Worked With:

James Lipton


Ving Rhames


Stephen Dorff


Channing Tatum


Ashton Kutcher


Seth MacFarlane


Zooey Deschanel


James Marsden


Sarah Sanguin Carter


Trace Adkins


Anthony Michael Hall


Jeff Bridges

James Woods Biography


Home > Actors > W > Woods, James > Biography


Birth Name: James Woods
Born: 04/18/1947
Birth Place: Vernal, Utah, USA


Born James Howard Woods in Vernal, UT on April 18, 1947, he spent some of his early childhood in transit, due to his father's military career. After Woods' father passed away when he was just 13, his mother remarried and moved the family to Warwick, RI, where he attended high school. He intended to follow in his father's footsteps after graduation by attending the Air Force Academy, but an accidental injury to one of his hands forced him to change his plans. An exceptional student throughout his scholastic career, Woods received a near-perfect score on his SAT tests (he was a member of MENSA, and had been allowed to enroll in college math classes while still in high school) and decided to study medicine at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, before settling on political science as a major. However, he developed a love for acting while a member of the school's theater group "Dramashop," and appeared in numerous plays at the school and at neighboring playhouses. In 1969, he informed his mother that he was dropping out of MIT to pursue a career in acting, relocating to New York, where he landed roles in several productions, including a stint off-Broadway in "Borstal Boy" in 1970.

Woods also began logging time in episodic television series and supporting roles in several independent films, starting with the Joanne Woodward starrer "All the Way Home" (1971), an adaptation of the James Agee novel, and a rarely-seen thriller called "The Visitors" (1972), which was directed by Elia Kazan. He eventually worked his way up to supporting roles in network TV movies and studio pictures, including the cop comedy "The Choirboys" (1977), the all-star TV drama "Raid on Entebbe" (1977), and the epic "Holocaust" (1978). However, the following year proved to be Woods' biggest to date, following his turn as a psychotic ex-con and killer in Harold Becker's powerful true crime drama, "The Onion Field" (1979). Woods' striking features - a lean, angular frame, sunken cheeks, and heavy-lidded eyes - made him a perfect criminal, and the rage and violence inherent in his every line helped earn him a Golden Globe nomination and several critical association awards. For the next few years, Woods was the go-to performer for hot-wired villains and men of questionable character, playing them with relish in films like "Eyewitness" (1981), "Against All Odds" (1985), "Cat's Eye" (1985) and "Best Seller" (1987).

However, several directors took notice that Woods possessed qualities that exceeded the boundaries of his bad guy roles, so cast him against type as anti-heroes and even straight-forward protagonists. Maverick horror filmmaker David Cronenberg made him the sole voice of sanity in his disturbing technological fantasy "Videodrome" (1983), and the legendary Sergio Leone cast him as a tough but loyal gangster in his epic, "Once Upon a Time in America" (1984), which Woods would later cite as his favorite role to date. Meanwhile, Woods played a sympathetic lead in Ted Kotcheff's comedy-drama "Joshua Then and Now" (1985), and Oliver Stone found the heroic elements in his dogged investigative reporter in "Salvador" (1986). TV seemed to have the most diverse roles for him; he paired with James Garner in two powerful TV movies, "Promise" (1986), in which he played a schizophrenic and "My Name is Bill W.," which depicted the creation of Alcoholics Anonymous; as well as "In Love and War" (1987), he played real-life Vietnam War POW Jim Stockdale, who suffered eight years in captivity. Woods was nominated for an Academy Award for "Salvador" and won Emmys for "Promise" and "Bill W.," as well as a Golden Globe for the former.

As the Eighties drew to a close, Woods enjoyed more diverse roles on the big screen, including a sweetly sympathetic turn with Glenn Close as a couple hoping to adopt a child in "Immediate Family" (1989). His career hit a slight snag that same year when he co-starred with then-rumored girlfriend/onset lover, Sean Young in "The Boost," an overwrought drama about wealthy suburbanites who fall into a drug-fueled morass. The relationship exploded shortly after the production wrapped, and Woods publicly accused Young of stalking him and his girlfriend, which irreparably damaged her rising star in Hollywood. Woods, however, came away from the scandal largely unscathed, continuing to contribute impressive lead performances in a variety of genres. He proved a sharp comic actor willing to spoof his own onscreen persona in "Diggstown" (1992) and "The Hard Way" (1991), also showing his true versatility in a string of TV movies, including infamous lawyer and closeted homosexual Roy Cohn in "Citizen Cohn" (1992), for which he was nominated for an Emmy and Golden Globe; "Jane's House" (1994), as a widowed father looking for love; "Curse of the Starving Class" (1994), as a violent alcoholic; and "Indictment: The McMartin Trial" (1995), as the lawyer for a family accused of horrific child abuse, which earned him another Emmy and Golden Globe nomination.

