30 May 1951, Dallas, Texas, USA
Stephen Harold Tobolowsky
Character actor Stephen Tobolowsky was born on May 30, 1951 in Dallas, Texas. Over the past three decades, Tobolowsky has racked up a lengthy list of roles in movies and television across many different genres.While Tobolowsky initially attended Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas with the intention of studying geology, he was quickly dr...
Character actor Stephen Tobolowsky was born on May 30, 1951 in Dallas, Texas. Over the past three decades, Tobolowsky has racked up a lengthy list of roles in movies and television across many different genres.While Tobolowsky initially attended Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas with the intention of studying geology, he was quickly drawn in to acting there. He later attended the University of Illinois for one year.Tobolowsky worked primarily in theater during his early career, and wrote and directed a few plays including "Two Idiots in Hollywood" and "True Stories". His film career took off in the 1980s, though, thanks to roles in The Philadelphia Experiment (1984), Nobody's Fool (1986), Spaceballs (1987), and Mississippi Burning (1988). Since then, Tobolowsky has appeared in many popular movies including Bird on a Wire (1990), Basic Instinct (1992), Groundhog Day (1993), Radioland Murders (1994), Murder in the First (1995), Mr. Magoo (1997), The Insider (1999), Memento (2000), Freaky Friday (2003), Garfield (2004) and Wild Hogs (2007). He has also done a substantial amount of voice work, most recently taking on the role of Uncle Ubb in The Lorax (2012).Tobolowsky has been even more prolific in television over the past few decades. He's appeared on a diverse range of shows including Seinfeld (1989), Mad About You (1992), Chicago Hope (1994), The Practice (1997) and Curb Your Enthusiasm (2000), and has had recurring roles on CSI: Miami (2002), Deadwood (2004), Heroes (2006), Californication (2007) and Glee (2009).Tobolowsky is married to fellow actor Ann Hearn.
There was a part on Broadway...wow still hurts to talk about it. I flew to New York on my own dime. I had no career. But there was this part...
There was a part on Broadway...wow still hurts to talk about it. I flew to New York on my own dime. I had no career. But there was this part. I knew the playwright. He told me the role was perfect for me. I worked on the audition like crazy...I went in and killed on the audition. It was great. I got congrats from a lot of people. I was told I would be called back for final auditions in three weeks. I said I would be there. It meant me buying another plane ticket but I believed in myself and the play. I worked on the part for the next three weeks...then four weeks...then five...no phone call. Finally someone saw me with the script and asked what I was doing. I explained with some pride that I was going back to New York for a final call back on a Broadway show. She broke the news to me that the show had been in rehearsal for the last two weeks...ouch. I guess if I didn't run into that girl I would still be working on that audition! [on losing an important role]
My first day on Groundhog Day (1993), Bill Murray shook hands with me and said, "Hello, nice to meet you - now show me what you're going to ...
My first day on Groundhog Day (1993), Bill Murray shook hands with me and said, "Hello, nice to meet you - now show me what you're going to do". I jumped into a few enormously energetic moments of "Ned Ryerson" and Bill held up his hand. "Fine, fine, you can do that", he said. "It's funny". Bill walked away. I then asked the director, Harold Ramis, if I should play "Ned" a little more down to earth. Harold laughed and said: "No. Bill is the lead. He's the stew. When you are a supporting character, you are the spice in the stew. Have fun".
The very best character actors are made of equal parts discipline and madness, and the fact that our faces are more familiar than our names ...
The very best character actors are made of equal parts discipline and madness, and the fact that our faces are more familiar than our names is not our curse, but our blessing. The character actor's goal, after all, is not to earn the adulation of the public; it is to give lives to a hundred nameless spirits who make us laugh or cry, who are both familiar and new, who show us that their journey is our journey, and who, like everyone in the audience, never get to kiss Renée Zellweger.
 Swing Shift (1984) was the first movie where I had a make-up person start to draw in hair on my head because I looked too bald. I had...
 Swing Shift (1984) was the first movie where I had a make-up person start to draw in hair on my head because I looked too bald. I had no idea what she was doing, and she said, "Honey, I can see your skull". And that's when it dawned on me that I was going to end up being one of those bald character actors. But that was the first film where they started drawing hair. They still thought it was worth the effort to draw in the hair.
