Wholesome, young thespian Joseph Cross made his auspicious acting debut at age 11, starring opposite Diane Keaton in the made-for-TV movie "Northern Lights" (Disney Channel, 1997). He continued working steadily throughout the late-1990s and into the new millennium with appearances in a variety of film and television projects, including "Desperate Measures" (1998) and an episode of "Smallville" (The WB, 2001-06/The CW, 2006-2011) among them. All that changed when Cross landed the starring role in the film adaptation of Augusten Burroughs' best-selling memoir "Running with Scissors" (2006). Widely praised for his performance in the film, acting opposite the likes of Annette Bening and Jill Clayburgh, the actor went on to land roles in such highly-anticipated productions as director Clint Eastwood's World War II epic "Flags of Our Fathers" (2006) and the political biopic "Milk" (2008), starring Sean Penn. Interested more in challenging roles than big paydays, Cross continued to hone his skills in quirky, independent fare like the religious satire "Son of Morning" (2011) and the unconventional coming-of-age story "Art Machine" (2012). Remarkably focused and discerning for such a young artist, Cross was surprised and impressed as his burgeoning career moved into its next phase.
Cross was born the oldest of five children in a close-knit family from New Brunswick, NJ on May 28, 1986. Clearly, he knew what he wanted to do from a young age, having landed a part opposite heavyweight Diane Keaton in 1997's telepic, "Northern Lights." By the time he was 12, Cross was starring on the big screen as Michael Keaton's son in "Jack Frost" (1998) and performing under the guidance of director M. Night Shyamalan in "Wide Awake" (1998). It was a productive time for the relative Hollywood newcomer. That same year, he also appeared in the film, "Desperate Measures" (1998) starring Andy Garcia. Despite his early success, Cross still managed to live a seemingly normal childhood in the suburbs far from the hills of Hollywood.
In 1999, he brought his talents to daytime television, taking on the role of Casey Hughes on the long running soap opera "As the World Turns" (CBS 1956-2010). Cross followed up that role with the requisite guest appearances on such television staples as "Smallville" (The WB 2001-2006; The CW 2006-2011), "Third Watch," (NBC 1999-2005) and "Law and Order: SVU" (NBC 1999- ). In 2005, he landed the coveted role of the teenage step-brother of Jerri Blank, the character played over-the-top by chameleon comedienne Amy Sedaris, in the crudely hilarious comedy, "Strangers with Candy" (2005). Proving his comic timing and holding his own opposite the highly respected Sedaris, producers started taking notice.
But at that time, Hollywood would have to wait. Instead of heading directly to Tinseltown after graduating from high school, Cross took the unusual step of enrolling at Trinity College in Connecticut. It was during his freshman year that director Ryan Murphy was casting for the dark comedy, "Running with Scissors" (2006). Cross was initially hesitant to audition for the role because it required him to miss an economics test, potentially failing the class. Wisely, he took the risk and it paid off. Murphy was so moved by Cross' audition performance, he cried before giving him the part right on the spot.
Cross had his work cut out for him, taking on his first leading role. For starters he had to relate to the sad, isolated, childhood of Augusten Burroughs whose narcissistic, emotionally unstable mother dropped him off on her psychiatrist's doorstep when he was in middle school. Cross' own childhood was the exact opposite of Burroughs. With nothing in common with his character, Cross had to improvise. Resourceful pro that he was, Cross related his experience of living in a chaotic college dorm to help him understand the loneliness and chaos that Burroughs must have felt. In addition to mining a character he had nothing in common with, came the challenge of being the 19-year-old anchor of a film with a supporting cast that included prestigious actors like Annette Bening, Jill Clayburgh, Brian Cox and Gwyneth Paltrow. Cross rose to the challenge, lending a grounded performance which broke the audiences' collective heart.
Coming off that high, Cross proved he was no one-hit wonder by landing the role of soldier Franklin Sousley in the WWII drama, "Flags of Our Father" (2006). His Academy Award-winning director Clint Eastwood praised his young star's talent, adding even more surrealism to a magical year that had far surpassed Cross' imagination when first starting out as a young actor years before. In a much darker role, Cross next played a serial killer who murders his victims live on the Internet for all to see in the cyber-thriller "Untraceable" (2008), starring Diane Lane as the F.B.I. agent assigned to bring him down. Switching gears once again, the nimble actor played openly gay political pioneer Harvey Milk's (Sean Penn) campaign manager in the acclaimed biopic "Milk" (2008). Larger roles in smaller productions filled out Cross' résumé for most of the remainder of the decade. He played a financially struggling med student working as a doorman at an upscale apartment building in the direct-to-DVD romantic comedy "Falling Up" (2009), then appeared as an unassuming man mistaken for the Messiah after experiencing an episode of stigmata in "Son of Morning" (2011), a little-seen dramedy co-starring Heather Graham. The following year, Cross took on a challenging role as a painting prodigy undergoing a radical change of focus - due in part to a chemical imbalance - in the coming-of-age indie comedy "Art Machine" (2012).
Cast (Feature Film)
Cast (TV Mini-Series)
Appeared in the Disney Channel TV-movie "Northern Lights"
Film acting debut in the lead role, "Wide Awake" as a 10-year-old Catholic schoolboy
Portrayed Andy Garcia's terminally ill son in the thriller "Desperate Measures"
Portrayed the son of a rock musician (Michael Keaton) whose father is reincarnated as a snowman in "Jack Frost"
Joined cast of the CBS daytime serial "As the World Turns"
Guest-starred on NBC's "Third Watch"
Cast in "Strangers with Candy," co-starring Amy Sedaris and Stephen Colbert
Cast in Clint Eastwood's WWII drama "Flags of Our Fathers"
Portrayed Augusten Burroughs in "Running with Scissors"; film based on the personal memoirs of Burroughs
Co-starred with Diane Lane in the thriller "Untraceable"
Played Harvey Milk's campaign manager Dick Pabich in Gus Van Sant's biopic "Milk"
Portrayed the president's assistant John Hay opposite Daniel Day-Lewis in Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln"