Steve Zahn

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Steve Zahn
Zahn, Steve (2008).jpg
Zahn in 2008
Steven James Zahn

(1967-11-13) November 13, 1967 (age 55)
  • Actor
  • comedian
Years active1990–present
Robyn Peterman
(m. 1994)

Steven James Zahn (/zɑːn/;[1] born November 13, 1967)[2] is an American actor and comedian. His film roles include Reality Bites (1994), Stuart Little (1999), Shattered Glass (2003), Sahara (2005), Chicken Little (2005), the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series (2010–2012), Dallas Buyers Club (2013), The Good Dinosaur (2015), and War for the Planet of the Apes (2017). On television, Zahn appeared as Davis McAlary on HBO's Treme (2010–2013), and as Mark Mossbacher in the first season of the HBO satire comedy miniseries The White Lotus (2021), for which he was nominated for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie. He won the Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Male for his performance in the film Happy, Texas (1999).

Early life[edit]

Zahn was born in Marshall, Minnesota, the son of Carleton Edward Zahn, a Lutheran minister, and Zelda Clair Zahn, a bookstore clerk and later a YMCA administrator.[3] His father is of German and Swedish descent, and his mother is of German ancestry.[citation needed] Zahn spent part of his childhood in Mankato, Minnesota, attending Kennedy Elementary School, and moved to the suburbs of Minneapolis for high school, where he acted in school plays and became a two-time Minnesota state speech champion.[2][4] He graduated from Robbinsdale Cooper High School in 1986, planning eventually to join the United States Marine Corps.[2]

Zahn with Jennifer Aniston at the premiere of their 2008 movie Management

Zahn attended Gustavus Adolphus College for one semester but dropped out after seeing the original West End production of Les Misérables. "I remember sitting through the second act thinking, I'm as good as that guy standing on the barricade," Zahn recalled. "I wanted to be part of the circus."[5] Zahn later enrolled in the Institute for Advanced Theater Training at Harvard University, earning a Master of Fine Arts.[6]


In 1991, Zahn made his professional stage debut in a Minnesota production of Neil Simon's Biloxi Blues after falsely claiming to be a member of Actors' Equity.[2] His fellow actors suggested that Zahn study acting, inspiring him to enroll in American Repertory Theater's two-year training program.[7] At A.R.T., he worked with the stage director Andrei Șerban.[8]

In 1991, Zahn formed the Malaparte theater company with a group of actor friends, including Ethan Hawke and Robert Sean Leonard.[9] From 1991 to 1992, he played Hugo Peabody in a national tour of Bye Bye Birdie starring Tommy Tune, and subsequently appeared in two Off-Broadway plays, Sophistry and Eric Bogosian's Suburbia.[10]

After his breakout film role in 1994's Reality Bites, Zahn quickly gained a reputation for playing amiable stoners, slackers, and sidekicks in films such as That Thing You Do! (1996), You've Got Mail (1998), and Out of Sight (1998).[11] In the 1990s, Zahn was often approached by fans who assumed that he was an archetypal Generation X slacker, which was not the case. He has said, "I'm the guy who gets up at six without an alarm clock. I was always that guy."[5]

In 1999, Zahn landed his first starring role in the critically acclaimed indie film Happy, Texas, for which he won a Special Jury Award at the Sundance Film Festival.[12] In the wake of Happy, Texas, Zahn began playing darker, more nuanced characters. He received Oscar buzz for his role as Drew Barrymore's deadbeat ex in Riding in Cars with Boys (2001), and played investigative journalist Adam Penenberg in Shattered Glass (2003).[13] A longtime Werner Herzog fan, Zahn campaigned for the role of Vietnam prisoner of war Duane W. Martin in Herzog's 2007 film Rescue Dawn; to prepare for the role, he lost 40 pounds by eating mostly raw food.[11][7]

Zahn has also worked regularly in television, playing the role of Davis McClary on 36 episodes of HBO's Treme.

In 2017, Zahn played Bad Ape in War for the Planet of the Apes. He researched the role by watching chimpanzee videos on YouTube, and later said that the motion capture process and lengthy digital takes made Bad Ape "the most challenging acting job I've ever had".[14][15]

Personal life[edit]

Zahn met author and theater artist Robyn Peterman, the daughter of clothier J. Peterman, while they were performing in a national tour of Bye Bye Birdie in 1991.[3][7] The couple married in 1994 and has two children.[16] In the 1990s, they bought a cabin in Pennsylvania and then a farm in New Jersey, near the Delaware Water Gap.[17] They next moved to a 360-acre horse farm outside Lexington, Kentucky, where Zahn gardens and raises horses, goats, and sheep.[18] He and his wife also run a local community theater, in which Zahn occasionally performs.[5] He also has a lake cabin near Pine City, Minnesota,[19] where he enjoys tubing and fishing with his two children.[20] He is a Lutheran.[21]

Zahn is a lifelong military history buff and has said that one of his biggest regrets was having turned down a role in the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers.[22] In 2007, he was awarded an honorary Ph.D. in Fine Arts from Northern Kentucky University. A University of Kentucky sports fan, Zahn is often seen at games and events.[23]


