This no-nonsense, Ivy-educated, stage-trained player parlayed his success on the boards into increasingly substantial work in TV and films. A history major as a Harvard undergraduate, Vance began acting in college and joined Shakespeare and Company, a theater company in nearby Lenox, Massachusetts. He went on to further hone his thespian skills at the Yale School of Drama. While there, Vance originated the role of Cory, son of a formidable James Earl Jones, in the Yale Rep production of August Wilson's award-winning "Fences." In 1987, he made his Broadway debut reprising the role. Vance's performance garnered critical kudos, a Theatre World Award and a Tony nomination as Best Featured Actor in a Play. His other stage credits included the 1988 New York Shakespeare Festival production of "Romeo and Juliet," Athol Fugard's "My Children! My Africa!" (1989), for which he won an OBIE Award and a starring role in the Broadway production of John Guare's "Six Degrees of Separation," which brought Vance yet another Tony nomination. When "Six Degrees of Separation" came to the big screen as a 1993 feature, Stockard Channing reprised her role from Broadway but Vance could not even get a meeting to read for the role of the charismatic liar Paul, the self-proclaimed son of Sidney Poitier. Though he had already had significant experience in film and TV, the producers opted for a "name" actor--the better known, if less trained, rapper-cum-sitcom star Will Smith. Vance responded by developing another strategy for Hollywood success. He networked with fellow Harvard alumni in the industry to land meaty TV roles in high-minded cable movies such as "The Tuskegee Airmen" and "The Affair" (both HBO, 1995) and "Race to Freedom: The Underground Railroad" (Family Channel/BET, 1994) and classy network specials like the Hallmark Hall of Fame presentations of August Wilson's "The Piano Lesson" (CBS, 1995) and Tom Griffin's "The Boys Next Door" (CBS, 1996). These projects displayed Vance's range as he variously played a love-struck slave with aspirations to escape North ("Race to Freedom"), a sweet-natured dimwit ("The Piano Lesson"), an innocent black G.I. in love with a married white woman in WWII England ("The Affair") and a severely mentally challenged man in a group home ("The Boys Next Door"). In features, Vance has successfully cultivated an image of dignity and restraint. He was the outspoken medic Doc in the war drama "Hamburger Hill" (1987) and a submarine sonar specialist in "The Hunt for Red October" (1990). Vance gained attention with his interpretation of the role of Jim in a Disney retelling of Mark Twain's classic "The Adventures of Huck Finn" (1993). He strayed from the outdated renditions of the Jims of old, creating a more intelligent figure and bringing weight and sadness to a man whose only desire is to be free. He also convinced as a subdued Bobby Seale, co-founder of the Black Panther Party, in Mario and Melvin Van Peebles' "Panther" and a soft-spoken traditionalist high school principal in "Dangerous Minds" (both 1995). Vance held his own against glamorous headliners Denzel Washington and Whitney Houston as he played the frustrated minister in Penny Marshall's romantic comedy fantasy "The Preacher's Wife" (1996). Vance married renowned actress Angela Bassett in 1997 and continued to win key roles in notable productions, including William Friedkin's acclaimed multiracial made-for-TV update of "12 Angry Men" (Showtime). He received accolades for his lead turn in the legal feature "Blind Faith" (1998), and appeared in Robert Altman's small-town dramedy "Cookie's Fortune" (1999), both films that co-starred Charles S. Dutton. After playing an astronaut in the Clint Eastwood movie "Space Cowboys" (2000), Vance portrayed the title character in Showtime's "Whitewash: The Clarence Brandley Story" (2002), a real-life tale of misplaced Texan justice. Gravitating more towards television, he joined the cast of the procedural drama spin-off "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" (NBC/USA, 2001-2011) as by-the-book assistant district attorney Ron Carver, a role that he held for five seasons. Following a recurring role on the medical drama series "ER" (NBC, 1994-2009), Vance became a regular on the much-touted high-concept drama "FlashForward" (NBC, 2009-2010), but the show was cancelled after one season, giving him a window to appear on episodes of "The Closer" (TNT, 2005-2012). Returning more prominently to movies, Vance had supporting roles in the thoughtful drama "Extraordinary Measures" (2010), starring Harrison Ford and Brendan Fraser, and the tense thriller "The Divide" (2011), before playing a skeptical FBI agent in the hit horror sequel "Final Destination 5" (2011). Notably switching gears for the warm, folksy gospel movie "Joyful Noise" (2012), he also turned up briefly on the TV mystery series "Revenge." In 2013, Vance successfully returned to his theater roots, playing editor Hap Hairston in the tabloid-centric Nora Ephron play "Lucky Guy," a performance that won him a Tony Award for Best Featured Actor. After appearing in "Terminator Genisys" (2015), a critically unsuccessful reboot of the action franchise, Vance returned to television as defense attorney Johnnie Cochran in "American Crime Story" (FX 2016- ).
Cast (Feature Film)
Producer (Feature Film)
Cast (TV Mini-Series)
Made TV acting debut in the CBS movie "First Affair"
Originated the role of Cory in August Wilson's "Fences" at the Yale Repertory Theater
Made feature acting debut in "Hamburger Hill"
Made his Broadway debut reprising the role of Cory in "Fences"
Appeared in the Broadway production of "Six Degrees of Separation"
Had first leading role in a feature playing Jim opposite Elijah Wood's Huck in "The Adventures of Huck Finn"
Co-starred as Black Panther Party co-founder Bobby Seale in the feature "Panther"
Starred in the HBO movie "The Affair" as a black GI who falls in love with a married white woman in WWII England
Co-starred with Denzel Washington and Whitney Houston in Penny Marshall's "The Preacher's Wife"
Joined an ensemble cast for Robert Altman's "Cookie's Fortune"
Landed a small role in Clint Eastwood's "Space Cowboys"
Appeared in the final season of NBC's "ER"
Cast as Stanford Wedeck, the head of the FBI Los Angeles office on ABC's "FlashForward"
Appeared alongside Dolly Parton and Queen Latifah in the musical comedy "Joyful Noise"
Was featured in the Broadway play "Lucky Guy," leading to a Tony win
Had the recurring role of Dr. Charles Hendricks on "Masters of Sex"
Was featured as Marshall Payton on "State of Affairs"
Had a minor role on "Terminator" reboot "Terminator Genisys"
Began playing attorney Johnnie Cochran on "American Crime Story"