Like many character actors, Sullivan had to hustle for small roles in features and TV and find some artistic satisfaction on stage before aging into a viable, in-demand player--in his case, often as a gruff, authority figure who sometimes exhibits a heart of gold. Born in Chicago, IL, and raised on Cape Cod, MA, Sullivan clearly exhibits his New England roots in his accent. He attended the University of Maine and toured with a stage company before heading to New York. Sullivan landed work with the New York Shakespeare Festival and appeared on Broadway in the ensemble musical "Working" (1978), for which he received a Drama Desk Award nomination. He also played Vanessa Redgrave's husband in the Peter Hall production of Tennessee Williams' "Orpheus Descending" (1989). Other stage credits include "South Pacific," Beth Henley's "The Wake of Jamie Foster" and "The Caine Mutiny Court Martial."
Success in films was slow in coming. Sullivan could be seen in "The Sting" (1973), "Slap Shot" (1977) and "The Untouchables" (1987), but his status as a character player was confirmed when Barbra Streisand cast him as Henry Wingo, the sometimes brutal husband and father, in "The Prince of Tides" (1991). Sullivan subsequently played a variety of supporting roles, including a tough priest who comes through for Whoopi Goldberg and the nuns in "Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit" (1993).
On TV, Sullivan is best remembered as Mr. Zollicofer, the ex-Marine turned wrestling coach on "I'll Fly Away" (NBC, 1991-93). In addition, he was General Artemus Ward in the miniseries "George Washington" (CBS, 1989), and added local flavor as Fog Martin in "Home Fires Burning" (CBS, 1989), a "Hallmark Hall of Fame" presentation. Sullivan recreated his stage role opposite Vanessa Redgrave in the TNT adaptation of "Orpheus Descending" (1990) and portrayed Judge Roy Bean in "Luck of the Draw: The Gambler Returns" (CBS, 1991). More recently, he was Father Leo, the avuncular older priest who offers guidance to his younger colleagues, in the ABC drama series "Nothing Sacred" (1997-98).
Cast (Feature Film)
Cast (TV Mini-Series)
Early film work, bit, "The Sting"
Early TV work, a small role in the acclaimed NBC TV-movie "The Law"
Was a member of the ensemble cast of the Broadway musical "Working"
Featured on Broadway in "Orpheus Descending" opposite Vanessa Redgrave; reprised role in 1990 TV version
Played Judge Roy Bean in "Luck of the Draw: The Gambler Returns" miniseries
Breakthrough feature role as Henry Wingo, "The Prince of Tides"