Not yet released Denotes works that have not yet been released


Year Title Role Notes
1992 Rain Without Thunder Jeremy Tanner
1994 Reality Bites Sammy Gray
1995 Crimson Tide William Barnes
1996 Race the Sun Hans Kooiman
SubUrbia Buff
That Thing You Do! Lenny Haise
1998 The Object of My Affection Frank Hanson
Out of Sight Glenn Michaels
Safe Men Eddie
You've Got Mail George Pappas
1999 Forces of Nature Alan Nominated – Blockbuster Entertainment Award for Favorite Supporting Actor – Comedy/Romance
Freak Talks About Sex Freak
Happy, Texas Wayne Wayne Wayne Jr., aka David Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Male
Special Dramatic Jury Prize for Best Comedic Performance
Nominated – Satellite Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture, Comedy or Musical
Stuart Little Monty Voice
2000 Chain of Fools Thomas Kresk
Hamlet Rosencrantz
2001 Chelsea Walls Ross
Dr. Dolittle 2 Archie Voice
Joy Ride Fuller Thomas
Riding in Cars with Boys Ray Hasek
Saving Silverman Wayne
2002 Stuart Little 2 Monty Voice
2003 Daddy Day Care Marvin
National Security Hank Rafferty
Shattered Glass Adam Penenberg
2004 Employee of the Month Jack
Speak Mr. Freeman
2005 Chicken Little Runt of the Litter Voice
Sahara Al Giordino
2006 Bandidas Quentin Cooke
Rescue Dawn Duane Nominated – Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Male
2008 The Great Buck Howard Kenny
Management Mike Flux
Strange Wilderness Peter Gaulke
Sunshine Cleaning Mac
Unstable Fables: 3 Pigs and a Baby Sandy Pig Voice, direct-to-video
2009 Night Train Pete Dobbs
A Perfect Getaway Cliff Anderson
2010 Calvin Marshall Coach Little
Diary of a Wimpy Kid Frank Heffley
Salesmen Marvin
2011 Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules Frank Heffley
2012 Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Class Clown Frank Heffley Voice, short film
2013 Escape from Planet Earth Hawk Voice
Dallas Buyers Club Tucker Nominated – Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture
Knights of Badassdom Eric
2015 The Good Dinosaur Thunderclap Voice
The Ridiculous 6 Clem
2016 Captain Fantastic Dave Nominated – Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture
2017 War for the Planet of the Apes Bad Ape Voice and motion-capture
Nominated – Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association Award for Best Motion Capture Performance
Lean on Pete Silver
2018 Blaze Oilman #2
2019 Where'd You Go, Bernadette David Walker
Tall Girl Richie Kreyman
2020 Uncle Frank Mike Bledsoe
Cowboys Troy
2021 8-Bit Christmas John Doyle
2022 Tall Girl 2 Richie Kreyman
Night at the Museum: Kahmunrah Rises Again Jedediah Voice
2023 Your Place or Mine Zen
TBA Wildcat Post-production


Year Title Role Notes
1990 All My Children Spence Episode #5303
1993 South Beach Lane Bailey Episode: "Pirates of the Caribbean"
1995 Friends Duncan Episode: "The One with Phoebe's Husband"
Mike & Spike Nick Pickles Voice, episode: "Person to Clothes"
Picture Windows Crook Episode: "Armed Response"
1997 Liberty! The American Revolution American Sergeant 4 episodes
1998 From the Earth to the Moon Astronaut Elliot See Miniseries
Episode: "Can We Do This?"
2008 Comanche Moon Augustus "Gus" McCrae 3 episodes
2008–2012 Phineas and Ferb Swampy/Sherman (voices) 3 episodes
2009 Monk Jack Monk, Jr. Episode: "Mr. Monk's Other Brother"
WWII in HD Nolen Marbrey Voice, 3 episodes
2010–2013 Treme Davis McAlary Regular, 36 episodes
2013 Randy Cunningham: 9th Grade Ninja Terry McFist Voice, episode: "Fart-Topia"
2014 Mind Games Clark Edwards Regular, 13 episodes
2014–2015 Modern Family Ronnie La Fontaine Recurring role, 4 episodes
2015–2016 Mad Dogs Cobi Series regular, 10 episodes
2018 The Crossing Jude Ellis Series lead, 11 episodes
2019 Valley of the Boom Michael Fenne Main role
2020 The Healing Powers of Dude Dude[24] Voice, main role
The Good Lord Bird Chase 2 episodes
2021 The White Lotus Mark Mossbacher Main role
Nominated – Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie
2022 The Last Movie Stars Donald "Duck" Dobbins Voice, 3 episodes
2022–2023 George & Tammy George Richey 6 episodes

Video games[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
2005 Chicken Little Runt of the Litter


Year Title Role Notes
1991 Biloxi Blues Performer [25]


