Oscar Actors: Woods, James–Background, Career, Awards

Updated July 13, 2020
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ames Howard Woods (born April 18, 1947) is an American actor and producer, who is known for his work in theater, television, and film. He started his career in small roles on and off-Broadway. In 1972 he appeared in The Trial of the Catonsville Nine alongside Sam Waterston and Michael Moriarty on Broadway.[2] In 1972 he won the Theatre World Award, for his performance in Moonchildren. In 1978, Woods made his television breakthrough alongside Meryl Streep playing her husband in the critically acclaimed four part miniseries Holocaust. The series went on the receive the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Limited Series. In 1972, Woods made his film debut in Elia Kazan’s The Visitors and continued to act on film in supporting roles in Sydney Pollack’s The Way We Were (1973), and Arthur Penn’s Night Moves (1975).

In 1979, Woods gained acclaim for his leading role as Gregory Powell in the crime thriller The Onion Field. Critic Roger Ebert praised Woods in the film calling him “a special talent”[3], and Woods received a Golden Globe Award nomination for his performance. Through the 1980s Woods appeared in films such as David Cronenberg’s Videodrome (1983), Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America (1984), and Oliver Stone’s Salvador (1986), for which he received his first Academy Award nomination.[4] Through the 1990’s he played character roles in Richard Attenborough’s Chaplin (1992), Martin Scorsese’s Casino (1995), and Oliver Stone’s Nixon (1995). In 1997, Woods received his second Academy Award nomination for his performance in Rob Reiner’s Ghosts of Mississippi (1996) acting alongside Alec Baldwin and Whoopi Goldberg, playing white supremacist Byron De La Beckwith who shot civil rights leader Medgar Evars.[5] Woods continued to act in supporting roles in Any Given Sunday (1999), Robert Zemeckis’ Contact (1997), Clint Eastwood’s True Crime and Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides (1999).

He is known for his roles in television films such as Bill W. in My Name is Bill W. (1989), Roy Cohn in Citizen Cohn (1992), and Rudy Giuliani in ‘Rudy: The Rudy Giuliani Story. In 2011, he made a career resurgence as Dick Fuld in Too Big to Fail on HBO.[6] His performance received both a Primetime Emmy Award, and a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination for his performance. He is also known for his lead role in the CBS drama Shark (2006–2008), his guest appearances in Showtime’s Ray Donovan (2013). He is also known for his voice roles as Hades in Disney’s animated feature Hercules (1997), Stuart Little 2 (2002), and Surf’s Up (2007) and for voice-acting as himself on various episodes of Family Guy and The Simpsons.

Woods was nominated for two Academy Awards, one for Best Actor for his work in Oliver Stone’s Salvador (1986) and for Best Supporting Actor for Rob Reiner’s Ghosts of Mississippi (1996). He is the recipient of two Primetime Emmy Awards for the television movies Promise (1987) and My Name Is Bill W. (1989). Woods has also received three Screen Actors Guild Award nominations and three Independent Spirit Award nominations. On October 15, 1998, Woods was inducted into the Hollywood Walk of Fame with a star at 7021 Hollywood Blvd.[7]

Contents
1 Early life
2 Career
2.1 Theater
2.2 Film
2.3 Television
2.4 Other appearances
3 Filmography
4 Awards and nominations
5 Personal life
5.1 Poker
5.2 Legal issues
5.3 Politics
5.4 Twitter
6 References
7 External links
Early life
Woods was born in Vernal, Utah, on April 18, 1947[8] and had a brother ten years younger.[9] His father, Gail Peyton Woods, was an army intelligence officer who died in 1960[10] after routine surgery. His mother, Martha A. (née Smith), operated a pre-school after her husband’s death[11] and later married Thomas E. Dixon.[12] Woods grew up in Warwick, Rhode Island, where he attended Pilgrim High School, from which he graduated in 1965. He is of part Irish descent and was raised Catholic, briefly serving as an altar boy.[13][14]

He pursued his undergraduate studies at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.[15] (Woods stated on Inside the Actors Studio that he originally intended to follow a career as an eye surgeon.) While at MIT, Woods pledged to the Theta Delta Chi fraternity. He was also an active member of the student theatre group “Dramashop”, where he both acted in and directed a number of plays. He dropped out of MIT in 1969, one semester prior to graduating to pursue a career in acting.[16]

Woods has said that he owes his acting career to Tim Affleck (father of actors Ben and Casey Affleck), who was a stage manager at the Theatre Company of Boston while Woods was a student there.[17]

