Sam Waterston

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Sam Waterston
Waterston in Los Angeles, California, January 7, 2010
Born Samuel Atkinson Waterston
(1940-11-15) November 15, 1940 (age 73)
Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States
Occupation Actor, television producer, television director
Years active 1964 – present
Spouse(s) Barbara Rutledge (1964–1975; divorced)
Lynn Louisa Woodruff (1976–present)
Children James Waterston
Elisabeth Waterston
Katherine Waterston
Graham Waterston

Samuel Atkinson "Sam" Waterston (born November 15, 1940) is an American actor, producer and director. Among other roles, he is noted for his Academy Award-nominated portrayal of Sydney Schanberg in The Killing Fields (1984), and his Golden Globe-nominated and Screen Actors Guild Award-winning portrayal of Jack McCoy on the NBC television series Law & Order. He has been nominated for multiple Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild, BAFTA and Emmy awards, having starred in over eighty film and television productions during his fifty-year career.[1] Allmovie has characterised Waterston as having "cultivated a loyal following with his quietly charismatic, unfailingly solid performances."[2] In January 2010, Waterston received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Two years later, in 2012, he was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame.

Early life and education[edit]

Waterston, the third of four siblings (Roberta, George and Ellen), was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His mother, Alice Tucker (née Atkinson), a landscape painter, was of English ancestry, and a descendant of Mayflower passengers. His father, George Chychele Waterston, was an immigrant from Leith, Scotland, and a semanticist and language teacher.[3][4]

Waterston attended both the Brooks School, a boarding school in North Andover, Massachusetts, where his father taught; and the Groton School in Groton, Massachusetts. He entered Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, on a scholarship in 1958 and graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in 1962. After graduating from Yale, he attended the Clinton Playhouse for several months. Waterston also attended the Sorbonne in Paris and the American Actors Workshop.


The classically trained Waterston has numerous stage credits to his name. For example, he played an award-winning Benedick in Joseph Papp's production of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, and played the title role in Hamlet. He continues live theater work during the summers, often seen acting at places like Long Wharf Theatre and the Yale Repertory Theatre in New Haven.[5][6]

Waterston made his film debut in 1965's The Plastic Dome of Norma Jean, and came to prominence in Fitzwilly in 1967. He starred as Tom with Katharine Hepburn in a 1973 television film adaptation of Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie. The film also featured Michael Moriarty (as the Gentleman Caller), whom Waterston later replaced as the Executive Assistant District Attorney on Law & Order. One of his breakout roles was opposite Jeff Bridges in the western comedy Rancho Deluxe in 1975. Other films include Savages (1972), The Great Gatsby (1974), Journey Into Fear (1975), Capricorn One (1978), Heaven's Gate, Hopscotch (1980), and The Killing Fields (1984, nominated Academy Award for Best Actor). In 1985, he co-starred in Robert Preston's final television film with Mary Tyler Moore, Finnegan Begin Again Also with Moore, Waterston played the title role in Lincoln (1988), a television film adaptation of Gore Vidal's "Lincoln" (1984). Other roles include Assault at West Point with Samuel L. Jackson, Mindwalk (1990), and Serial Mom (1994). Waterston has appeared in several Woody Allen films, including Interiors (1978), Hannah and Her Sisters (1986, cameo), September (1987) and Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989). Waterston is a six-time Emmy Award nominee, as well as a winner of the Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Awards.

Aside from Law & Order, other television roles include D.A. Forrest Bedford in I'll Fly Away, for which he won a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Drama Series in 1993. He also had a starring role in an episode segment on the TV series Amazing Stories called "Mirror Mirror". In 1994, he appeared as US President William Foster, alongside Forest Whittaker and Dana Delany, in the television film The Enemy Within, a remake of director John Frankenheimer's Cold War political thriller Seven Days in May.

In 1994, Waterston debuted as Executive Assistant District Attorney Jack McCoy in the fifth season of the television series Law & Order. He played the role of McCoy, who would eventually become District Attorney, through the series finale in 2010, and has reprised the role throughout the Law and Order universe. Upon the show's cancellation, Waterston was the second-longest serving cast member, having reprised his role through sixteen seasons.[7][8]

Waterston displaying gifts from fans

Waterston served on the Advisory Committee for the Lincoln Bicentennial, celebrating Abraham Lincoln's 200th birthday. Waterston has portrayed Lincoln on stage and screen (The Civil War, Gore Vidal's Lincoln, and the Broadway play Abe Lincoln in Illinois). He also voiced Lincoln in an exhibit at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, and delivered Lincoln's Cooper Union speech on May 5, 2004.

