Nationality: American. Born: Queens, New York, 26 March 1939. Education: Attended Rhodes High School, Manhattan; Michigan State University; Hofstra College, Long Island; studied acting with Wynn Handman of the Neighborhood Playhouse, New York. Family: Married 1) Dee Jay Mattis, 1961 (divorced 1966), daughter: Tara; 2) Sheila Ryan, 1976 (divorced 1977), son: the actor Scott Caan; 3) Ingrid Hajek, 1990 (divorced); also son: Alexander; 4) Linda Stokes, 1995, two sons: James and Jacob. Career: Began acting at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York City, 1960; made his film debut in an unbilled bit role in Wilder's Irma La Douce, 1963; appeared on Broadway in Mandingo and Blood, Sweat and Stanley Poole, early 1960s; gained public attention in the role of Brian Piccolo in the TV film Brian's Song, 1970; won critical acclaim for his role in The Godfather, 1972; made his directorial debut with Hide in Plain Sight, 1979. Award: Hollywood Film Festival Hollywood discovery Award for Outstanding Achievement in Acting, 1999. Address: 1435 Stone Canyon, Los Angeles, CA 90077, U.S.A.
Films as Actor:
Irma La Douce (Wilder) (bit)
Lady in a Cage (Grauman) (as Randall)
The Glory Guys (Laven) (as Pvt. Anthony Dugan); Red Line 7000 (Hawks) (as Mike Marsh)
El Dorado (Hawks) (as Alan "Mississippi" Bourdillon Traherne); Games (Harrington) (as Paul)
Countdown (Moonshot) (Altman) (as Lee); Journey to Shiloh (Hale) (as Buck Burnett); Submarine X-1 (Graham) (as Lt. Cmdr. Bolton)
The Rain People (Francis Ford Coppola) (as Jimmie "Killer" Kilgannon)
Rabbit, Run (Smight) (as Rabbit Angstrom); Brian's Song (Kulik—for TV) (as Brian Piccolo)
T. R. Baskin (Date with a Lonely Girl) (Ross) (as Larry Moore)
The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola) (as Sonny Corleone)
Slither (Zieff) (as Dick Kanipsia); Cinderella Liberty (Rydell) (as John Baggs Jr.)
Freebie and the Bean (Rush) (as Freebie); The Gambler (Reisz) (as Axel Freed); The Godfather, Part II (Francis Ford Coppola) (as Sonny Corleone)
Gone with the West (Man without Mercy; Bronco Busters; Little Moon and Jud McGraw) (Girard); Funny Lady (Ross) (as Billy Rose); Rollerball (Jewison) (as Jonathan E.); Killer Elite (Peckinpah) (as Mike Locken)
Harry and Walter Go to New York (Rydell) (as Harry Dighby); Silent Movie (Mel Brooks) (as himself)
A Bridge Too Far (Attenborough and Hayers) (as Sgt. Dohun); Un autre Homme, une autre Chance (Another Man, Another Chance; Another Man, Another Woman) (Lelouch) (as David Williams)
Comes a Horseman (Pakula) (as Frank)
Chapter Two (Moore) (as George Schneider)
Thief (Violent Streets) (Michael Mann) (as Frank); Les Uns et les autres (Bolero; Within Memory) (Lelouch) (as Glenn Sr./Glenn Jr.)
