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Josef Sommer as District Attorney William T. Rothko in Dirty Harry
|Born||Maximilian Josef Sommer
June 26, 1934
Life and career
He was born Maximilian Josef Sommer in Greifswald, Germany and was raised in North Carolina, the son of Elisabeth and Clemens Sommer, a professor of art history at the University of North Carolina. He studied at the Carnegie Institute of Technology. He has a daughter, Maria.
Sommer made his acting debut at the age of nine in a North Carolina production of Watch on the Rhine. He made his film debut in 1971 in Dirty Harry, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind in 1977, and appeared in Peter Weir's 1985 thriller Witness opposite Harrison Ford (where he played a crooked police officer) and Moonlight and Valentino with Elizabeth Perkins. He appeared as President Gerald Ford opposite Gena Rowlands in the 1987 made-for-TV movie The Betty Ford Story. He has also had starring roles in two short-lived series, Hothouse (1988) and Under Cover (early 1990s). As of 2007, he has appeared, as a character actor, in almost 100 films. Some of his more famous roles have been as a crooked businessman or a corrupt politician. Yet, Sommer displayed abundant humanity without being seen on screen when he lent his talents as the poignant Narrator, Stingo as an adult, in the acclaimed 1982 tour-de-force Sophie's Choice in which Meryl Streep won an Academy Award for Best Actress.
Though a much-respected and lauded thespian of more than one artistic medium, performance-wise, this seasoned character actor got the chance to play a rare leading role—opposite the titular-titled, eponymous character played by Sylvia Kristel—as a film noir-esque detective in the quirky, little-seen, tiny cult horror-comedy Dracula's Widow from 1988, a role that Sommer truly appeared to have relished, as reflected by his creatively colorful and enthusiastic performance.