Corbett, John

views updated

John Corbett


Born May 9, 1962 (some sources say 1961), in Wheeling, WV. Education: Attended cosmetology school and Cerritos Community College.


Agent—Creative Artists Agency, 9830 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90212. Home—Seattle, WA, and Los Angeles, CA.


Worked as a welder and pipe–fitter in a steel factory for six years in the 1980s; briefly worked as a hairdresser before landing first professional acting job in a television commercial. Television appearances include: The Wonder Years, ABC, 1988; Northern Exposure, CBS, 1990–95; Web of Life (documentary; voice), PBS, 1995; Duckman (voice), 1996; Innocent Victims (movie), 1996; Don't Look Back (movie), 1996; The Morrison Murders (movie), 1996; The Visitor, FOX, 1997–98; Warlord: The Battle for the Galaxy (movie), 1998; The Sky's On Fire (movie), 1998; To Serve and Protect (miniseries), 1999; The Love Chronicles, 1999; Sex and the City, HBO, 2000–02; On Hostile Ground (movie), 2000; Rocky Times (movie), 2000; Private Lies (movie), 2000; The Chris Isaak Show, 2002; The Griffin and the Minor Canon (voice), 2002; Lucky, FX, mid–2003. Film appearances include: Flight of the Intruder, 1991; Tombstone, 1993; Wedding Bell Blues, 1996; Volcano, 1997; Desperate but Not Serious, 1999; Dinner Rush, 2000; Serendipity, 2001; Prancer Returns, 2001; My Big Fat Greek Wedding, 2002; My Dinner with Jimi, 2003; Raising Helen, 2004.


Actor John Corbett ventured into new on–screen territory in 2003 when he appeared in the FX Channel series Lucky. Eternally cast as the romantic male lead in properties ranging from the slightly risqué HBO series Sex and the City to the feel–good romantic comedy hit of 2002, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Corbett possesses a mellifluous voice and mellow demeanor that translates well on screens both large and small. His title role in the comic–noir FX series was a departure from what Arizona Republic writer Kathy Cano–Murillo termed his "knack for portraying rugged, handsome boyfriends who aren't afraid to show their sensitive sides," because Michael "Lucky" Linkletter was a disastrously unlucky compulsive gambler. Though critics found the series and Corbett's role intriguing, Lucky failed to find an audience and was cancelled after a three–month run.

Born in the early 1960s, Corbett grew up in Wheeling, West Virginia. He moved to California after he finished high school, and worked in a steel factory for six years as a welder and pipe–fitter. When a back injury compelled him to find another career, he decided to try acting, but enrolled in cosmetology school as a back–up plan while taking drama classes at Cerritos Community College. A week after graduating from the hairdressing program, Corbett landed his first television commercial. Other roles arrived soon afterward: he appeared in an episode of The Wonder Years, ABC's sentimental retro comedy that was a strong ratings–winner in the late 1980s, and made his feature–film debut in Flight of the Intruder, a 1991 Paramount wartime drama that cast him alongside Danny Glover and Willem Dafoe.

By then, however, Corbett had already won a somewhat nonconformist role on a quirky new series on CBS called Northern Exposure. The show debuted in July of 1990 and quickly caught on with viewers and critics alike for its erudite humor and eccentric but likable characters. Corbett played Christopher Danforth Stevens, a.k.a. "Chris in the Morning," the local DJ on the sole radio station in a fictional Alaskan town called Cicely. Will Lee, writing in Entertainment Weekly, described the show as "something of a misfit. Neither comedy nor drama, both high-brow and homespun, and teeming with eccentric characters … [the show] nonetheless proved to be a bracingly cool frontier–scented breeze in the dead of summer."

Northern Exposure's lead, an unknown actor named Rob Morrow, led the cast as Dr. Joel Fleischman, an ardent New Yorker and recently minted physician who must live and practice in the town to satisfy a medical–school scholarship agreement. "Corbett played a kind of wise space cadet," noted Buffalo News writer Jeff Simon, "always on hand to shepherd the perennially uptight hero through the more notable Alaskan eccentricities." As Chris, Corbett spun a compelling mix of music mixed in with his arch philosophical musings, and another dimension was added to his character when it was revealed he was on the lam from West Virginia parole authorities and had served time in prison for grand theft auto. During its first few seasons, the show won both high ratings and Emmy awards, but Morrow departed and the show came to an end a few months later in 1995.

