Tyler Moore Hour" (CBS)
Joined the hit CBS sitcom, "One Day at a Time" in the sixth season; played Nick Handris, a love interest for Bonnie Franklin's Ann
Last feature film in nearly a decade, "The Sting II"
Played the recurring role of Dr. Lantry for two seasons on the CBS primetime soap, "Falcon Crest"
Briefly retired from acting to work with wife in the fashion design business
Played Ben Meyer on the CBS drama series, "The Trials of Rosie O'Neill"
Had a cameo appearance in Oliver Stone's controversial feature "JFK"
Returned to the stage for writer Jon Baitz's "The Substance of Fire"; won several awards, including a Drama Desk for Best Actor
First sizable feature film role in a decade, in Woody Allen's "Husbands and Wives"
Recreated his award winning stage role for the film adaptation of "The Substance of Fire"
Had featured role as a district attorney in "L.A. Confidential"
Returned to series TV in the short-lived ABC drama "Leaving L.A."
Made Broadway musical debut in revival of "Cabaret"
Cast as Giovanni Ribisi's father in "Boiler Room"
Played Arvin Sloane, the cold, calculating leader of SD-6 in the ABC series "Alias"
Co-starred with Jim Carrey in "The Majestic"
Supported Kevin Costner in "Dragonfly"
Cast in the New York premiere of Baitz's "The Paris Letter"
Starred in "Pulse," a remake of cult Japanese helmer Kiyoshi Kurosawa's "Kairo"
Cast as businessman Saul Holden on ABC's "Brothers & Sisters"
Earned an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Voice-Over Performance for narrating "Jerome Robbins: Something To Dance About" episode of PBS' "American Masters"