Nationality: American. Born: James Howard Woods in Vernal, Utah, 18 April 1947. Education: Attended Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1966–69. Family: Married 1) Kathryn Greko, 1980 (divorced 1983); 2) Sarah Owen, 1989 (divorced 1990). Career: 1970—Broadway debut in The Borstal Boy; 1971—TV movie debut in All the Way Home; 1972—feature film debut in The Visitors; 1978—in TV mini-series Holocaust; 1993—in TV series Fallen Angels. Awards: Obie, Derwent, and Theatre World awards, for Saved, 1971; Emmy Award, for Promise, 1986. Agent: Toni Howard, ICM, 8942 Wilshire Boulevard, Beverly Hills, CA 90211, U.S.A.
Films as Actor:
All the Way Home (Coe—for TV) (as Andrew)
The Visitors (Kazan) (as Bill Schmidt); Hickey and Boggs (Culp) (as Lt. Wyatt); Footsteps (Nice Guys Finish Last) (Wendkos—for TV) (as reporter); A Great American Tragedy (J. Lee Thompson—for TV) (as Rick)
The Way We Were (Pollack) (as Frankie McVeigh)
The Gambler (Reisz) (as bank officer)
Distance (Lover) (as Larry); Night Moves (Arthur Penn) (as Quentin); Foster and Laurie (Moxey—for TV) (as the addict)
Alex and the Gypsy (Love and Other Crimes) (Korty) (as Crainpool); F. Scott Fitzgerald in Hollywood (Anthony Page—for TV) (as Lenny Schoenfeld); The Disappearance of Aimee (Anthony Harvey—for TV) (as Joseph Ryan)
The Choirboys (Aldrich) (as Harold Bloomgard); Raid on Entebbe (Kershner—for TV) (as Capt. Sammy Berg)
The Gift of Love (Chaffey—for TV) (as Alfred Browning)
The Onion Field (Becker) (as Gregory Powell); And Your Name Is Jonah (Richard Michaels—for TV) (as Danny Corelli); The Incredible Journey of Doctor Meg Laurel (Guy Green—for TV) (as the Sin Eater)
The Black Marble (Becker) (as Fiddler)
Eyewitness (The Janitor) (Yates) (as Aldo Mercer)
Fast-Walking (James B. Harris) (as Fast-Walking Miniver); Split Image (Kotcheff) (as Charles Pratt)
Videodrome (Cronenberg) (as Max Renn)
Against All Odds (Hackford) (as Jake Wise); Once upon a Time in America (Leone) (as Max)
Cat's Eye (Teague) (as Morrison); Joshua Then and Now (Kotcheff) (as Joshua Shapiro); Badge of the Assassin (Damski—for TV) (as Robert K. Tannenbaum)
Salvador (Oliver Stone) (as Richard Boyle); Promise (Glenn Jordan—for TV) (as D. J.)
Best Seller (John Flynn) (as Cleve); In Love and War (Paul Aaron—for TV) (as Jim Stockdale)
Cop (James B. Harris) (as Lloyd Hopkins, + co-pr); The Boost (Becker) (as Lenny Brown)
True Believer (Ruben) (as Eddie Dodd); Immediate Family (Parental Guidance) (Kaplan) (as Michael Spector); My Name Is Bill W. (Petrie—for TV) (as Bill Wilson)
Women and Men: Stories of Seduction (Tony Richardson—for TV) (as Robert)
The Hard Way (Badham) (as John Moss); The Boys (Glenn Jordan—for TV) (as Walter Farmer)
Straight Talk (Kellman) (as Jack Russell); Diggstown (Midnight Sting) (Ritchie) (as Gabriel Caine); Chaplin (Attenborough) (as Lawyer Scott); Citizen Cohn (Pierson—for TV) (title role)
The Getaway (Donaldson) (as Jack Benyon); The Specialist (Llosa) (as Ned Trent); Jane's House (Glenn Jordan—for TV) (as Paul Clark); Next Door (Tony Bill—for TV) (as Matt Coler)
Casino (Scorcese) (as Lester Diamond); Nixon (Oliver Stone) (as H. R. "Bob" Haldeman); Indictment: The McMartin Trial (Mick Jackson—for TV) (as Daniel Davis); Curse of the Starving Class (McClary—for TV) (as Weston Tate)
For Better or Worse (Jason Alexander) (as James); The Killer (Metcalfe) (as Carl Panzram); The Summer of Ben Tyler (Seidelman—for TV) (as Temple Rayburn)
Hercules (as voice of Hades, Lord of the Dead); Kicked in the Head (Harrison) (as Uncle Sam); Contact (Zemeckis) (as Michael Kitz)
America's Endangered Species: Don't Say Good-bye (Kenner—doc for TV) (as Narrator); Hercules (series for TV) (as Hades, Lord of the Underworld); Another Day in Paradise (Clark—as pr) (as Mel)
Hercules: Zero to Hero (as voice of Hades, Lord of the Dead); True Crime (Eastwood) (as Alan Mann); The Virgin Suicides (Sofia Coppola) (as Mr. Lisbon); The General's Daughter (West) (as Col. Robert Moore); Any Given Sunday (Stone) (as Dr. Harvey Mandrake)
Dirty Pictures (Pierson—for TV) (as Dennis)
By WOODS: articles—
Interview with C. Dreifus, in Playboy (Chicago), April 1982.