In theaters, he added several significant rogues to his growing gallery of villains, including a show-stopping turn as Sharon Stone's pimp boyfriend in Martin Scorsese's "Casino" (1995); Watergate conspirator H.R. Haldeman in Oliver Stone's "Nixon" (1995); real-life white supremacist Byron De La Beckwith, who stood trial for the murder of civil rights leader Medgar Evans, in "Ghosts of Mississippi" (1996), which brought him an Oscar nomination; and vicious serial killer Carl Panzram in "Killer: A Journal of Murder" (1996). Woods tempered this river of viciousness with a tongue-in-cheek performance as a sympathetic junkie thief in Larry Clark's "Another Day in Paradise" (1997), which he also produced; a fast-talking vampire hunter in "John Carpenter's Vampires" (1998); and a hilarious turn as the voice of Hades, the Hollywood hustler-like Lord of the Dead in Disney's animated film, "Hercules." He apparently enjoyed the latter part so much, he repeated the role in the direct-to-video sequel in 1999 and on the animated TV version (syndicated, 1998-2000), which netted him a Daytime Emmy in 2000.

His turn as Hades launched Woods into a lucrative and lengthy career in voiceover work for countless animated projects and video games. He spent much of the late '90s and early 21st century dividing his time between animation and live-action performances. 1999 alone yielded four excellent turns in "True Crime" as Clint Eastwood's newspaper boss, a deceptive football team doctor in Oliver Stone's "Any Given Sunday," a shady military man in "The General's Daughter," and the head of an emotionally disturbed family in Sofia Coppola's "The Virgin Suicides." He also hammed it up as an exorcist in "Scary Movie 2" (2001) and played a surgeon held hostage by Denzel Washington's irate father in "John Q" (2002).

In a disturbing turn of events, Woods became entwined in the government's investigations into the hijackings that lead to the September 11th tragedies. Woods happened to notice four men of Middle Eastern descent acting very strangely on a flight from Boston to Los Angeles in August of 2001, and notified a flight attendant that he feared the men were planning to take over the plane. No further action was taken in regard to this incident - as Seymour Hersh reported in The New Yorker, the FAA feared charges of racial profiling - but Woods later discovered that two of the men were among the 19 who hijacked the planes involved in the September 11th attacks.

Woods returned to TV movies throughout this period; he played a real-life museum director who was put on trial for exhibiting the works of Robert Mapplethorpe in 2000's "Dirty Pictures," which earned him another Golden Globe nomination, and in 2003, he played New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani in the highly sanitized "Rudy: The Rudolph Giuliani Story" (2003), which brought him another Emmy nomination. During this period, Woods also dabbled in behind-the-scenes work, co-producing the indie drama "Northfork" (2003) for brothers Michael and Mark Polish, and directed a short film, "Falling in Love in Pongo Ponga," which was commissioned by SKYY Vodka for its film festival in 2002.

In 2006, Woods returned to episodic television in a big way with the lead role in "Shark," a legal drama which allowed the acclaimed actor to tweak his screen persona and dig into meaty courtroom scenes. That same year, he also netted another Emmy nomination as a doctor suffering from an advanced case of ALS on "E.R." (NBC, 1990-2009) and proved himself an excellent sport by playing a hot-wired version of himself on "Entourage" (HBO, 2004- ). An avid poker player, Woods competed on several poker-related television programs, including "World Poker Tour" (Travel Channel, 2003-08; GSN, 2008- ) and "Celebrity Poker Showdown" (Bravo, 2003-06) alongside his brother, fellow actor Michael Jeffrey Woods. He routinely contributed his proceeds to the American Stroke Association. Sadly, Michael Woods died of a heart attack shortly after James finished 24th out of 692 players at a World Poker Tour event. The event rattled Woods deeply, and he spoke about it to newspapers while in production for "Shark." After his series left the airwaves, Woods kept busy with work in the Republican-centric satire "An American Carol" (2008), alongside fellow right-leaning actors Kelsey Grammar and Jon Voight. He later provided the voice of Owlman, the evil counterpart to Batman in the animated DVD feature "Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths" (2010). The following year, Woods portrayed former Lehman Brothers CEO Dick Fuld in "Too Big to Fail" (HBO, 2011), the Curtis Hanson-directed docudrama detailing the financial meltdown of 2008, a role that earned him an Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or Movie. He next appeared in writer-director Rod Lurie's remake of Sam Peckinpah's brutal tale of suppressed violence and sexual politics, "Straw Dogs" (2011).