Family & Companions
A wiry, often comically explosive performer in independent features in the 1980s and 1990s, Griffin Dunne was a character actor and occasional leading man who also dabbled in producing and directing with often impressive results. He made his debut in the late seventies and produced his first film almost immediately thereafter; outstanding turns in "An American Werewolf in London" (1981) and "After Hours" (1985) balanced his tenure as producer on such critically lauded films as "Baby, It's You" (1983). Dunne's acting career faltered in the late 1980s, though he continued to oversee such hits as "Running on Empty" (1988) and "White Palace" (1990). He launched his directorial career in 1996 with an Oscar-nominated short, "The Duke of Groove," but subsequent efforts were largely hit-or-miss. Still, his knack for exasperated comic turns maintained his favored status as an entertaining guest performer in films and television throughout the new millennium.
Born Thomas Griffin Dunne in New York City, NY on June 8, 1955, he was the son of ranching heiress Ellen Beatriz Griffin and film and TV producer-turned-author and journalist Dominick Dunne. After relocating the family - which included brother Alexander and sister Dominique - to Los Angeles, Dunne's parents became the toast of the town by throwing lavish, star-studded parties in their Beverly Hills home. The Beatles even stopped by for a backyard luncheon at the height of Beatlemania. Dunne eventually got his first taste of acting while in Los Angeles through a high school production of Edward Albee's "The Zoo Story."
However, the posh façade of the Dunne's home hid some unpleasant secrets - Dominick Dunne was struggling with a substance abuse problem that eventually destroyed his marriage and his career. By the early 1970s, Griffin Dunne had vacated the dwindling comforts of Hollywood for New York, where he studied acting under the legendary Uta Hagen at the Neighborhood Playhouse, making his on-screen debut in a small role in "The Other Side of the Mountain" (1975). His next film, "Chilly Scenes of Winter" (1979), marked his debut as producer through his own shingle, Triple Play Films.
Dunne's acting career would receive a sizable boost with his memorable performance in the John Landis-directed horror-comedy "An American Werewolf in London" (1981). Though his character is killed by a lycanthrope early in the film's running time, Dunne would return throughout the picture in various states of decay to serve as the imagined and mordantly funny moral compass for its main character (David Naughton), who undergoes a monstrous transformation into the title figure. Sadly, the success of the film was undermined by a real-life story of terror and tragedy when Dunne's sister Dominique - who was achieving her own fame as the teenage Freeling daughter in "Poltergeist" (1982) - was choked to death by a violent ex-boyfriend in 1982. The event was both traumatic and galvanizing for Dunne and his family, who responded with a grass roots campaign for both victims' rights - Ellen Dunne would go on to found Justice for Homicide Victims - and against their loved one's killer, chef John Sweeney, who was freed after serving only four of his six-year sentence. The family responded to the latter by hiring notorious detective Anthony Pellicano to report on the killer, returning some of the pain inflicted upon them by making it difficult for him to hold steady work as a chef - particularly in Los Angeles, where upon his release, he worked at the Santa Monica restaurant, The Chronicle before leaving town.
After the success of "Werewolf" and the horror of his sister's tragic death weeks shy of her 23rd birthday, Dunne appeared to shift his attention to behind the camera. While logging time as an actor in largely forgettable features like "Johnny Dangerously" (1984), he also helped to produce such landmark independent films as John Sayles' "Baby It's You" (1983) and Martin Scorsese's "After Hours" (1985). The latter movie also provided one of Dunne's most memorable roles; that of a neurotic yuppie who enters a surreal underworld in New York's Soho district, which, in turn, led to further roles as confused, easily excitable professionals on episodes of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" (NBC/USA, 1985-89) and other series.
Dunne's acting career stumbled in 1987 with his lead role opposite Madonna in the would-be screwball comedy "Who's That Girl?" He followed this with two major flops - the sketch comedy feature "Amazon Women on the Moon" (1987) and Luc Besson's "The Big Blue" (1988) before receiving scathing reviews for "Me and Him" (1989), a perverse West German comedy about an architect whose penis develops the ability to speak. He would remain offscreen for the next few years, preferring instead to concentrate on production; among the films he oversaw during this period were such critical hits as Sidney Lumet's "Running On Empty" (1988), with River Phoenix delivering an Oscar-nominated performance as the son of 1960s radicals, and the Golden Globe-nominated "White Palace" (1990), with James Spader as a younger man entranced by bawdy hash slinger Susan Sarandon.