Kiss Me Goodbye (Mulligan) (as Jolly Villano)
Gardens of Stone (Francis Ford Coppola) (as Sgt. Clell Hazard)
Alien Nation (Outer Heat) (Baker) (as Matthew Sykes)
Misery (Rob Reiner) (as Paul Sheldon); Dick Tracy (Beatty) (as Spaldoni)
For the Boys (Rydell) (as Eddie Sparks); The Dark Backward (Rifkin) (as Dr. Scurvy)
Honeymoon in Vegas (Andrew Bergman) (as Tommy Korman)
The Program (Ward) (as Coach Sam Winters); Flesh and Bone (Kloves) (as Roy Sweeney); Earth and the American Dream (Couturie—doc) (as voice)
A Boy Called Hate (Marcus); Tashunga (Grand nord; North Star) (Gaup) (as Sean McLennon)
Bottle Rocket (Wes Anderson) (as Mr. Henry); Bulletproof (Dickerson) (as Frank Colton); Eraser (Chuck Russell) (as Robert Deguerin)
This Is My Father (Quinn) (as Kieran Johnson); Poodle Springs (Rafelson—for TV) (as Philip Marlowe)
Mickey Blue Eyes (Makin) (as Frank Vitale)
The Yards (Gray) (as Frank Olchin); Luckytown Blues (Nicholas) (as Charlie Doyles); Viva Las Nowhere (Bloom) (as Roy); The Warden (Gyllenhall—for TV) (as John Flinders); Way of the Gun (McQuarrie); In the Boom Boom Room (Kopple)
Night at the Golden Eagle (Rifkin); In the Shadows (Waugh)
Film as Director:
Hide in Plain Sight (+ ro as Thomas Hacklin)
By CAAN: articles—
"James Caan: His Godfather's Son," interview with R. Feiden, in Inter/View (New York), May 1972.
"James Caan: Off Set," interview with V. Fremont, in Interview (New York), January 1974.
Interview in Photoplay (London), October 1982.
On CAAN: books—
Zuckerman, Ira, The Godfather Journal, New York, 1972.
Puzo, Mario, The Making of the Godfather, Greenwich, Connecticut, 1973.
On CAAN: articles—
McGillivray, D., "James Caan," in Focus on Film (London), Autumn 1972.
Current Biography 1976, New York, 1976.
Ciné Revue (Paris), 23 April 1981, and 24 March 1983.
Weinraub, Bernard, "James Caan Rises from the Ashes of His Career," in New York Times, 17 November 1991.
Reinert, Al, "Raising Caan," in Premiere (New York), December 1991.
Rebello, S., "The Ultimate Caan Game," in Movieline, October 1993.
Allen, T., "Tough guys dance," in Esquire (New York), May 1998.
* * *
Back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, James Caan was one of the most promising and interesting young actors in Hollywood. Clearly, he was multitalented. As the young punk who terrorizes Olivia de Havilland in Lady in a Cage, his first featured movie role, he showcased his skill at playing a sadistic thug who could rattle your spine—an aspect of his range he would expand on less than a decade later as Sonny Corleone in The Godfather. He further demonstrated his talent, offering a likable, star-making performance in Howard Hawks's El Dorado. In his role as the young drifter Mississippi (aka Alan Bourdillon Traherne), Caan is showcased opposite John Wayne's hero-gunfighter Cole Thornton and Robert Mitchum's drunken sheriff J. P. Harrah. In this part, the young actor was able to put across macho and swagger while at the same time remaining likably boyish.
Caan added to his expanding reputation with a sensitive performance as the ill-fated pro football player Brian Piccolo opposite Billy Dee Williams's Gale Sayers in Brian's Song, one of the best-ever made-for-television movies. Another key (but often overlooked) early Caan performance which adds yet another dimension to his career came in The Rain People, the story of a pregnant housewife (Shirley Knight) who abandons her husband and commences a cross-country journey of self-discovery. Along the way, she picks up a deeply vulnerable, brain-damaged ex-college football player (Caan). The film is ahead of its time in its depiction of a woman struggling for an independent identity; while Knight is outstanding, Caan matches her with his deeply sensitive and keenly insightful performance in a role that easily might have defeated a less-talented actor.