Interview in Cinefantastique (Forest Park, Illinois), 1983–84.
"On Woods' Edge," interview with Kenneth Turan and Aaron Rapoport, in Interview (New York), February 1989.
"Guilty Pleasures," in Film Comment (New York), April-May 1991.
Interview with Michael Musto, in Interview (New York), August 1992.
"James Woods: The Actor As Terrorist,' an interview with Gavin Smith, in Film Comment (New York), January-February 1997.
On WOODS: articles—
Meley, D., "The Voice of Experience," in Screen Actor (Los Angeles), 1981.
Bauer, J., "James Woods," in Ciné Revue (Brussels), 11 August 1983.
Seberechts, K., "Once upon a Time in America," in Film en Televisie (Brussels), September 1984.
McGillivray, D., "James Woods: Bio-Filmography," in Films and Filming (London), February 1985.
Danvers, L., "James Woods," in Visions (Brussels), Summer 1985.
Shewey, Don, Caught in the Act: New York Actors Face to Face, New York, 1986.
Farber, S., "James Woods: More Than a Villain," in New York Times, 7 December 1986.
Crawley, T., "Weasels and Scumbags," in Photoplay: Movies & Video (London), February 1987.
Babitz, E., "Out of the Woods," in American Film (Farmingdale, New York), May 1987.
Denby, D., "Rear Window: James Woods Demands More," in Premiere (New York), November 1987.
Immergut, S. J., filmography in Premiere (New York), November 1987.
Mayer, M., "James Woods," in Film und Fernsehen (Pottsdam, Germany), 1988.
"James Woods ou les regards de L'indicible," in Revue du Cinéma (Paris), September 1988.
Current Biography 1989, New York, 1989.
Borns, Betsy, "Arresting Appeal: Partners vs. Crime," in Harper's Bazaar (New York), February 1989.
Woodward, Richard B., "Fighting His Way to the Top," in New York Times, 20 April 1989.
Muse, V., "Wild Woods," in Life (New York), December 1989.
"James Woods: He's Brash, Always Unpredictable, but He's Not Psychotic. Is He?," in American Film (Los Angeles), May 1990.
Seberechts, K., "Woods in Mineur," in Film en Televisie (Brussels), April 1991.
Maude, C., "Hard Woods," in Time Out (London), 1 May 1991.
"Open Challenge to Woods," in Movieline (Escondido, California), September 1991.
Parish, James Robert, and Don Stanke, Hollywood Baby Boomers, New York, 1992.
Szymanski, Michael, "James Woods Is Roy Cohn," in Advocate (Los Angeles), 8 September 1992.
Rebello, S., "Out of the Woods?" in Movieline (Escondido), November 1994.
Clark, J., "Into the Woods," in Premiere (Boulder), March 1997.
Eby, D., "James Woods," in Cinefantastique (Forest Park), vol. 29, no. 2, 1997.
* * *
Hyper live-wire James Woods understandably grew weary of being typecast as the scum of the earth. What is less comprehensible is his professed desire to be perceived as a conventional leading man when bland emoting in a high-toned soaper such as Immediate Family or a fizzless comedy such as Straight Talk reveals this actor at his most forgettable. (Did Jack Nicholson ever lose any sleep wishing that he could be George Peppard?) If the movies have never treated the unhandsome Woods like a star, television has proven liberating for the outspoken actor who varies backup work in high-profile prestige such as Casino and Nixon with superb delineations of more complex roles in television fare such as Indictment: The McMartin Trial, Citizen Cohn, and The Boys.