Corbett's co–star Morrow, and an attractive pilot played by Janine Turner, were hailed as Northern Exposure's breakout stars, but both went on to feature–film careers that sputtered. During the show's successful run, the press hype was intense for a time, but Corbett eventually stopped giving interviews. As he recalled later, "it became less and less about what I was doing with my life everyday, which was acting, and more about what kind of press I could get or what magazine cover or what talk show I could get on," he told Los Angeles Times journalist Jon Matsumoto.

After Northern Exposure ended, the roles dwindled for Corbett for a time. He made Wedding Bell Blues, an ill–fated matrimony comedy, and the blockbuster Volcano in 1997 before landing back on the small screen with a Fox Network science–fiction series/ X–Files copycat called The Visitor. Corbett starred as a 1940s American military pilot who disappeared over the Bermuda Triangle, and returns to the present day with paranormal powers. The show lasted just a season, however, and Corbett supplemented his film work with a three–year stint as a spokesperson for the Ford Motor Company.

Corbett was back in West Virginia on a visit when producers for the smash HBO series Sex and the City tracked him down. "I hadn't worked in years," Corbett told Houston Chronicle writer Mike McDaniel, "and they go, 'You want to be Sarah Parker's boyfriend for a couple of seasons?' And I said, 'I don't know, send me some tapes and let me see it.'" He agreed to take the role, and debuted in the third season as nice–guy furniture designer Aidan Shaw, the new love interest for Sarah Jessica Parker's Carrie Bradshaw character. They fall in love, she even quits smoking for him, and the show's fans "swooned at his lazy, good–natured sensuality," wrote New York Times critic A.J. Frutkin. Then Carrie dallies with her elusive ex, Mr. Big (Chris Noth), and just before the lavish wedding of Carrie's friend, Charlotte, she confesses her transgression to Aidan; he breaks up with her outside the church.

Corbett had only been signed for one season, but ardent Sex and the City fans inundated HBO's offices with letters pleading with the show's producers and writers to reunite Carrie with Aidan. He agreed to come back, and in the fourth season Carrie woos a newly buff and short–haired Aidan back. Corbett admitted he didn't lose that much weight for the on–screen transformation, he told Frutkin in the New York Times. He claimed the haircut tricked the eye, as did "sucking my stomach in when they said 'Action,'" he said. "That goes a long way." His character departed the show for good in a January of 2002 episode in which he nearly succeeds in evicting Carrie from her apartment after a disastrous broken engagement.

Returning to the big screen, Corbett had a small but comic role in the John Cusack/Kate Beckinsale romantic comedy Serendipity in 2001. He played Beckinsale's overly earnest, moderately famous musician boyfriend, Lars. Corbett told the Arizona Republic's Cano–Murillo that the film's writing team "let me improvise; like, I got to pick out my own clothes and my instrument. I picked the Shanai. It's an Indian instrument. They tame the cobras with it." He and the cast headed to Toronto—a common stand–in for New York City in the entertainment industry—to shoot some of the movie's final scenes, and it was in a hotel bar that a genuinely serendipitous moment for Corbett's career occurred: he had been sent a quirky script for a small independent film about a Greek–American woman and her romance outside "the clan." Corbett was interested in playing the male lead, but the producers did not return his agent's call. At the Toronto hotel bar Corbett was telling someone, "'I've just read this great script called My Big Fat Greek Wedding, '" as he recalled in an interview with the Birmingham Post's Alison Jones. Little did he know that Nia Vardalos, who wrote the script based on her one–woman stage play My Big Fat Greek Wedding, and the producer were standing nearby and overheard. "Nia said, 'You're talking about my script. I wrote that,'" Corbett told Jones. "She had seen me come in and knew that I was the guy. I swear to God ten minutes later I was offered the role, just like that."

My Big Fat Greek Wedding, released in the spring of 2002, turned out to be the surprise indie hit of the year and ended its successful run as the highest–grossing romantic comedy in box–office history. Vardalos played 30–ish Toula Portokalos, single and perennially unlucky in love. She works at her parents' Greek–cuisine restaurant, Dancing Zorba's, where she meets Ian Miller, a handsome teacher played by Corbett. Her fiercely nationalist family objects to the romance, and the conflict makes up the balance of the plot and ends on a predictably happy note. The movie, shot on a budget, wound up earning $30 million at the box office, and even spawned a spin–off television series.