The penultimate accomplishment of Caan's career remains Sonny Corleone: a performance that announced his arrival as one of his generation's major movie stars. Caan's acting is galvanizing, as he inhabits the role of the psychotic, trigger-happy heir to the Corleone throne, who (predictably but appropriately) meets a violent and bloody end. The film depicts organized crime as an extension of American capitalism; the Corleones essentially are a family of prosperous businessmen, a corporate entity whose powers understand all too well that ruthlessness and treachery are accepted means to success. Sonny, however, more than any other character, represents the true nature of the clan Corleone; he is a thug who is thoroughly remorseless in his out-of-control violence. If you so much as stare at Sonny Corleone, let alone attempt to defy him, he will challenge you, and then promptly blow you away. Sonny, as played by Caan, is the family enforcer, the reality behind the facade of respectability, in a business which relies on employing guns or fists instead of telephone calls or memos as a means of communication.
Since the release of The Godfather in 1972, Caan has, unfortunately, found it impossible to top himself. Unlike his Godfather co-star Al Pacino, he has not had great roles in memorable films; none of his subsequent work matches the overall quality of Serpico and Dog Day Afternoon, Pacino's Godfather follow-ups. And so Caan (who also lacks Pacino's Actors Studio pedigree) does not enjoy a reputation similar to Pacino as an actor's actor.
He has, however, done substantial work in a number of films, which have allowed him to display his range. He has played nice guys (the kindhearted sailor in Cinderella Liberty and the widowed writer in Chapter Two, both opposite Marsha Mason); a cerebral lawbreaker (the title character in Thief); a career soldier/war veteran who has come to oppose America's involvement in Vietnam, in Gardens of Stone (which, as The Rain People and The Godfather, was directed by Francis Ford Coppola); and, most memorably, the pitifully addicted college professor/title character in The Gambler. Caan also directed as well as starred in Hide in Plain Sight, playing a divorced man in search of his children. Chapter Two (at least on screen) is second-tier Neil Simon, while Gardens of Stone is a secondary Vietnam-related title. The Gambler is obscured by the similar California Split, which also came to movie theaters in 1974. And far too many of Caan's films simply have been third rate, if not outright disasters: Freebie and the Bean, Funny Lady, Rollerball, Killer Elite, Harry and Walter Go to New York, and Kiss Me Goodbye. In the case of Misery and For theBoys, he has been overshadowed by his co-star: Kathy Bates in the former, giving an Oscar-winning performance as a psycho fan opposite Caan's romance novelist; and Bette Midler in the latter, in an Oscar-nominated performance as a star singer opposite Caan's star comedian.
In his best later-career films—Misery and Honeymoon in Vegas, a romantic comedy in which he plays a professional gambler/con man—Caan has emerged as a solid character actor. Yet in Honeymoon in Vegas, he is not so much creating a character as playing off his Godfather persona. He further spoofs Sonny Corleone in Mickey Blue Eyes (another comedy, in which he is cast as a Mafia honcho) and Bulletproof (a Damon Wayans-Adam Sandler farce in which he plays a drug lord who removes his hairpiece prior to committing mayhem). In The Program, Caan may nicely underplay a college football coach, a character linked to his roles in Brian's Song and The Rain People. However, the film's failure is symbolic of the actor's plight. The Program is a Jekyll-and-Hyde football movie that celebrates on-field heroics while attempting to bare the destructiveness of the win-or-else sports mentality and the manner in which colleges exploit athletic recruits. While the scenario exudes a sense of outrage over college football program abuses, it also ends illogically, with the coach's team savoring a dramatic come-from-behind victory that salvages its season. Meanwhile, Caan's performance is lost amid the confusion.
The actor remains capable of playing characters as diverse as a cutthroat villain (without the comedy) in the Arnold Schwarzenegger actioner Eraser to a gloomy teacher who heads off to Ireland to explore his family history in This Is My Father. But for the most part, Caan remains a misused and too-often untapped talent.
