African-American character actor James Pickens Jr. sustains one of the longest and fullest Hollywood resumés in recent memory, just in terms of sheer volume of work. Soap opera devotees may remember Pickens for one of his earliest achievements -- his portrayal of Zack Edwards on the long-running daytime drama Another World, from 1986 through 1990. Pickens subsequently divided his time between characterizations on such prime-time programs as Roseanne and Murder, She Wrote, and small roles in A-list Hollywood features. At least in the early years, these films were often, though not always, action vehicles with predominantly black casts, such as the Ice-T and Ice Cube action thriller Trespass (1992), the Wesley Snipes and Dennis Hopper cop picture Boiling Point (1993), and the bullet-ridden Hughes Brothers pictures Menace II Society (1993) and Dead Presidents (1995).
Back on the small screen, Pickens could be seen on such popular series as The X-Files, The Practice, NYPD Blue, Six Feet Under, and Philly. Also, in spring 1998, he joined episode writer Larry David and co. as the detective who threw Jerry and his cronies in the slammer on the much-anticipated series finale of Seinfeld; David and Pickens re-teamed several years later for two 2005 episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm. Pickens drew his greatest attention and acclaim, however, when he ascended from bit player to a prominent supporting role as Chief of Surgery Richard Webber on the blockbuster medical drama Grey's Anatomy. This series premiered in 2005 to sensational ratings and quickly became an American institution, thanks in no small part to Pickens's work.