[2011, on landing Basic Instinct (1992)] I had auditioned for Paul Verhoeven three months before to play some different part in the movie. A...
[2011, on landing Basic Instinct (1992)] I had auditioned for Paul Verhoeven three months before to play some different part in the movie. And Howard Feuer, the casting director who did Groundhog Day (1993) and cast me in In Country (1989). He was also the casting director of Basic Instinct (1992). Again, in terms of a crime of opportunity, Howard Feuer called me up at home and said, "Stephen, are you a fast study?" and I said, "I think so", and he said, "Well, we have this part that shoots tomorrow, and we have no one to play it. Mr. Verhoeven liked your original audition three months ago for some other part, and said it would be okay if you could play it. Can you come in and read this part for Paul Verhoeven, again, and see if he okays it?" So I drove over to the studio, and they threw the part at me, and it was a huge kind of expository speech, and whenever I get those things, I try to channel Robert Duvall, because he is the greatest expository actor that ever could be. I don't know how he's done it. He's done it for years, where he gets all of the speeches where he kind of explains to "Michael Corleone" about how the laws work and everything like this, and it's fascinating. And this was a speech that said basically nothing, as I recall. I think I say that the principal, Sharon Stone, was either a murderer pretending to be crazy, or that she was crazy pretending to be a murderer. The speech didn't make a ton of sense, but I think that's what it was, and I tried to channel Mr. Duvall. I don't remember a lot about that film. Except I was doing another film, and that was one of the few times I did two films in the same week. I did that movie on Monday, and then on Wednesday, I did Where the Day Takes You (1991).
[2011, on Where the Day Takes You (1991)] My first pedophilic role. First of many, with Balthazar Getty. I worked with dear [director] Mark ...
[2011, on Where the Day Takes You (1991)] My first pedophilic role. First of many, with Balthazar Getty. I worked with dear [director] Mark Rocco, who also has passed away now, way too young. And he also cast me later in Murder in the First (1995), another crime of opportunity, because Oliver Stone didn't show up to do a stunt-casting role they had had for him in the movie, "Murder in the First". So Mark called me up that morning and said, "Can you get to the studio and play Oliver Stone's part? We shoot it today". So, I ran over there and tried to learn the lines, and shot what we did that day. "Where the Day Takes You" was unusual, because I remember I told Mark, "Well, you know, I play the piano some. What if I do a scene, with Balthazar Getty, where I kind of play the piano and do the scene talking to him?" not knowing the hell I just volunteered myself for, of having to do the scene from many different angles, playing the piano and having it land at the same time. Mark was a pretty inventive filmmaker, and he got around it somehow, because I certainly wasn't good enough to act and play the piano exactly the same way in every shot. So Mark cut around that and made it work, and I think it is a great scene in the movie. That's one of those "Where are They Now?" films. We had Ricki Lake before she had her talk show, and we had Sean Astin there, before he went off to New Zealand. Also Balthazar Getty. It was a phenomenal cast...Will Smith was in the movie. I think it was his first film. When he was a rapper. It was splendid cinematography for that film. We did the entire film for $2 million. It was far richer and more troubling... I mean, it's a very worthwhile movie. And again, it makes me think of poor Mark Rocco. Way too young. Way too young, my goodness.
[2011, on working with Steven Seagal on The Glimmer Man (1996)] So I show up at Steven's home on Stone Canyon Road. My audition was at 10 a....
