James Woods

Actor

4/18/1947 (72 years old) Vernal, Utah, United States

Whether playing a hero or a villain, Woods is a master at making sleaziness seem sexy, and vice versa. Armed with a skinny frame, craggy features and explosive energy, this charismatic player dropped out of MIT to pursue acting. After moving to New York, he dabbled in stage work and debuted on Broadway in a 1970 production of Borstal Boy. As he launched his acting career on the stage, he won a Theatre World Award for his role in the play Moonchildren and an Obie for his performance in an Off-Broadway production of Saved. Although he spent the '70s in small roles, he broke through as a psychotic criminal in the harrowing 1979 drama The Onion Field. It was a testament to his talent that he got typecast as a big-screen baddy: an obsessive cable TV operator in Videodrome (1983), a manipulative drug dealer in Against All Odds (1984), and a Jewish gangster in Once Upon a Time in America (1984). He earned his first Oscar nod for Salvador (1986), as a reckless American journalist caught up in the title country's civil unrest. Yet despite his critical accolades, Hollywood didn't view Woods as leading-man material in films. In 1989, he tried to soften up on the silver screen for leading man roles as an adoptive dad in Immediate Family and as a lawyer in True Believer. Neither film drew large audiences, and he spent the next few decades turning in excellent supporting performances on the big screen — a hustler in Diggstown (1992), Sharon Stone's lowlife ex in Casino (1995), and a key player in the Watergate scandal in Nixon (1995). His turn as an unrepentant racist killer in Ghosts of Mississippi (1996) earned him a second Academy Award nomination, and he continued to play scheming types on the silver screen with roles as a calculating commanding officer in The General's Daughter (1999), a football team doctor in Any Given Sunday (1999), and a father in The Virgin Suicides (2000). Concurrently, he essayed larger and less conniving roles on the small screen. He won two Emmys in a pair of TV-movies opposite James Garner — as a schizophrenic in Promise and as the cofounder of Alcoholics Anonymous in My Name Is Bill W. — and he also played New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani in an eponymous, post-9/11 telepic. In 2006, he took on his first series-regular role as a crusading defense lawyer in Shark, but the CBS drama ended and he returned to feature films as the voice of a surf enthusiast in the kid-friendly animated feature Surf's Up (2007). Next, he was cast in the thriller Straw Dogs. Off screen, Woods' personal life has always seemed as intense as his roles. A twice-married ladies' man, he engaged in a very public war with Sean Young, his ex-girlfriend and costar in The Boost, whom he accused of harassment. At age 59, he dated 20-year-old starlet Ashley Madison, the daughter of one of his golfing buddies. In his spare time, he is an avid poker player.

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