A tall and gangly actor from small-town Tennessee, D J Qualls made his breakthrough with a funny and oddly touching performance as shy, geeky coed Kyle, taken along on a crass college "Road Trip" (2000) as the guy with the car. A survivor of an adolescent bout with Hodgkin's disease, the academically talented Qualls left Tennessee after high school to attend the University of London, where he studied English language and literature. He later returned to his home state and began working in local theater, appearing on stage in Nashville productions. There he was discovered by photographers David LaChappelle and Steve Klein, who were intrigued by his unusual and rather childlike look. Qualls subsequently landed a print modeling job in a campaign for high end label Prada, landing him in the top fashion and lifestyle magazines. While the modeling job proved a positive and lucrative experience, earning him crucial exposure in addition to money, acting was still the object of the young man's passion.
He made his TV debut as an extra in "Against the Wall," a 1994 HBO movie filmed in Tennessee, and later had a small role in the 1998 Alex Haley miniseries "Mama Flora's Family" (CBS). Qualls followed up with a supporting role in the curious teen horror feature "Cherry Falls," which was shot prior to his breakthrough in "Road Trip" but was released the following fall. His work in "Road Trip" proved far more memorable, with Qualls' portrayal of the awkward and inexperienced Kyle showcasing the actor's likability as well as his precise comic timing. Kyle's fearlessness in humiliating situations was rendered perfectly by the actor, pointing at the character's innocence without a trace of actorly arrogance. The performer also managed to balance "Road Trip"'s often broad situations with an intuitive and natural performance. Qualls impressed in the role, and proved a fresh face but not an amateur, displaying a proficiency on screen that rivaled that of co-star Breckin Meyer, an actor with dozens more roles to his credit. His talent and unusual, unforgettable looks could offer the young performer an extensive career as a character player.
After his breakout role, Qualls played variations on his lovable geek in films such as "Comic Book Villians" (2002), "Big Trouble" (2002), "The New Guy" (2002) and "The Core" (2003). Qualls then delivered an exceptionally winning performance as Shelby, the church organist-turned-rap-producer in the acclaimed indie "Hustle & Flow" (2005).
Cast (Feature Film)
Producer (Feature Film)
Cast (TV Mini-Series)
At age 14, was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma, resulting in the removal of his spleen
Cast as an extra in the HBO movie, "Against the Wall"
Had a small role in the CBS miniseries, "Mama Flora's Family"
Had breakthrough role as an awkward college student in Todd Phillips' "Road Trip"
Cast in the teen horror film, "Cherry Falls" (aired on USA Network in lieu of theatrical release)
Played Neil Lawrence in "Chasing Holden"
Had a supporting role in "Big Trouble"
Cast as Joshua Jackson's best friend in "Lone Star State of Mind"
Co-starred with Terrence Howard and Anthony Anderson in Craig Brewer's "Hustle & Flow"
Co-starred in the comedy "Delta Farce" with Bill Engvall and Larry the Cable Guy
Featured in the comedy, "All About Steve"