"Caan, James." International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers. 2001. Encyclopedia.com. (May 30, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3406801600.html
"Caan, James." International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers. 2001. Retrieved May 30, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3406801600.html
Caan, James 1940(?)–(Jimmy Caan)
CAAN, James 1940(?)–
Born March 26, 1940 (some sources cite 1939), in Bronx, NY; son of Arthur (a meat dealer) and Sophie Caan; brother of Ronald "Ronnie" Caan (a producer); married DeeJay Mathis (a dancer), c. 1961 (divorced, 1966); married Sheila Ryan (a model and actress), 1976 (divorced, 1977); married Ingrid Hajek, September 9, 1990 (divorced, 1994); married Linda Stokes (some sources cite name as Linda O'Gara), October 7, 1995; children: (first marriage) Tara; (second marriage) Scott Andrew (an actor and musician); (third marriage) Alexander James; (fourth marriage) James Arthur, Jacob Nicholas. Education: Attended Michigan State University; studied drama at Hofstra College (now University); trained for the stage with Sanford Meisner at the Neighborhood Playhouse and with Wynn Handman. Religion: Jewish. Avocational Interests: Tennis, basketball, skiing, martial arts (holds black belt in karate).
Addresses: Agent— Endeavor, 9701 Wilshire Blvd., 10th Floor, Beverly Hills, CA 90212.
Career: Actor. Worked as a rodeo rider on the professional circuit for nine years; also worked as a waiter, bouncer, lifeguard, and camp counselor.
Awards, Honors: Golden Globe Award nomination, most promising male newcomer, 1966, for The Glory Guys; nomination for Golden Laurel Award, outstanding male new face, 1968; Emmy Award nomination, best actor in a single performance, 1972, for Brian's Song; Academy Award nomination and Golden Globe Award nomination, both best supporting actor, 1973, for The Godfather; Golden Globe Award nomination, best motion picture actor in a drama, 1975, for The Gambler; Golden Globe Award nomination, best motion picture actor in a musical or comedy, 1976, for Funny Lady; Golden Scroll, best actor, Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Films, 1976, for Rollerball; Hollywood Discovery Award, outstanding achievement in acting, Hollywood Film Festival, 1999; Video Premiere Award nomination, best supporting actor, 2001, for Luckytown; Lifetime Achievement Award, Florida Film Festival, 2003; received star on Hollywood Walk of Fame.
(Film debut; uncredited) Soldier with radio, Irma La Douce, United Artists, 1963.
Randall, Lady in a Cage, Paramount, 1964.
Mike Marsh, Red Line 7000, Paramount, 1965.
Private Anthony Dugan, The Glory Guys, United Artists, 1965.
Paul Montgomery, Games, Universal, 1967.
Alan Bourdillon "Mississippi" Traherne, El Dorado, Paramount, 1967.
Buck Burnett, Journey to Shiloh, Universal, 1968.
Lee Stegler, Countdown, Warner Bros., 1968.
Jimmie "Killer" Kilgannon, The Rain People, Warner Bros., 1969.
Lieutenant Commander John Bolton (some sources cite Commander Richard Bolton), Submarine X–1, United Artists, 1969.
Rabbit Angstrom, Rabbit, Run, Warner Bros., 1970.
Larry Moore, T. R. Baskin (also known as A Date with a Lonely Girl ), Paramount, 1971.
Sonny Corleone, The Godfather (also known as Mario Puzo's The Godfather ), Paramount, 1972.
Dick Kanipsia, Slither, Metro–Goldwyn–Mayer, 1973.
Sonny Corleone, The Godfather, Part II (also known as Mario Puzo's The Godfather, Part II ), Paramount, 1974.
Freebie, Freebie and the Bean, Warner Bros., 1974.
Alex Freed, The Gambler, 1974.
John Baggs, Jr., Cinderella Liberty, Twentieth Century–Fox, 1975.
Mike Locken, The Killer Elite, United Artists, 1975.
Jonathan E., Rollerball, United Artists, 1975.
Billy Rose, Funny Lady, Columbia, 1975.
Jud McGraw, Gone with the West (also known as Bronco Busters, Little Moon and Jud McGraw, and Man without Mercy ), 1975.
Himself, From Rome to Rollerball: The Full Circle, 1975.