Leaving academic pursuits behind (after an injury to his right arm ended his dream of a career in medicine), Woods threw himself into the hard-knocks school of theatrical ventures. By the time he was taking bows off and on Broadway (even fooling the producers of The Borstal Boy into believing he was actually from Liverpool), the edgy actor felt frustrated by his opportunities and began concertedly studying film acting, self-taught by viewing movies. Putting his research to work with a master, Elia Kazan, in that veteran's little-seen independent film, The Visitors, Woods worked his way up the television movie ranks, always drawing the discerning viewer's eye no matter how small or narrowly conceived the role. After standing out in the glittering ensemble of the mini-series Holocaust (as a Jewish victim married to shiksa Meryl Streep), Woods nailed down his big screen breakthrough in The Onion Field. As a coldblooded cop killer who torments his surviving victim by turning jailhouse lawyer, Woods made audiences' skin crawl. Not since Richard Widmark pushed that wheelchair-bound old lady down the stairs in Kiss of Death had a villain caused such a sensation; Woods's portrayal of evil incarnate could have been lifted from a documentary on an actual avocational murderer.
Frustrated when The Onion Field did not open Hollywood's eyes to his unconventional screen power, Woods drifted back into supporting roles that he seemed to color with his own inner rage. What set his rogues gallery apart from the lowlifes of previous eras was boundless enterprise and brain power. Not descendants from Crimeland's primordial slime, Woods's bad boys celebrate their outmaneuvering of the gullible with arias of vitriol. No matter how full of self-loathing his wheeler-dealers in Against All Odds or Once upon a Time in America may be, the full force of their venom is reserved for others. Offscreen, Woods never concerned himself with campaigns to win friends and influence people, but filmmakers found his presence so violently original that he continued chalking up triumphs despite his knack for overassertiveness. In the underappreciated Faustian black comedy thriller, Best Seller, Woods was sublimely unrepentant as a cocky criminal in the mood for memoirs. An unexpected bid for a best actor Oscar for Salvador was both a tribute to his performance and to his reputation as an actor's actor. After this staggeringly acute interpretation of a nihilist redeemed in spite of himself, Woods started getting antihero roles informed by character flaws rather than working malice. If Salvador did not propel him to the front rank of film stars, it not only may be due to the limitations of an offbeat persona but also be the result of a risk-taking approach that sometimes sends him so far over the top he parodies himself. If The Hard Way is merely a misguided star vehicle ambushed by Woods's pushiness, his unleavened intensity transforms the anticocaine diatribe, The Boost, into a Reefer Madness for the 1980s.
Surviving the bad press hovering around his post-Boost personal life (a real life "fatal attraction" affair with co-star Sean Young), Woods has found his metier in television even if he yearns for the heady air breathed by De Niro and Pacino on the silver screen. (Actually, Woods's television work has been more perceptive and fully realized than anything those two icons have done since their heyday.) Whether crystallizing the terrifying self-awareness of a schizophrenic in Promise or chronicling the self-destructive binges of the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous in My Name Is Bill W., Woods never distances himself from imperfections in the characters he tackles. Imposing that trademark Woodsian fury on his roles, he still differentiates between a tortured prisoner of war in In Love and War and a cynical lawyer-for-sale who reclaims his soul by fearlessly defending the McMartin family on trumped-up child molestation charges in Indictment.
As with other character actors turned stars by force of talent (Robert Duvall, Gene Hackman), Woods feeds off a gift for quickly penetrating details, a craft one can only refine through years of labor in the salt mines of small roles. His towering achievement as the tarnished legal savior in Indictment is matched if not surpassed by his spin on the sleazebag role of a lifetime, Citizen Cohn's Roy Cohn, a legendary opportunist whose closeted sexuality and hypocritical backstabbing assume Shakespearean dimensions in Woods's hands. Tellingly, this dynamic actor makes Cohn's diabolical evil not comprehensible but believable. Just as his monster-men never reveal their true faces until they are at their victims' throats, Woods's antiheroes often get the better of their antagonists with ass-kissing trickery and guile, only this time in the service of a good cause. Having been cinema's specialist in criminal behavior, Woods is now an expert in suggesting how conflicted characters struggle to patch up the fault lines in their personalities. If he continues working at his present level of excellence, Woods will end up being acknowledged as an acting genius.