Waterston lent his voice to the animated television series Family Guy where he played Dr. Kaplan, the psychiatrist Brian Griffin consults during his mid-life crisis in the episode "Brian in Love". He voices Dr. Kaplan again in the episode "Road to Rhode Island", but he is not credited in any other episode in which the character appears. Waterston also narrated NBC's documentary, The Great Race, the story of the famous 4 x 10-kilometer cross-country relay at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, which Italy won over the host nation. The special aired during NBC's coverage of the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy, on February 18, the day before the 2006 relay took place, which was also won by Italy. He added partial narration to the Ken Burns documentary, Lewis & Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery, serving as the voice of Thomas Jefferson. He also played Jefferson in Burns' documentary about Jefferson. He also appeared in the first episode of ABC's Masters of Science Fiction, playing an amnesiac in the episode "A Clean Escape".

Waterston appeared on the 5,100th edition of Jeopardy!, on November 10, 2006, with Kathryn Erbe of Law & Order: Criminal Intent and Christopher Meloni of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Waterston finished second to Meloni, and received a $25,000 prize, which he donated to Refugees International and Oceana. He also made a popular cameo appearance on an episode of Saturday Night Live as himself, extolling the virtues of Old Glory Insurance, meant to protect the elderly from robot attacks.[9]

Waterston is regularly featured in television advertisements for TD Ameritrade (formerly TD Waterhouse, which is mostly owned by Toronto-Dominion Bank and the Ricketts family). He replaced former Law & Order castmate Steven Hill as TD's spokesman. He has lent his voice to an ad for The Nation.

Waterston has appeared in a recurring segment on The Colbert Report, called "Sam Waterston Says Things You Should Never Believe In A Trustworthy Manner." The segments usually involve Waterston simply stating an obviously untrue film quote in a very convincing voice.

Waterston appeared as Polonius in the 2008 Shakespeare in the Park production of Hamlet. His performance received excellent reviews in The New York Times and many other newspapers around the country, particularly in the Northeast.[10][11]

Waterston has narrated for Time-Life history specials.[citation needed]

On February 12, 2009, Waterston joined the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College orchestra and chorus, along with the Riverside Inspirational Choir and NYC Labor Choir, in honoring Abraham Lincoln's 200th birthday at the Riverside Church in New York City. Under the direction of Maurice Peress, they performed Earl Robinson's "The Lonesome Train: A Music Legend for Actors, Folk Singers, Choirs, and Orchestra" in which Waterston depicted Abraham Lincoln.[12]

On January 7, 2010, Waterston received the 2,397th Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.[13]

On October 30, 2010, Waterston read Colbert's original poem "Are you sure" at the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear in Washington, D.C.[citation needed]

Waterston returned to television in 2012 as cable news president Charlie Skinner in The Newsroom, an HBO series by Aaron Sorkin.[14] That same year, Waterston received induction into the American Theatre Hall of Fame.[15]

Personal life[edit]

Waterston's first wife was Barbara Rutledge-Johns. Waterston and his first wife had one son, James, also an actor. Waterston married his second wife, former model Lynn Louisa Woodruff, in 1976.[16] They have three children, daughters Katherine Waterston and Elisabeth Waterston, who are also actors, and a son, Graham.[17]

An active humanitarian, Waterston donates time to organizations such as Oceana, where he is a board member, Refugees International, Meals on Wheels, The United Way, and The Episcopal Actors' Guild of America.[18]

In 2012, Waterston received the Goodermote Humanitarian Award from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health for his longtime support of refugees around the world.[19]

Waterston, a practising Episcopalian,[20] narrated the 1999 biographical documentary of Episcopal civil rights martyr Jonathan Myrick Daniels, Here Am I, Send Me.