Corbett, however, was unavailable for the television version of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, having already committed to FX's Lucky. Though he had been wary about taking on another television series after Sex and the City, fate intervened once again to guide his career. He was sent the Lucky script by an FX executive, and threw it away. "And it literally bounced back," Houston Chronicle writer Clifford Pugh quoted Corbett as saying. "I tried to throw it in again and it landed on top of the trash can, flat. And so I set it back up on the desk and I read it the next day."

The show's premise—that of a compulsive gambler trying to stay out of trouble while living in Las Vegas—appealed to Corbett as a way to break out of the "sensitive boyfriend" typecasting. "I never was asked to play a moody or darker role," the actor told Frutkin in the New York Times. "So I started to believe I wasn't right for them." The pilot episode kicked off with his character, Michael "Lucky" Linkletter, winning $1 million in a Las Vegas poker championship; in a flash–forward to several months later, he has lost it all, including his new bride. Now a used–car salesperson and Gamblers' Anonymous member, Linkletter needs to come up with a few thousand dollars to pay for his wife's funeral expenses. "Corbett is so likable," series co–creator Mark Cullen told the Houston Chronicle's Pugh, "that even when he's not a great guy, you'll still follow him."

Lucky earned good reviews for its April of 2003 debut, and an Emmy nomination made it the first ever for a comedy series that aired on a basic cable channel. "Corbett is excellent as the eternally conflicted Lucky, torn between his compulsion to gamble and desire to make something of his life," declared Hollywood Reporter reviewer Barry Garron, who called Lucky "a daring and darkly humorous show spiced with wonderfully eccentric characters." Alan Sepinwall, writing in the Star–Ledger of Newark, New Jersey, claimed the actor delivered "the funniest, loosest, and most confident performance of his life," and commended him for passing on the Greek Wedding television series whose cast must "mug their way through terrible punchlines." In Lucky, Sepinwall wrote, "Corbett has a vehicle that taps deep into the well of his laid–back charisma while showing more depth and comic talent than he ever has before."

But ratings for the series slipped as the weeks passed, and FX executives cancelled its run in early August. Never unemployed for too long, Corbett had already lined up parts in My Dinner with Jimi, a tale of 1960s–era rock–star life, Raising Helen, a Kate Hudson comedy, and Elvis Has Left the Building. He maintains homes in Seattle and Los Angeles, and has never been married—though he has been romantically linked with the original Sex and the City columnist and author Candace Bushnell, and actresses Brittany Daniel and Bo Derek. His ability to shine on screen as the ideal male mate is a credit to his acting abilities, for he claims to be ardently single. "I'm not monogamous at all," he told Independent Sunday's Tiffany Rose, and said that is why he is not married: "I don't want to be a guy who cheats on his wife." Rose asked him if he might still be a welder or hairdresser had stardom not happened for him. "Acting is not my life," he told the Independent Sunday journalist. "It's just something I do because I like it. I'm sure I would have found something else that I would have enjoyed doing. I'm a blue–collar worker at heart. If I wasn't in front of the camera, I would probably be an electrician."



Contemporary Theatre, Film and Television, volume 32, Gale Group, 2000.


Arizona Republic, October 11, 2001, p. 8.

Atlanta Journal–Constitution, May 9, 2002, p. E1.

Birmingham Post (Birmingham, England), September 21, 2002, p. 4.

Boston Herald, July 24, 2002, p. 51.

Buffalo News, August 8, 1999; April 20, 2003.

Cosmopolitan, July 2002, p. 39.

Entertainment Weekly, October 23, 1992, p. 64; July 9, 1999, p. 88; April 11, 2003, p. 65.

Guardian (London, England), September 20, 2002, p. 13.

Hollywood Reporter, April 7, 2003, p. 9.

Houston Chronicle, May 18, 2002, p. 9; April 6, 2003, p. 10.

Independent Sunday (London, England), February 3, 2002, p. 3.

Los Angeles Times, September 14, 1997, p. 5.

New York Times, April 6, 2003, p. 31; April 8, 2003, p. E1.

People, December 2, 2002, pp. 84–85.

Seattle Times, January 21, 1996, p. 2.

Star–Ledger (Newark, NJ), April 8, 2003, p. 71.

Variety, September 29, 1997, p. 38.

WWD, October 2, 2001, p. 16.


More From