[2011, on working with Steven Seagal on The Glimmer Man (1996)] So I show up at Steven's home on Stone Canyon Road. My audition was at 10 a.m. And I sat in his living room, which was filled with saddles. Saddles. All over the place. Like, ornate saddles. And I waited until 12:30. Steven came downstairs. He had been asleep. And at that point, I was kind of... What do you call it? You know, when waiting to do an audition, you develop a certain amount of stress. Like athletes who build up lactic acid in their body. At that time, I was still with lactic acid. Or whatever. My body became a toxic-waste dump. So I really don't remember the audition too much, because I was so traumatized-there's the trauma - I was traumatized by waiting to audition. They wanted me to shoot one of the first days of shooting. They called me at 7 in the morning, which I'm used to, but the crew call was 9. So I came in two hours early. The reason they wanted me two hours early was that they wanted to discuss hair with the hairdresser. But because I was bald, the hairdresser didn't come in, so I was stuck waiting in the parking lot for someone to show up for two hours. When, finally, people showed up, John Gray came in and told me in a panic that Steven Seagal wanted to rewrite the script. He decided it was bad for his karma to constantly be killing people in movies, so he didn't want to kill me, anymore. And I said, "Well, it's important in the script that he kills me, because I'm, like, a serial killer". And he said, "Don't get into it with him. He believes it hurts his karmic development if he were to kill people". And Warner Brothers is furious, because they told Steven, "Steven, we hired you because you're good at killing people. And you know, you dance with who brought you. We're not casting you to do a peace-loving cop, we're casting you to murder people". So, we got in to rehearse our scene, and Steven says, "You wanna go over the lines?" And I go, "Sure". "By the way, I should mention I think we should change the end, because I shouldn't kill you". And John Gray is standing behind us doing the ix-nay sign, with his finger going across his throat, like, "Don't talk, don't talk, don't talk. Don't say anything". I said, "Steven, that is an amazing argument. I never really thought of that before. But coming from my character's perspective, I am trapped in hell, being a serial killer. It is the worst thing that I could imagine. So if you were to kill me, you would actually be freeing me to come back in a reincarnational form as something better, and I would be able to atone for my sins here on Earth. So I think you would be doing me a huge favor". And Steven said, "I never thought of it that way". So we shot the scene where he shoots me. We put in the prosthetics where my whole chest explodes when he shoots me, and then he walks up with the gun smoking, and looks down at me. We do this whole scene where I hold a priest hostage. He looks down at me, smoking, and John patted me on the back, and he said, "Thank you, Stephen, for getting us out of that one". Fade out. Fade in. Two and a half months later, I get a phone call from John Gray. He said, "Oh, dear. We're in trouble. Steven Seagal started ad-libbing in another scene about, "Thank God I didn't kill the guy in the church". So we have to find some way to add some lines to indicate that you're not dead. So can you come in and look at the scene and see if we can put something into the film to indicate that you are still alive?" So I'm watching the film. Keenen Ivory Wayans walks in to watch the scene. We do the whole scene where I'm holding the priest, Steven shoots me, my chest explodes in slow-motion! I mean, the entire chest cavity goes! I fall out of frame, Steven walks up with the smoking gun. And John Gray said, "Maybe you can add a line off-camera here". And I said, "Like what? What would I add? Like, 'You missed me!' or, 'Thank God it's just a flesh wound', or 'Oh no! I'm injured!'" I mean, my whole chest exploded. Keenen Ivory Wayans just rolls his eyes and walks out of the room. So I added, off-camera, "Finish me. Finish me off, you son of a bitch! Finish me!" It's ludicrous! And I don't know what they ended up showing. I don't know if they ended up cutting that entirely, cutting me getting shot, cutting what I said, but I knew we were in the area of high comedy at that point.
 The most difficult role I've ever had, but one of the most rewarding, was Memento (2000). I'll mention that because we had no lines i...
 The most difficult role I've ever had, but one of the most rewarding, was Memento (2000). I'll mention that because we had no lines in the script, and Chris [Christopher Nolan, writer-director] wanted us to improvise our part. I was playing someone with amnesia, which means you can't remember what you're doing, and Chris was going to cover it from different angles. So part of my brain had to remember what it was doing, and another part had to not remember what I was doing. And that was certainly the most difficult thing that I'd ever done. So that film was the most difficult, and in terms of script to stage, one of the most successful, in that when I read the script, I thought, "This could be the greatest scripts I've ever read", and when I saw the film, I thought, "This is an absolutely amazing film, and it lives up to the promises of the script". Ninety percent of the time, the final product of the film falls somewhat short of your reading of the script. And a few... Groundhog Day (1993) was an example of a script where I read it and the process and shooting of the film was superior to the original script. But "Memento" started off as a brilliant piece of writing, and ended up as a brilliant movie.
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Stephen Tobolowsky'S roles
Captain of the Guard
Thomas A. Edison
Dr. Leslie Berkowitz
FBI Agent Jerry Barkley
Assistant State Attorney Don Haffman
Dr. Max Milkman
Professor Peter Sheffield
Dr. Ted Joseph
Principal Bob Flutie
Ron the Manager