Himself, Silent Movie, Twentieth Century–Fox, 1976.
Harry Dighby, Harry and Walter Go to New York, Columbia, 1976.
Staff Sergeant Eddie Dohun, A Bridge Too Far, United Artists, 1977.
David Williams, Un autre homme, une autre chance (also known as Another Man, Another Chance and Another Man, Another Woman ), United Artists, 1977.
Frank "Buck" Athearn, Comes a Horseman, United Artists, 1978.
George Schneider, Chapter Two, Columbia, 1979.
(Uncredited) Sailor in fight, 1941, Universal, 1979.
Thomas Hacklin, Jr., Hide in Plain Sight, Metro–Goldwyn–Mayer/United Artists, 1980.
Frank, Thief (also known as Violent Streets ), United Artists, 1981.
Jack Glenn and Jason Glenn, Bolero (also known as Within Memory and Les uns et les autres ), Double 13, 1982.
Jolly Villano, Kiss Me Goodbye, Twentieth Century–Fox, 1982.
Clell Hazard, Gardens of Stone, TriStar, 1988.
Detective Sergeant Matthew Sykes, Alien Nation, Twentieth Century–Fox, 1988.
Paul Sheldon, Misery, Columbia, 1990.
Spaldoni, Dick Tracy, Buena Vista, 1990.
Sonny Corleone (in archive footage), The Godfather: Part III (also known as Mario Puzo's The Godfather: Part III ), 1990.
Eddie Sparks, For the Boys, Twentieth–Century Fox, 1991.
Dr. Scurvy, The Dark Backward (also known as The Man with Three Arms ), RCA/Columbia Pictures Home Video, 1991.
Tommy Korman, Honeymoon in Vegas, Columbia, 1992.
Coach Sam Winters, The Program, Buena Vista, 1993.
Roy Sweeney, Flesh and Bone, Paramount, 1993.
Jim, A Boy Called Hate, Dove Entertainment, 1996.
Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead, 1996.
Abe Henry, Bottle Rocket, Columbia, 1996.
U.S. Marshal Robert Deguerin, Eraser, Warner Bros., 1996.
Frank Colton, Bulletproof, Universal, 1996.
Sean McLennon, North Star (also known as Alaska, Duello tra i ghiacci, Grand nord, and Tashunga ), Goldcrest Films International, 1996.
Howard Hawks, American Artist, 1997.
Kieran Johnson, This Is My Father (also known as L'histoire de mon pere ), Sony Pictures Classics, 1999.
Frank Vitale, Mickey Blue Eyes, Warner Bros., 1999.
Frank Olchin, The Yards, Miramax, 2000.
Charlie Doyles, Luckytown, A Plus Entertainment, 2000.
Joe Sarno, The Way of the Gun, Artisan Entertainment, 2000.
Roy Baker, Viva Las Nowhere (also known as Dead Simple ), Viva Las Nowhere Productions, 2001.
Lance Huston, In the Shadows, Lions Gate Films, 2001.
(Uncredited) Prison warden, Night at the Golden Eagle, Shangri–La Entertainment, 2002.
Marvin, City of Ghosts, Metro–Goldwyn–Mayer, 2002.
The big man, Dogville, Lions Gate Entertainment, 2003.
Walter, Dallas 362, Dallas & Rusty/Konwiser Brothers/Sunlion Films, 2003.
Jimmy "The Con," This Thing of Ours, Small Planet Pictures, 2003.
Leonard Grey, Jericho Mansions, Vine International, 2003.
Buddy's biological father, Elf, New Line Cinema, 2003.
William Larnach, Castle of Lies, First Sun/Parallel Castle Pictures, 2003.
Dogville Confessions (documentary), Trust Film Sales, 2003.
Director, Hide in Plain Sight, Metro–Goldwyn–Mayer/United Artists, 1980.
Television Appearances; Series:
Big Ed Deline, Las Vegas, NBC, beginning 2003.
