Frank Whaley

Active - 1987 - Present  |   Born - Jul 20, 1963 in Syracuse, New York, United States  |   Genres - Drama

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Biography by Rebecca Flint Marx

Actor, writer, director, and musician Frank Whaley is best known for his vivid portrayals of put-upon, sometimes ill-fated young men. Born in Syracuse, NY, on July 20, 1963, Whaley studied theater at both the University of New York, Albany and New York City's Actors Studio, where he earned a B.A.

The actor got his first break with a role in Ironweed (1987), sharing the screen with Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep. Following secondary parts in films like Field of Dreams and Born on the Fourth of July (both 1989), he landed the more substantial role of Steve Bushak in The Freshman (1990). The film put Whaley on the Hollywood map, and he was able to work consistently throughout the rest of the decade, turning in particularly strong performances in films like A Midnight Clear (1991), in which he played a doomed World War II soldier; The Doors (1991), which cast him as Doors guitarist Robby Kreiger; Swing Kids (1993), in which he played a musician and a doomed man; and Pulp Fiction (1994), in which he had a brief but memorable appearance as an ill-fated business associate of Marsellus Wallace. The same year that he appeared in Pulp Fiction, Whaley starred in Swimming With Sharks, a black comedy that gave him one of his comparatively few leading roles. As used and abused office boy of a sadistic studio executive (Kevin Spacey), Whaley gave torment a good name, proving that it was possible to display a certain kind of finesse when portraying someone relentlessly slapped by power.

In 1999, after spending the previous few years playing more conflicted men (to particular acclaim in the made-for-TV World War II drama When Trumpets Fade), Whaley took matters into his own hands by writing and directing Joe the King. A dark independent feature starring John Leguizamo, Camryn Manheim, Val Kilmer, and Ethan Hawke, it premiered at the 1999 Sundance Film Festival, where Whaley won a Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award for his efforts. In the years to come, Whaley would remain active on screen, appearing on shows like Ugly Betty and Psych.

Movie Highlights

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  • Founded the band the Niagras with his brother, Robert.
  • Began his film career in 1987 as the younger version of Jack Nicholson's character in Ironweed.
  • Played a tourist lured into the Russian underworld in 1992's Back in the U.S.S.R., the first U.S. film ever to be shot entirely in Moscow.
  • At the 1999 Sundance Film Festival, he won a Walto Salt Screenwriting Award for his film Joe the King, an autobiographical drama about growing up in a poor and troubled upstate New York household during the '70s.