He was a spokesman for the Unity08 movement, which unsuccessfully sought to run a non- or bipartisan presidential ticket in the 2008 presidential election.[21] Waterston has stated that he was a Democrat until he left the party in disgust following the airing of Lyndon B. Johnson's "Daisy" election advertisement in 1964.[22] Waterston has also appeared in print ads, and announced in television commercials, for the liberal magazine The Nation.[citation needed]

Waterston is a longtime friend and fan of the Mark Morris Dance Group and hosted the television presentation of Mozart Dances on PBS' Live from Lincoln Center on August 16, 2007.[citation needed]



Year Title Role Notes
1965 The Plastic Dome of Norma Jean Andy
1967 Fitzwilly Oliver
1969 Generation Desmond
1969 Three Taylor
1970 Cover Me Babe Cameraman
1971 Who Killed Mary What's 'Er Name? Alex
1972 Mahoney's Estate Felix
1972 Savages James
1973 Much Ado About Nothing Benedick Television movie
1973 The Glass Menagerie Tom Wingfield Television movie
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie
1974 The Great Gatsby Nick Carraway Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture
Nominated—Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year – Actor
1974 Reflections of Murder Michael Elliott Television movie
1975 Rancho Deluxe Cecil Colson
1975 Journey into Fear Mr. Graham
1976 Sweet Revenge Le Clerq
1978 Capricorn One Lt. Col. Peter Willis
1978 Interiors Mike
1979 Eagle's Wing White Bull
1979 Friendly Fire C. D. Bryan Television movie
1980 Sweet William William
1980 Hopscotch Joe Cutter
1980 Heaven's Gate Frank Canton
1984 The Killing Fields Sydney Schanberg Nominated—Academy Award for Best Actor
Nominated—BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role
Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama
1984 The Boy Who Loved Trolls Ofoeti Television movie
1985 Love Lives On Bernie Television movie
1985 Warning Sign Cal Morse
1985 Finnegan Begin Again Paul Broadbent Television movie
1986 The Fifth Missile Captain Allard Renslow Television movie
1986 Hannah and Her Sisters David
1986 Just Between Friends Harry Crandall
1986 Flagrant désir Gerry Morrison
1987 The Room Upstairs Travis Coles Television movie
1987 Devil's Paradise Mr. Jones
1987 September Peter
1988 Lincoln President Abraham Lincoln
1989 Welcome Home Woody
1989 Crimes and Misdemeanors Ben
1990 Lantern Hill Andrew Stuart
1990 The Nightmare Years William Shirer
1990 Mindwalk Jack Edwards
1991 The Man in the Moon Matthew Trant
1993 A Captive in the Land Royce
1994 David's Mother John Nils Television movie
1994 Serial Mom Eugene Sutphin, D.D.S.
1994 The Enemy Within President William Foster Television movie
1995 The Journey of August King Mooney Wright
1995 China: Dynasties of Power Narrator
1995 Nixon Richard Helms
1996 The Proprietor Harry Bancroft
1997 Shadow Conspiracy The President
1998 Miracle at Midnight Dr. Karl Koster Television movie
2000 A House Divided David Dickson
2002 The Matthew Shepard Story Dennis Shepard Television movie
2003 Le Divorce Chester Walker
2003 The Commission J. Lee Rankin
2009 The National Parks: America's Best Idea Various
2011 Prohibition
2014 Anesthesia (film) Prof. Walter Zarrow Post-production


Year Title Role Notes
1965 Dr. Kildare Mark Episode: "Enough La Boheme for Everybody"
1967 N.Y.P.D. Marco Episode: "Murder for Infinity"
1982 Oppenheimer J. Robert Oppenheimer 7 episodes
Nominated—BAFTA TV Award for Best Actor on Television
Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Miniseries or Television Film
1982 Q.E.D. Quentin Everett Deverill 6 episodes
1990 The Civil War President Abraham Lincoln 9 episodes
1991–93 I'll Fly Away Forrest Bedford 38 episodes
Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Television Series Drama
Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Television Series Drama
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series (1992-93)
1993 Tales from the Crypt G.G. Devoe Episode: "As Ye Sow"
1994–2010 Law & Order Jack McCoy 368 episodes
Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Drama Series
Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Television Series Drama
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series (1997, 1999-2000)
Nominated—Satellite Award for Best Actor – Television Series Drama (1998, 2000)
Nominated—Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series (1995-2002, 2004)
Nominated—Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Drama Series
Nominated—Viewers for Quality Television Award for Best Actor in a Quality Drama Series (1998-2000)
1997–99 Homicide: Life on the Street Jack McCoy 2 episodes
1998 Exiled: A Law & Order Movie Jack McCoy TV Movie
2000 Family Guy Dr. Kaplan 2 episodes
2000–10 Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Jack McCoy 3 episodes
2005 Law & Order: Trial by Jury Jack McCoy 2 episodes
2012–13 The Newsroom Charlie Skinner 19 episodes
2013 Jo David Zivkin Episode: "Le Marais"
2015 Grace and Frankie Sol


