When he illuminates the screen, it's obvious that he favors honest craft over affected art, invoking a spirit and charisma that establish his personal style, his trademark, and his self-assurance. He is a complex actor with a simple approach—always aware of himself and the people with whom he works—and he is drawn to polished, intelligent language, as he magnificently mixes charm and subtle confidence. David Strathairn has led a life as varied as the roles he continues to choose-surprising audiences each step of the way with one unpredictable role after another.
The son of a surgeon, Strathairn was born in San Francisco. After graduating from Williams College in Massachusetts, he attended Ringling Brothers Clown College in Florida, where his duties included being one half of a Siamese twins act. His proclivity for clowning was incorporated into a children's theater Strathairn helped found after his circus stint and has since become useful in various roles on film and stage. Strathairn began starring in films because of college buddy, John Sayles, and was instrumental in changing the face of the independent scene with his role in Sayles' seminal film, Return of the Secaucus Seven, as well as their further collaborations like Brother from Another Planet, Matewan, Eight Men Out, Passion Fish, City of Hope, and Limbo. His daring work in Sayles' films garnered Strathairn an Independent Spirit Award (for Best Supporting Actor in City of Hope) plus two nominations (for Best Supporting Actor in Passion Fish and Best Male Lead in Limbo).
The elegance and intelligence David Strathairn brings to the screen is that of a dramatic lyricist. Using the most basic human elements, he stimulates emotion with an effortless look or honest delivery of expression. His unwavering approach to acting gives Strathairn the ability to make us feel a genuine familiarity with each character he plays—whether as Tom Cruise's compassionate older brother in The Firm; the moving and sympathetic promotions man, Ira Lowenstein, in A League of Their Own; the brilliantly comedic blind 'Whistler' in Sneakers; or even his more seedy roles as the corrupted Pierce Patchett in L.A Confidential and the abusive, alcoholic husband in Dolores Claiborne. For the sharp characterizations he has brought to his work, he was once described as "the always dependable David Strathairn," which is a simple, yet perfect, indication of how his peers view this modern maverick. He humbly admits that he has never really strived for the spotlight or leading role-frequently choosing ensemble pieces like Sneakers, With Friends Like These (Cinequest, 1999), and L.A. Confidential—and looks for a more challenging and diverse range of characters.
In Strathairn's own words, "A simple way of looking at the lead (actor) is he is the one who guides you through the story. But character actors bring a special spice to the story—I just think of myself as incredibly fortunate to have worked with the people I have." - Mike Rabehl