Television Appearances; Movies:
Brian Piccolo, Brian's Song, ABC, 1971.
Philip Marlowe, Poodle Springs, HBO, 1998.
John Flinders, Warden of Red Rock, Showtime, 2001.
Captain Fred Moosally, A Glimpse of Hell, FX Channel, 2001.
Dr. William Haber, The Lathe of Heaven, Arts and Entertainment, 2002.
Sheriff Morgan McKenna, Blood Crime, USA Network, 2002.
Hearts of Men, USA Network, 2002.
Harry Dewitt, The Incredible Mrs. Ritchie, Showtime, 2003.
Television Appearances; Episodic:
(As Jimmy Caan) "Bullets Cost Too Much," Naked City, ABC, 1961.
Johnny, "And the Cat Jumped over the Moon," Route 66, CBS, 1961.
"The Masked Marine," Alcoa Premiere, ABC, 1962.
Keir Brannon, "A Fist of Five," The Untouchables, ABC, 1962.
Buddie Simpson, "A Cry from the Mountains," The Wide Country, NBC, 1963.
Charley Johnson, "The Mosaic," Dr. Kildare, NBC, 1963.
Dr. Keith Gregory, "Justice to a Microbe," Ben Casey, ABC, 1963.
Jim McKinney, "Deadly Decision," Death Valley Days, syndicated, 1963.
"Shadow of Violence," Death Valley Days, syndicated, 1963.
Sergeant Beckman, "Anatomy of a Patrol," Combat!, ABC, 1963.
Rick Peterson, "The Hunt," Kraft Suspense Theater, NBC, 1963.
"Glass Flowers Never Drop Petals," Breaking Point, ABC, 1964.
"My Son, the All American," Channing, ABC, 1964.
Jay Shaw, "Memo from Purgatory," Alfred Hitchcock Presents (also known as The Alfred Hitchcock Hour ), NBC, 1964.
Paul, "The Echo Pass Story," Wagon Train, ABC, 1965.
Eugene David "Gene" Holt, "A Life in the Balance," The F.B.I., ABC, 1969.
(Uncredited) Rotten Rupert of Rathskeller, "To Sire, with Love: Parts 1 & 2," Get Smart, 1969.
Guest, Rowan & Martin's Laugh–In, 1972.
Guest, Late Show with David Letterman, multiple appearances, 1994–2001.
Himself, "Movie Star," NewsRadio, NBC, 1996.
Himself, "Hollywood," Unzipped, 1999.
Guest, Dinner for Five, 2003.
Guest, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, 2003.
Also appeared in Inside the Actors Studio.
Television Appearances; Specials:
Rickles, CBS, 1975.
Himself and Billy Rose, Funny Girl to Funny Lady, 1975.
Celebration: The American Spirit, ABC, 1976.
Superstunt, NBC, 1977.
Playboy's 25th Anniversary Special, ABC, 1979.
Night of 100 Stars, ABC, 1982.
Kenny Rogers Classic Weekend, ABC, 1988.
All–Star Tribute to Kareem Abdul–Jabbar, NBC, 1989.
The Godfather Family: A Look Inside, HBO, 1990.
The AFI's 100 Years ... 100 Stars, CBS, 1991.
Voice, Earth and the American Dream, HBO, 1993.
Host, Harley–Davidson: The American Motorcycle, TBS, 1993.
The Making of a Mobster: "Mickey Blue Eyes, " 1999.
ESPY Awards, 2000.
Playboy: The Party Continues, 2000.
James Caan: Making a Scene, Arts and Entertainment, 2001.
Inside the Playboy Mansion, Arts and Entertainment, 2002.
Television Appearances; Miniseries:
Himself, "Naked Hollywood," A&E Premieres, Arts and Entertainment, 1991.
(Off–Broadway debut; as Jimmy Caan) The soldier, La Ronde, Theatre Marquee, 1960. (Broadway debut) Blood, Sweat, and Stanley Poole,
Morosco Theatre, 1961.