Academy Award[edit]

BAFTA Award[edit]

Primetime Emmy Award[edit]

  • Nominee: 2000 – Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series, Law & Order
  • Nominee: 1999 – Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series, Law & Order
  • Nominee: 1998 – Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series, Law & Order
  • Winner: 1996 – Outstanding Informational Series, Lost Civilizations
  • Nominee: 1994 – Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or TV Special, I'll Fly Away: Then and Now
  • Nominee: 1993 – Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series, I'll Fly Away
  • Nominee: 1992 – Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series, I'll Fly Away
  • Nominee: 1974 – Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama, The Glass Menagerie

Golden Globe Award[edit]

  • Nominee: 1995 – Best Performance by an Actor in a TV Series – Drama, Law & Order
  • Winner: 1993 – Best Performance by an Actor in a TV Series – Drama, I'll Fly Away
  • Nominee: 1992 – Best Performance by an Actor in a TV Series – Drama, I'll Fly Away
  • Nominee: 1985 – Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama, The Killing Fields
  • Nominee: 1983 – Best Performance by an Actor in a Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for TV, Oppenheimer
  • Nominee: 1975 – Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture, The Great Gatsby
  • Nominee: 1975 – Most Promising Newcomer – Male, The Great Gatsby

Screen Actors Guild Award[edit]

  • Nominee: 2004 – Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series, Law & Order
  • Nominee: 2002 – Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series, Law & Order
  • Nominee: 2001 – Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series, Law & Order
  • Nominee: 2000 – Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series, Law & Order
  • Winner: 1999 – Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Drama Series, Law & Order
  • Nominee: 1999 – Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series, Law & Order
  • Nominee: 1998 – Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series, Law & Order
  • Nominee: 1997 – Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series, Law & Order

Tony Award[edit]


  1. ^ Awards at IMDB
  2. ^ Erickson, Hal (undated). "Biography at Allmovie". Retrieved July 30, 2013. 
  3. ^ "Ancestry of Sam Waterston". Retrieved November 17, 2012. 
  4. ^ Staff (undated). "Sam Waterston – Biography". Retrieved July 30, 2013. 
  5. ^ "Sam Waterston Travesties Opens at Long Wharf Theatre May 11". Playbill.
  6. ^ Wren, Celia. "When Chekov had a Bad Dream". The New York Times.
  7. ^ [1]. Internet Movie Database.
  8. ^ [2]. NBC.
  9. ^ [3]. Hulu. Retrieved June 9, 2009.
  10. ^ "Public Theater – Shakespeare in the Park". August 22, 2006. Retrieved November 17, 2012. 
  11. ^ [4]
  12. ^ "". February 1, 2009. Retrieved November 17, 2012. 
  13. ^ "Sam Waterston on the Hollywood Walk of Fame". 
  14. ^ [dead link] Itzkoff, Dave. "HBO Picks Up Aaron Sorkin Series About Cable TV News". The New York Times.
  15. ^ "EXCLUSIVE: Betty Buckley, Sam Waterston, Trevor Nunn, Christopher Durang, Andre Bishop Among Theater Hall of Fame Inductees". Retrieved February 17, 2014. 
  16. ^ "Sam Waterston Trivia and Quotes on". CBS Interactive Inc. Retrieved May 21, 2010. 
  17. ^ Smith, Dinittia (July 15, 2004). "Father and Daughter, in Life and in Shakespeare". The New York Times. Retrieved May 21, 2010. [dead link]
  18. ^ "Sam Waterston in Shakespeare in American Life". Retrieved March 2, 2013. 
  19. ^ "Actor Sam Waterston Receives Goodermote Humanitarian Award". May 8, 2012. Retrieved November 17, 2012. 
  20. ^ "The General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church". September 28, 2007. Retrieved November 17, 2012. 
  21. ^ "Actor Sam Waterston Calls on Americans to Join Growing 2008 Political Movement, Unity08" at the Wayback Machine (archived November 3, 2007). Retrieved January 4, 2008.
  22. ^ Alston, Joshua (December 15, 2007). "The Real McCoy". Newsweek (via The Daily Beast). Retrieved July 30, 2013. 

External links[edit]