Career
Theater
Woods appeared in 36 plays before making his Broadway debut in 1970 at the Lyceum Theatre, in the first American production of Frank McMahon’s adaptation of Brendan Behan’s Borstal Boy. He got the part by pretending he was British. He returned to Broadway the following year to portray David Darst in Daniel Berrigan’s The Trial of the Catonsville Nine also at the Lyceum Theatre.[18] In 1971, he played Bob Rettie in the American premiere of Michael Weller’s Moonchildren at the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. The following year the production moved to Broadway at the Royale Theatre where Woods starred alongside Edward Herrmann, and Christopher Guest.[18] In 1972, Woods won a Theatre World Award for his performance. He returned to Broadway in 1973 to portray Steven Cooper in the original production of Jean Kerr’s Finishing Touches at the Plymouth Theatre.[19]

Film

Woods at an AIDS Project Los Angeles benefit in September 1990
A prominent Hollywood character actor, Woods has appeared in over 130 films and television series. By the early 1970s, he was getting small movie roles including his feature film debut in Elia Kazan’s The Visitors and a spot as Barbra Streisand’s boyfriend in The Way We Were.[20]

In 1979, Woods starred in The Onion Field as a sadistic murderer for which he received good notices in particular from Siskel & Ebert who praised Woods predicting he would receive an Academy Award nomination which he failed to get despite receiving Golden Globe Nomination and nominations from the National Society of Film Critics, and the New York Film Critics Circle Association.

Woods played Max, a domineering gangster, in Sergio Leone’s epic Once Upon a Time in America (1984) alongside Robert De Niro, Elizabeth McGovern, Joe Pesci and Danny Aiello. Woods considers his role in the film as one of his favorites.[21] The film premiered at the 1984 Cannes Film Festival and received a 15 minute standing ovation.[22] Rotten Tomatoes reports an 86% approval rating with 51 reviews, the consensus reading, “Sergio Leone’s epic crime drama is visually stunning, stylistically bold, and emotionally haunting, and filled with great performances from the likes of Robert De Niro and James Woods.”[23]

In Oliver Stone’s drama Salvador (1986), Woods portrayed real-life journalist Richard Boyle as he chronicles events in El Salvador. Despite his criticism that “”Salvador” is long and disjointed and tries to tell too many stories,” Roger Ebert wrote in the Chicago Sun-Times, “This is the sort of role Woods was born to play”.[24] He won the Independent Spirit Award for Best Actor. He also received his first Academy Award nomination for his performance.

In 1998, Woods starred alongside Glenn Close in the family drama Immediate Family. Woods was offered a leading role in Quentin Tarantino’s directorial debut, the low-budget film Reservoir Dogs (1992), but his agent rejected the script without showing it to the actor. When Woods learned of this some time later, he fired his agents (CAA), replacing them with ICM.[25][26]

Woods played a minor role of a hustler, Lester Diamond, in Martin Scorsese’s Casino (1995), alongside Robert De Niro, Sharon Stone, and Joe Pesci. When Woods had heard that Scorsese was interested in working with him, he called Scorsese’s office and left the following message: “Any time, any place, any part, any fee.”[27] The film was well received by critics, earning a Certified Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes with the consensus reading, “Impressive ambition and bravura performances from an outstanding cast help Casino pay off in spite of a familiar narrative that may strike some viewers as a safe bet for director Martin Scorsese.”[28] Also in 1995, he starred in Oliver Stone’s Nixon, alongside Anthony Hopkins playing Nixon, with Woods playing H. R. Haldeman. Woods received a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination along with the rest of the cast for its ensemble work.

In Rob Reiner’s film Ghosts of Mississippi (1996), Woods appeared alongside Alec Baldwin and Whoopi Goldberg. He portrayed the white supremacist Byron De La Beckwith. The film was not a box-office success and received mixed reviews. Critics however praised Woods’ performance. Janet Maslin in her New York Times review states, “Woods’s performance as the hateful old reprobate Beckwith is the films chief sign of life”.[29] The Los Angeles Times published an article titled “James Woods is So Good at Being Bad”. In the articles it describes Woods having aggressively lobbied director Rob Reiner for the role, which Reiner originally intended for an actor in his 70s, like Paul Newman.[20] “Beckwith’s Mississippi accent, which Woods perfected by watching tapes and working with an accent coach, helped him distance himself from the character. ‘I imagined I was speaking a foreign language’.”[20] Woods earned a Golden Globe nomination as well as his second Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor[18]

Woods would later voice Hades in the Disney Animated film, Hercules (1997), where he received critical praise.[30] Critic Roger Ebert described Woods performance as full of “diabolical glee” and compared his performance of “verbal inventiveness” to that of Robin Williams in Aladdin.[31] Janet Maslin of The New York Times also praised Woods’s performance remarking “Woods shows off the full verve of an edgy Scarfe villain”, and added “On any level, earthly or otherwise, the ingenious new animated Hercules is pretty divine.”[32] He reprised the role of Hades again in the television series of the same name, were he won a Daytime Emmy Award in 2000 for his work in season 2, and in the Kingdom Hearts video game series. He also lend his voice in another Disney film, Recess: School’s Out (2001) as Phillium Benedict, the twisted former headmaster who attempts to abolish summer vacation. Woods would also voice Falcon in Stuart Little 2 (2002).