Mandingo, Lyceum Theatre, New York City, 1961.
Night of 100 Stars, Radio City Music Hall, New York City, 1982.
Don Rickles: Buy This Tape You Hockey Puck, 1975.
Dorothy Stratten: The Untold Story, 1985.
Santino "Sonny" Corelone, The Godfather Trilogy: 1901–1980 (also known as The Godfather Saga and The Godfather Trilogy ), 1992.
The Directors: Norman Jewison, 1997.
Come Get Some: The Women of the WWF, Silver Vision Video, 1999.
Entertainment Weekly, June 28, 1996, pp. 44–46, 48, 50.
Esquire, May, 1998, p. 82.
Parade, October 12, 2003, p. 14.
People Weekly, October 4, 1993, p. 53; July 8, 1996, p. 110.
Premiere, December, 1991, p. 79; October, 2000, p. 34.
Time, May 27, 2002, p. G10.
TV Guide, July 25, 1998, pp. 27–29; September 27, 2003, pp. 55–59.
James Caan: Making a Scene (television special), Arts and Entertainment, 2001.
"Caan, James 1940(?)–(Jimmy Caan)." Contemporary Theatre, Film and Television. 2004. Encyclopedia.com. (May 30, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3427700028.html
"Caan, James 1940(?)–(Jimmy Caan)." Contemporary Theatre, Film and Television. 2004. Retrieved May 30, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3427700028.html
Actress Marsha Thomason began her career in British television, and moved quickly into starring roles opposite such Hollywood heavyweights as Eddie Murphy and James Caan. In 2003 she began appearing in the NBC series Las Vegas, which starred her opposite Caan's Las Vegas casino-surveillance chief in what quickly became one of the breakout shows of the fall season. "When I started in the series I knew nothing about gambling," she told John Millar of Glasgow's Daily Record. "I did not even know how to shuffle a deck of cards. Now I can do some neat tricks."
Thomason was born in Manchester, England, on January 19, 1976. That same year, Bugsy Malone, a lighthearted Hollywood film about mobsters, was released. The musical by Alan Parker featured a roster of child stars, including a young Jodie Foster, portraying well-known 1930s underworld figures. Thomason has said she was fascinated by it. "I think my inspiration to become an actress is down to the film Bugsy Malone," she told Sally Morgan, a writer for the London newspaper the Mirror. "After I saw it, I used to invent plays and create a makeshift theatre, with sheets as curtains, in my bedroom. I bribed my little sister Kristy to appear in my productions, then made our parents watch."
At the age of twelve, Thomason's at-home stagings had gained her enough experience to win a place with the Oldham Theatre Workshop, a renowned children's ensemble in Lancashire. She appeared in a number of its plays and musicals, and took her first professional job at the age of 14 on a Saturday-morning children's show called The 8:15 from Manchester. Her breakout role came in 1993, when she was cast in a British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) television film, Safe, about a community of homeless people in London. A year later, she won a small role as a nurse in her first feature film, Priest.
After Thomason finished at the North Manchester High School For Girls, she went on to Manchester Metropolitan University, and earned her undergraduate degree in English there. She worked during her college years, winning an especially plum role opposite Helen Mirren in the critically acclaimed crime series, Prime Suspect. In 1997, she was cast in a regular role on a BBC comedy-crime drama, Pie in the Sky. It starred Richard Griffiths, who later went on to play Uncle Vernon in the Harry Potter films, as a top police detective whose boss refuses to let him retire to run his restaurant.
By 1998, Thomason had moved to London and was cast as Sharon "Shazza" Pearce in Playing the Field, a hit BBC series about a women's soccer team. As one of the Castlefield Blues, Thomason's Shazza was a loose cannon, prone to substance abuse. "It's a very physical part," she told Morgan in the Mirror interview. "In one scene I headbutt a player from a rival team and call her a fat cow." Thomason worked overtime during these years, having taken a part on another British television series, Where the Heart Is.