  1. ^ "Steve Zahn: Filming 'War of the Planet of the Apes' was 'physically the hardest job I ever did'". Good Morning America. July 11, 2017. Archived from the original on 2021-11-13. Retrieved February 10, 2020 – via YouTube.
  2. ^ a b c d Simon, Alex (July 3, 2015). "Great Conversations: Steve Zahn," Archived 2022-04-09 at the Wayback Machine HuffPost Retrieved April 9, 2022.
  3. ^ a b Braun, Liz (February 26, 2001). "Steve Zahn has a smart funny humour," Archived 2017-09-16 at the Wayback Machine Jam!. Retrieved September 15, 2017.
  4. ^ Covert, Colin (August 18, 2009). "Local boy Steve Zahn grows up," Archived 2017-09-16 at the Wayback Machine Star Tribune (Minneapolis). Retrieved September 15, 2017.
  5. ^ a b c Riesman, Abraham (July 13, 2017). "Steve Zahn. Seriously." Archived 2017-09-16 at the Wayback Machine Vulture. Retrieved September 15, 2017.
  6. ^ "Steve Zahn: The Hollywood Interview". Archived from the original on 2021-01-10. Retrieved 2021-01-08.
  7. ^ a b c Copley, Rich (June 23, 2016). "Steve Zahn talks craft and Kentucky at UK's Singletary Center," Archived 2017-09-16 at the Wayback Machine Lexington Herald-Leader. Retrieved on September 15, 2017.
  8. ^ O'Sullivan, Michael (July 13, 2007). "Steve Zahn . . . in All Seriousness," Archived 2017-09-16 at the Wayback Machine The Washington Post. Retrieved September 15, 2017.
  9. ^ Sternbergh, Adam (January 31, 2010). "The Ethan Hawke Actors Studio," Archived 2010-02-03 at the Wayback Machine New York. Retrieved September 16, 2017.
  10. ^ Klein, Alvin (March 15, 1992). "Tommy Tune and 'Bye Bye Birdie,'" Archived 2018-01-16 at the Wayback Machine The New York Times. Retrieved September 15, 2017.
  11. ^ a b Rabin, Nathan (July 3, 2007). "Interview: Steve Zahn," Archived 2022-04-09 at the Wayback Machine The A.V. Club. Retrieved April 9, 2022.
  12. ^ Ojumu, Akin (November 13, 1999). "Steve Zahn's habitual scene-stealing," Archived 2017-09-16 at the Wayback Machine The Guardian. (London) Retrieved September 15, 2017.
  13. ^ Smith, Neil (December 4, 2001). "Riding in Cars with Boys (2001)," Archived 2018-11-06 at the Wayback Machine BBC News. Retrieved September 15, 2017.
  14. ^ Rottenberg, Josh (April 21, 2017). "Why Steve Zahn's 'Bad Ape' in 'War for the Planet of the Apes' made director Matt Reeves cry," Archived 2017-09-16 at the Wayback Machine Los Angeles Times. Retrieved September 16, 2017.
  15. ^ Lammers, Tim (July 13, 2017). "Interview: Steve Zahn Talks 'War of the Planet of the Apes,'" Archived 2017-09-17 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved September 16, 2017.
  16. ^ Cole, Stacey (February 5, 2017). "Steve Zahn Replaced in 'Diary of a Wimpy Kid,' Couldn't be Happier". Yahoo! News. Archived from the original on December 4, 2019. Retrieved May 26, 2022.
  17. ^ Spangler, Adam (25 January 2008). "The Zahn Rules". Outside. Archived from the original on 14 April 2021. Retrieved May 26, 2022.
  18. ^ Belloni, Matthew (October 27, 2008). "Steve Zahn: What I've Learned," Archived 2020-08-07 at the Wayback Machine Esquire. Retrieved September 15, 2017.
  19. ^ Justin, Neal (21 February 2014). "Steve Zahn plays 'Mind Games' in new ABC series". Star Tribune. Minneapolis. Archived from the original on 9 October 2018. Retrieved 30 October 2018.
  20. ^ Justin, Neal (30 March 2018). "TV star Steve Zahn may save the world – but saving his Minnesota cabin comes first". Star Tribune. Minneapolis. Archived from the original on 9 October 2018. Retrieved 30 October 2018.
  21. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2022-08-24. Retrieved 2022-08-15.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  22. ^ "Steve Zahn," Archived 2016-01-05 at the Wayback Machine interviewed by Doug Boyd (May 29, 2013). Colonel Arthur L. Kelly American Veterans Oral History Collection, University of Kentucky Libraries. Retrieved September 15, 2017.
  23. ^ Watson, Heather C. (18 March 2015). "The HerKentucky UK and U of L Fan Elite Eight". Her Kentucky. Archived from the original on 11 May 2018. Retrieved 10 May 2018.
  24. ^ "The Healing Powers of Dude". Netflix Media Center. Archived from the original on December 13, 2019. Retrieved December 13, 2019.
  25. ^ "Steve Zahn Theatre Credits, News, Bio and Photos". BroadwayWorld. Archived from the original on 2020-10-22. Retrieved 2020-10-19.

External links[edit]