Woods appeared in Sofia Coppola’s directorial debut The Virgin Suicides (1999) alongside Kirsten Dunst, and Kathleen Turner. The film premiered at the 1999 Cannes Film Festival to a largely positive critical reception. The film is Certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes with the critical consensus reading, “The Virgin Suicides drifts with a dreamlike melancholy that may strike some audiences as tedious.”[33]

Television

Woods at the Primetime Emmy Awards
In 1978 Woods starred in a leading role playing the husband of Meryl Streep in the critically acclaimed four episode miniseries Holocaust. The series focuses the story of a Jewish family’s struggle to survive the horror of Nazi Germany’s systematic brutal extermination of the jewish people. The series also starred Michael Moriarty, and Rosemary Harris. Holocaust won the Outstanding Limited Series as well as 7 other Primetime Emmy Awards including one for Meryl Streep’s performance.[34]

In 1987, Woods won his first Primetime Emmy Award for his role as a disabled man in the made for television film Promise (1986). The film also starred James Garner, and Piper Laurie.[18] In 1989, Woods won his second Primetime Emmy Award, for his role as the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill W. in the made for television drama film, My Name is Bill W. starring James Garner, and Gary Sinese.[18]

On October 28, 1989, Woods hosted Saturday Night Live with Don Henley as the Musical guest.[35]

In 2006-2008, Woods starred in the CBS legal drama series Shark. He played an infamous defense lawyer who, after growing disillusioned when his client commits a murder, becomes a successful prosecutor with the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office.

In 2011, Woods appeared in HBO’s Too Big to Fail with Paul Giamatti, William Hurt, Cynthia Nixon, Tony Shalhoub and Bill Pullman. Woods played Richard S. Fuld, Jr., Chairman and CEO of Lehman Brothers,[36] for which he won critical praise. The TV Movie earned 11 Primetime Emmy Award nominations including for Woods for Best Outstanding Supporting Actor.[37] Woods also earned a Screen Actors Guild Nomination for his performance.[37]

In 2012, Woods appeared in the limited series Coma alongside Geena Davis, Richard Dreyfuss, and Ellen Burstyn. The series was produced by Ridley Scott, and Tony Scott and premiered on A&E.[38] In 2013, Woods joined Showtime’s critically acclaimed series Ray Donovan in a recurring role as Patrick “Sully” Sullivan also starring Liev Schrieber, and Jon Voight.[39]

He also appeared as a fictional version of himself in the episode of The Simpsons entitled “Homer and Apu” and in eight episodes of Family Guy, which is set in Woods’ home state of Rhode Island. He is also the namesake for James Woods high school in Family Guy. The high school’s name was later changed to Adam West High School to reflect the death of Adam West, who was a character in the show. Woods has lent his voice to video games such as Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and Scarface: The World Is Yours.

Other appearances

Jennifer Connolly, James Woods, and Robert De Niro at a screening of Once Upon a Time in America at the Cannes Film Festival in 2012
In 2012, Woods attended an anniversary screening of a restored cut of Once Upon a Time in America (1984) at the 65th Cannes Film Festival. The screening was made possible by Martin Scorsese’s and his Film Foundation which digitally restored the film as well as included 40 additional minutes of footage.[40] Woods, Robert De Niro, Jennifer Connolly, and Elizabeth McGovern attended the premiere and introduced the film.[41]

In 2014, Woods joined Robert De Niro for an anniversary screening of Once Upon a Time in America (1984) at the 52nd New York Film Festival at Film Society at Lincoln Center.[42][43]

In 2017, Woods made a rare public appearance at the Writers Guild of America Awards to honor his friend Oliver Stone, with whom he had collaborated with three times (Salvador, Nixon, and Any Given Sunday), who was receiving the lifetime achievement award.[44] Woods however got into some banter with the ceremony’s host comedian Patton Oswalt who jokingly stated he wanted to be careful to make Trump jokes because “He didn’t want to be kicked to death by James Woods backstage, which would be a honor by the way”. The two traded barbs back and forth with Woods joking, “He had lost half his twitter following coming here today by the way”. Oswalt later stated to Woods “I loved you in The Onion Field”.[45]

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