Thomason's first attempt to tackle an American accent in her work came when she played a prostitute in a West End theater production of Breath Boom at the Royal Court Theatre. That experience came in handy when she was cast alongside Martin Lawrence in the hit 2001 comedy film Black Knight. Lawrence played a hapless medieval theme-park employee who time-travels back into the past. Thomason was cast as Victoria, a chambermaid in the royal court with some unusually modern ideas.
Thomason made two more British films, Long Time Dead, a 2002 horror tale that also featured Lukas Haas and Alec Newman, and Pure, another work released that year in which she once again played a prostitute. This time, she was a heroin addict as well. Hollywood offered her a more sedate role as Eddie Murphy's on-screen wife in The Haunted Mansion, a horror tale from 2003. The story was based on one of the venerable attractions at the Disney theme parks, much as the "Pirates of the Caribbean" ride had been turned into a successful big-screen story earlier that year. Thomason played the wife of Murphy's workaholic real-estate agent, and is trapped in the eerie manor with her husband and children when the ghost who haunts it believes she is a long-lost lover. Though it was her second big-budget Hollywood feature, she was still nervous, she told Millar in the Daily Record interview. "The first day was bizarre. I felt a bit intimidated because I was doing my American accent," she recalled, and "was terrified that they would think I was rubbish and sack me."
By the time The Haunted Mansion was released—to generally dismal reviews—Thomason had already made her American network series debut in Las Vegas. The NBC drama starred a top-notch ensemble cast that included the veteran actor Caan as a former Central Intelligence Agency operative who serves as head of security at a casino. Thomason sported a glamorous wardrobe for her role as Nessa Holt, the pit boss who keeps an eye on the tables and their gamblers on the casino floor while intrigues roil behind the scenes. The series was filmed at the Mandalay Bay casino, and Thomason told one journalist that the hardest part of the job was the standard "whoosh" shot in each episode, when the camera sweeps through the casino floor. "Every single person has to freeze and hold for a while, for a minute, and then, action," she told the Washington Times 's Christian Toto, and said that she and her castmates dreaded being the one who made a mistake and forced another take.
Thomason also appeared in My Baby's Daddy, released in early 2004, and The Nickel Children, a film about a child prostitution ring. She remains in awe of the differences between British and American television and film sets. "Here, there are so many more people involved in the shows," she told Toto. "Even the sound stages and sets dwarf their British counterparts."
Black Knight, 2001.
Long Time Dead, 2002.
The Haunted Mansion, 2003.
My Baby's Daddy, 2003.
The Nickel Children, 2004.
Breath Boom, 2000.
At a Glance …
Born on January 19, 1976, in Manchester, England; daughter of Peter (a city council employee) and Phyllis (an electronics company employee) Thomason. Education: Manchester Metropolitan University, BA in English, c. 1999.
Career: Actor, 1988–; Oldham Theatre Workshop, Lancashire, England, actor, c. 1988.
Addresses: Office —NBC Universal, 100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City, CA 91608.
The 8:15 from Manchester, 1990.
Playing the Field, 1998.
Where the Heart Is, 1998.
Las Vegas, 2003.
Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland), February 13, 2004.
Entertainment Weekly, December 5, 2003, p. 25.
Essence, December 2003, p. 146.
Huddersfield Daily Examiner (Huddersfield, England), July 10, 2004, p. 33.
Jet, December 10, 2001, p. 57.
Mirror (London), April 18, 1998, p. 20.
People, October 20, 2003, p. 41; December 8, 2003, p. 34.
People (London), February 6, 2000, p. 28.
Washington Times, November 10, 2003, p. B6.
Brennan, Carol. "Thomason, Marsha." Contemporary Black Biography. 2005. Encyclopedia.com. (May 30, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3431300053.html
Brennan, Carol. "Thomason, Marsha." Contemporary Black Biography. 2005. Retrieved May 30, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3431300053.html