Tom Noonan

Active - 1953 - 2017  |   Born - Apr 12, 1951 in Greenwich, Connecticut, United States  |   Genres - Drama, Comedy Drama, Comedy, Action, Horror

Share on

Biography by Jason Clark

A performer who succinctly defines the term "character actor," Tom Noonan has appeared in over 20 feature films and numerous TV series and movies, and has also enjoyed a career as a playwright, director, and acting professor. A 1973 graduate of the esteemed Yale acting program, Noonan began his career as a guitarist and composer, working with such downtown theater troupes as Mabou Mines and The Wooster Group (which has included fellow actor Willem Dafoe among its ranks) until he found his niche in film and TV in the early '80s.

Noonan began to find work as a premier villain in such films as Manhunter ([1986] the first film to feature the infamous Hannibal Lecter), The Monster Squad (1987), Robocop 2 (1990), and Last Action Hero (1993), the latter few representing Hollywood action-adventure pictures that helped subsidize smaller projects that the actor wished to take on. One of these projects was the 1994 Sundance Film Festival sleeper What Happened Was..., a startling examination of a truly awkward first date based on Noonan's play produced the previous year. The film, which Noonan wrote, directed, and starred in opposite Karen Sillas, won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance that year, as well as the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award. That same year, the film was released on the arthouse circuit and garnered accolades for Noonan, including several Ten Best citations from critics. What Happened Was... was featured in Scenario Magazine in the July 1995 issue as one of its featured screenplays.

Noonan continued to appear in such mainstream fare as Michael Mann's cops-and-robbers epic Heat (1995) and more television offerings, including a memorable stint on the popular sci-fi show The X-Files. He then made a film called The Wife, based on his play Wifey, co-starring Wallace Shawn, Julie Hagerty, and Karen Young, all holdovers from the stage version, which premiered at his Paradise Theater, a small off-off-Broadway space in New York's East Village. This film was also accepted into the Sundance Film Festival and was (barely) released theatrically, not enjoying the same success as his 1994 play to film.

Noonan is the author of several collections of fiction, as well as an unpublished novel titled Must Have. A former National Endowment of the Arts scholar, he has long used New York City as his home and professional base, and has taught classes in acting technique at the Paradise Theater, which for years has been host to original, quirky downtown theatre.

Movie Highlights

See Full Filmography


  • Plays piano, organ, accordion, guitar, mandolin and violin, and composes music.
  • Musically, he's into Beethoven, Bach, Vivaldi, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, the Beatles and Eminem.
  • Founded the Paradise Theater Company in New York City in 1983.
  • Lanford Wilson wrote the play A Poster for the Cosmos for him.
  • Has had three films made of his plays, What Happened Was..., The Wife and Wang Dang.
  • Won a 1998 Guggenheim Fellowship in Filmmaking.
  • Favorite horror movies are the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Exorcist.
  • Sometimes is credited as Richmond Arrley and Ludovico Sorret.
  • Has served as a professor of film at Yale University, Columbia University, the School of Visual Arts and New York University.