Family & Companions
With his chiseled good looks and take-charge persona, character actor Steven Culp made a career out of playing strong, domineering men on stage and screen - most notably as Robert F. Kenney in the Cuban missile crisis film "Thirteen Days," and as numerous men of power on TV shows like "JAG" and "The West Wing." But it was playing the antithesis of these strong alpha-male roles - the weak-willed, S&M closet-fetishist, Rex Van De Kamp, on ABC's monster hit "Desperate Housewives" - that finally made Culp a name and with an already recognizable face.
Born Dec. 3, 1955 in La Jolla, CA, Culp and his sisters were raised in Virginia Beach, VA, by their mother and stepfather after their parents divorced. Despite the fact that both his father and stepfather were naval officers and the family lived in close proximity to the famous shipping yards of Norfolk, Culp chose a different path, instead pursing literary arts and music. He majored in English Literature at The College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. While there, he participated in a student exchange program that took him to the University of Exeter in London. At Exeter, Culp became acquainted with a group of student actors and quickly developed an interest in theater. After graduating from W & M, Culp enrolled in Brandeis University, where he earned an MFA in Theater Arts.
After graduating in 1981, Culp moved to New York City and began working in off-Broadway and regional theater productions. His first onscreen role was that of a crazy baby snatcher on the soap opera "Another World" in 1982. A year later, Culp was cast in the larger role of Danny Wolek on yet another soap, ABC's "One Life To Live." Having tested the daytime waters, Culp returned his focus to the stage, appearing in numerous productions before relocating to LA in the late 1980s.
From that point on, Culp never lacked for small screen roles, with the occasional big screen leap. He made his TV movie debut in 1988, starring alongside such heavyweights as Sam Waterston & Mary Tyler Moore, as assistant private secretary John Hay in the Emmy-winning production of "Gore Vidal's Lincoln" (NBC, 1988). His big screen debut came a year later with the movie "Gross Anatomy" (1989). Other roles of that time included parts in the misbegotten horror sequel "Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday" (1993) and on numerous TV shows such as "Touched by an Angel," "Father Dowling Mysteries" and "LA Law."
In 1996, Culp was cast in his first recognizable role, that of Special Agent Clayton Webb in the long-running CBS military series, "Jag" (1995-2005). Due to Culp's complicated portrayal of the CIA operative, Webb became a recurring fan favorite through the years. This would not be the last time Culp's powerful presence would win one-time characters recurring status.
The same year Culp debuted on "Jag," he landed a small part which would have more impact on his career than he could have imagined at the time. Playing Robert F. Kennedy in the HBO biopic, "Norma Jean & Marilyn" opposite Mira Sorvino and Ashley Judd, Culp nailed the Bostonian mannerisms of the one-time presidential candidate and rumored lover of the doomed actress. It would not be the last time Culp would be called upon to play JFK's younger brother. The next time he revisited Camelot - it would prove the breakout role of his career.
In 2000, Culp bested bigger star Guy Pearce for the role of RFK in the dramatic feature film, "Thirteen Days," starring and produced by Kevin Costner. Offering a much more complex study of the former Attorney General, the film retraced 13 days in October, 1962, when the world teetered on the brink of nuclear armageddon and the fate of the world rested on the shoulders of two brothers, arguably the most powerful men in the world at that time. Cast opposite Bruce Greenwood as JFK, Culp watched endless documentaries and read numerous books on the Kennedy family in preparation for his difficult role. Culp and Greenwood spent a lot of time together, usually in character, bonding off screen in order to essay the brotherly bond onscreen. The immersion in all things Kennedy paid off for both relatively unknown actors. Released in late 2000, the film was a minor success, but Culp and Greenwood were the toast of critics everywhere - Entertainment Weekly and Variety even proclaiming them Oscar nominee shoe-ins. Though neither were nominated, it was their eerily accurate portraits of the tough, smart but ultimately tragic brothers, whom people were most struck by.
By 2001, Culp headlined the Cinemax film "How To Make A Monster" (2001) before landing a pivotal role in Kevin Kline's critically acclaimed adaptation of "The Palace Thief." Released as "The Emperor's Club" (2002), Culp delivered a subtle performance as the once-wronged Martin Blythe. In 2004, between multiple television roles, Culp managed to deliver supporting roles in David Mamet's thriller, "Spartan" (2003)and in an updated film version of Anton Checkhov's classic, "The Sisters" (2006).
During the 2003-04 television season, the hardworking Culp managed to juggle recurring roles on an unheard of four series at one time: Agent Clayton Webb on "Jag;" Major Hayes, commander of the MACOs on "Star Trek: Enterprise;" Speaker of the House Jeff Haffley on "The West Wing;" and Dave Spencer, Dr. Corday's love interest on "ER." He also managed to squeeze in guest spots on such shows as "The Lyons Den," "The Practice" and "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation."
Not lacking for employment, Culp took a big chance when he signed on as a regular for the female-driven dramedy, "Desperate Housewives" (2004-12). Obviously a "woman's show," Culp nonetheless shown brightly as hen-pecked husband Rex Van De Kamp, opposite on-screen wife Marcia Cross. Bree and Rex's dysfunctional relationship, culminating in the now famous dinner table confession that "Rex cries when he ejaculates," reached its apex when Rex admitted his fondness for S&M sex to his prudish wife. At the insistence of show creator Marc Cherry, Culp himself came up with Rex's secret storyline. Although a fan favorite, Culp, along with his nervous male co-stars, knew someone would be getting the ax at the end of season one. Unfortunately for Culp, it ended up being Rex who bought the farm - by way of potassium poisoning by Bree's jealous pharmacist suitor. A bit of the sting was taken out of it when Culp joined his old cast mates onstage in early 2006 to pick up the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series.
Being written off the most popular show on television could have broken lesser men, but Culp rolled up his sleeves and got right back into the fray, landing parts in the Lifetime TV movie, "Deck the Halls" (2005) and a role opposite former onscreen Kennedy brother, Bruce Greenwood, in the family flick "Firehouse Dog" (2006). Culp also signed on for another ABC series, "Traveler" (lensing, 2006).
Cast (Feature Film)
Cast (TV Mini-Series)
Made his TV-movie debut as assistant private secretary John Hay in the Emmy-winning production of Gore Vidal's "Lincoln" (NBC)
Big screen debut in the medical drama "Gross Anatomy"
Portrayed Robert F. Kennedy in the HBO biopic, "Norma Jean & Marilyn"
Cast as Special Agent Clayton Webb in the long-running CBS military series, "Jag"
Once again portrayed RFK in the dramatic feature, "Thirteen Days," starring and produced by Kevin Costner
Landed a pivotal role in the critically acclaimed adaptation of "The Palace Thief," which was released as "The Emperor's Club"
Delivered a supporting role in the David Mamet's thriller, "Spartan"
Had a recurring role as Major Hayes on "Star Trek: Enterprise"
Played Rex Van De Kamp, husband of perfectionist Bree Van De Kamp, on the ABC hit "Desperate Housewives"; character killed off at the end of season one