By 1990, Dunne was making in-roads back to acting, though in a limited capacity; aside from leading roles in TV features like "Secret Weapon" (1990), he took largely supporting and minor roles in features - most notably as the drama teacher in "My Girl" (1991) and an almost faceless appearance as an account exec in "Quiz Show" (1994). "Search and Destroy" (1995) brought him back to leading man status, albeit briefly, as a businessman who seeks to avoid the wrath of the IRS by sinking his dwindling funds into a movie. The film, directed by artist David Salle, was not well received by the press or moviegoers, despite the presence of an all-star cast including Christopher Walken, Illeana Douglas, Dennis Hopper and Martin Scorsese.
Dunne made his directorial debut with the 1996 short "Duke of Groove," a '60s-era drama about a young man (Tobey Maguire) whose whirlwind tour through a counterculture party masks the turmoil waiting for him at home. The short, which was also co-penned by Dunne and undoubtedly inspired by his own childhood experiences in his parents' home, earned an Oscar nomination in 1996, and launched Dunne's sporadic career as a director. His feature-length debut was the offbeat "Addicted to Love" (1997) with Matthew Broderick and Meg Ryan as somewhat obsessive types who team up to make life miserable for their exes, who have subsequently partnered with each other. More successful was "Practical Magic" (1998), an amusing comedy-fantasy about two sisters (Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman) who happen to be modern-day witches. Dunne also served as producer for the MTV Films presentation "Joe's Apartment" (based on the popular shorts of the same name that aired on the network), about a young man (Jerry O'Connell) whose life is taken over by the colony of roaches that share his run-down cold water flat.
While developing his producing and directorial careers, Dunne continued to maintain an interest in acting, though again largely in made-for-TV features and independent projects. There were occasional high-profile roles, most notably as the head of an Internet company in the woeful "40 Days and 40 Nights" (2002), but for the most part, Dunne appeared content to log time in lightweight or offbeat fare while tending to his behind-the-scenes work. He returned to the director's chair for the little-seen "Famous" (2000), a mockumentary in which he also appeared as a director who pursues an actress on the brink of stardom. "Fierce People" (2005) starred Diane Lane and Donald Sutherland as an eccentric daughter-father duo who make life alternately confusing and fascinating for teenager Anton Yelchin. The feature earned early praise in festival screenings, but failed to secure a wider theatrical release. In 2006, he helmed the blackly humorous documentary "Your Product Here," which illustrated the legal nightmares faced by filmmakers through the conflict waged between M&Ms and Reese's Pieces for favored candy status of "E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial" (1982).
Dunne continued to act well into the new millennium; he turned up in two episodes of "Alias" (ABC, 2001-06) as Leonid Lisenker, a member of the Russian terrorist organization The Covenant who later defects to North Korea, and later enjoyed substantial roles in indies like "Game 6" (2005), "Snow Angels" (2007) and "The Great Buck Howard" (2008). That same year, he directed the comedy "The Accidental Husband" (2009) with Uma Thurman as a talk show host entangled in matrimonial chaos. His acting career seemed to enjoy a rebound that same year, with a juicy turn as an acerbic ad exec on the comedy-drama "Trust Me" (TNT, 2009), and supporting turns in "Shrink" (2009) with Kevin Spacey and "Last Night" (2009) with Keira Knightley.
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Cast (TV Mini-Series)
Film acting debut, "The Other Side of the Mountain"
Founded Triple Play Productions with Amy Robinson and Mark Metcalf
First feature as producer (also acted), "Chilly Scenes of Winter/Head Over Heels"; produced with Amy Robinson and Mark Metcalf
Co-starred in cult favorite "An American Werewolf in London," directed by John Landis
Co-founded (with Amy Robinson) Double Play Productions
First film released under the Double Play banner, John Sayles's "Baby, It's You"
Co-starred (also produced) with Rosanna Arquette in Martin Scorsese's "After Hours"
TV-movie acting debut, "From Here to Maternity"
Co-starred with Madonna in romantic comedy "Who's That Girl?"
Produced Oscar nominated "Running on Empty," directed by Sidney Lumet
Produced "White Palace" with James Spader and Susan Sarandon
Played an English teacher in comedy drama "My Girl"
Earned Oscar nomination for Best Short Film for "The Duke of Groove"
Feature film directorial debut, "Addicted to Love"
Helmed second feature "Practical Magic," starring Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman
Directed mockumentary "Lisa Picard Is Famous"; also played a filmmaker shooting a movie about an aspiring actress
Played comedic supporting role as the head of an Internet company in "40 Days and 40 Nights"
Cast opposite Michael Keaton in "Game 6," about the historic 1986 World Series; also produced
Helmed "Fierce People," starring Diane Lane and Donald Sutherland
Cast in romantic drama "Snow Angels" alongside Kate Beckinsale and Sam Rockwell
Cast as an advertising firm boss on TNT series "Trust Me"
Appeared on Showtime's "Hosue of Lies"
Acted opposite Mark Wahlberg and Russell Crowe in crime drama "Broken City"