James Woods Biography

PHOTO: James Woods

James Woods is as renowned for causing Hollywood havoc as he is for his acting roles. The incredibly intelligent actor has a string of celebrity girlfriends as well as Emmys to his name.

Outspoken film and television actor James Howard Woods was born in 1947 to father Gail Peyton Woods, an army intelligence officer and mother Martha Woods.
Gail Woods' army career took the family to postings in Illinois, Virginia and Guam, but they settled when Woods' brother, Michael, was born in 1957.

Three years later, Gail Woods died following routine surgery and though Woods was barely a teenager, he remembers his father fondly as a "very manly man’". "He was a big, strong country guy but very soft-spoken. He'd make my mother breakfast every Sunday. And when I was a kid, he'd sit me on his lap and quote Shakespeare to me, chapter and verse."

Woods describes his mother as a resilient "frontier woman" who set up a successful business when her husband suddenly died. She struggled to provide for her sons for a while but finally started a pre-school called Lad 'n' Lassie. The school earned a good reputation but Martha always accepted a quarter of her pupils for free because she understood the stigma of poverty.

The young Woods was extremely bright and found himself routinely selected for the top-streamed classes at school.

His brother Michael remembers him as a quiet child who studied well and was the "ultimate high school nerd’". This intelligence won him a scholarship to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he studied political science. Whilst there, he was drawn to acting, taking parts in a number of plays in the university's student theatre group.

Woods also considered a career as a fighter pilot and was accepted to the United States Air Force Academy, but just weeks before he was due to start, he put his hand through a plate glass window, ruining his chances.

Instead of continuing with university, Woods dropped out and decided to try his chances with acting in New York City. Woods later explained: "I was really bright as a kid and tested well, and it was clear that I was going to get scholarships to any schools I wanted. My dad always said I could be an engineer; at that time it was the elite of society - a steady job working in science, which was then the answer to every problem we had. It was kind of a mandate. Kind of a dream he had for me."

"It was a very wrenching and painful decision for me - in my senior year at MIT, on high dean's list and full scholarships - to decide that maybe I wanted to be an artist. I think it is actually something that my father would understand. Whether I'm making 30 grand a day or union scale, I have found something that I truly love, and that is something he would have admired."

During his first two years in New York, Woods scraped by in fringe theatre, even bluffing his way into an audition and saying he was English to secure a part. He remembers his New York years as financially lean, often paying the rent by taking part-time jobs. "I got to the point where if I thought, 'If I have to take another job that's not acting, I'll just quit the business'". After that, the six-foot actor says he never had to take another job.

After appearing in a handful of New York theatre productions, Woods scored his first film role in 'All the Way Home' (1971) and followed that up with meager supporting roles in 'The Way We Were' (1973) and 'The Choirboys' (1977). The role that cemented Woods as a top choice to play ruthless creeps and cold-blooded bastards was his performance as the cop killer in the 1979 film, 'The Onion Field'.

He went on to play other bad boys like the entrepreneur who offered torture on cable TV in David Cronenberg's 'Videodrome' (1983), a particularly slimy gangster in 'Once Upon a Time in America'(1984), a professional killer in 'Best Seller' (1987), Sharon Stone's pimp-boyfriend in Martin Scorsese's 'Casino'(1995), the notorious H.R. Haldeman in 'Nixon' (1995), a serial killer and child rapist in 'Killer: A Journal of Murder' (1995), an assassin in 'Ghosts of Mississippi' (1996), and a cocaine-taking anti-Semite in 'Pretty Persuasion'(2005).

Woods has also been highly praised for his role in the 1999 film 'The Virgin Suicides' alongside Josh Hartnett and Kirsten Dunst. It tells the story of a group of male friends who become obsessed with a group of mysterious sisters who are sheltered by their strict and religious parents after one commits suicide.

He has also played a few memorable good guys; the burnt-out reporter in 'Salvador' (1986) and a maverick lawyer in 'True Believer' (1989). On television, he played a Jewish artist in Buchenwald opposite Meryl Streep in the mini-series 'Holocaust' (1978), prisoner of war James Stockdale in 'In Love and War' (1987), and the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous in 'My Name is Bill W' (1989). From 2006, he starred as a tough lawyer on the drama series, 'Shark'. This successful series ended in 2008.

Woods also appeared in episodes of 'ER' and 'Entourage' in 2006 before playing a role in the TV show 'iCarly' in 2009 and TV movie 'Too Big To Fail' in 2011.

He also appeared in several films in recent years including 'Big Fat Important Movie' in 2008, 'Straw Dogs' in 2011, 'Officer Down' and 'Coma' in 2012. Woods is set to star in 'i' and 'The Stone Pony' next year.

Woods has also leant his voice playing a fictional version of himself in 'The Simpsons' and in five episodes of 'Family Guy', in which he tries to steal Peter Griffins life.

One of the best measurements of his talent is the number of great directors who have returned to work with him including Martin Scorsese, Oliver Stone, Clint Eastwood, Harold Becker, Rob Reiner, Sophia Coppola and Robert Zemeckis.

His skill in bringing wrenching reality to any role is reflected in the fact that he has brought so many real-life characters to the screen, from Roy Cohn to former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani.

While Woods seemed to have his acting career mapped out, his romantic life is far messier. He fell for horse trainer Sarah Owen, who was 16 years his junior. In 1987, she accused him of verbal and physical abuse. They were together for years but the marriage lasted about four months between 2 June 1989 and 1990. During their messy divorce, she told the tabloids Woods was addicted to pornography and had forced her to have an abortion. He has since referred to her as "the anti-Christ".

He had previously been married to costume designer Kathryn Morrison between 30 August 1980 and 20 September 1983. This coupling ended in divorce too.

Another tabloid favourite among his string of pretty, young starlets was his affair with actress Sean Young who he had met on the set of 'The Boost'. Woods and his then fiancee filed a $2 million suit for harassment in 1988, alleging that Young left a disfigured doll on his doorstep and trampled the couple's expensive flower bed. "It is so stupid that anyone could have believed it,'' said Young. The case was settled out of court in 1989.

In a true story that sounds like the plot of a film drama, Woods may have seen the September 11 terrorists plotting a dry run for their later hijack. "I was on a flight - without going into the details of what made me suspicious of these four men, although it would have been blatantly obvious to the most casual observer. I took it upon myself to go to the flight attendant and ask to speak to the pilot of the plane. The first officer came out and I said, 'Can you look over my shoulder and see who I'm talking about?'And he said, 'Yeah.' I said I think they're going to hijack this plane. I mean, everything they're doing - and I explained to him these details, which I've been asked to keep private - their behaviour was such that I felt that they were going to hijack the plane. I also said I'm very much aware of how serious it is to say on an American aircraft in flight the word hijack."

In 2007, he appeared on 'The Late Late Show' and claimed O.J. Simpson's ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, wanted to have an affair with him and that she had once invited him to join her and O.J. in a threesome.

His intense and nuanced performances in over 80 major motion pictures, television films and mini-series have earned many times over his reputation as one of the American entertainment world's most varied and explosive actors. They have also earned him three Emmys, including two Best Actor In A Motion Picture awards for his work in 'Promise' and 'My Name Is Bill W', the story of the Alcoholics Anonymous founder.

His two Oscar nominations from The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences were for Best Actor for his astonishing performance in 'Salvador' and for Best Actor In A Supporting Role for his portrayal in 'Ghosts Of Mississippi'.

He has won the Golden Globe Award, the Obie Award, Clarence Derwent Award and Theatre World Award on the New York stage. He has been nominated for the Golden Globe ten times.

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