If one were to base one's judgment of David Schwimmer's talent on his low-key performance as the anxious, awkward but lovable paleontologist Ross on NBC's smash hit comedy Friends, one might never suspect that beneath the affable exterior lies a versatile, multi-talented actor and filmmaker.
Tall, dark-haired, and lanky, Schwimmer was born in Queens, but later raised in Southern California, where he attended the famed Beverly Hills High School. He then enrolled in Chicago's Northwestern University, where he briefly considered pursuing his family's traditional profession and becoming a lawyer, but by that time, the acting bug had bitten him deeply and he was committed to it. Following graduation from Northwestern, Schwimmer gained enough stage experience in Chicago theater to co-found the Lookingglass Theatre Company with fellow actors. Schwimmer remains passionate about his involvement with the troupe and has starred in or directed many of their productions.
In 1989, he made the first of several attempts to break into Hollywood, when he was cast as a killer in the made-for-TV thriller A Deadly Silence. It was apparently an unpleasant experience and the young actor hastened back to the familiarity of Lookingglass. Still, the lure of Hollywood was great and Schwimmer returned to guest star and play recurring roles on several television series. One of his best-known early TV roles was that of Olivia D'Abo's hippie fiancé on The Wonder Years. On the gritty crime drama NYPD Blue, he garnered critical acclaim for his portrayal of a lawyer who goes over the edge and becomes a vigilante. He had another bad television experience when he was cast opposite Henry Winkler in Fox's sitcom Monty. The series crashed before it got off the ground and Schwimmer swore he'd never do another comedy show. Up until 1994, he continued to play a wide variety of roles and to divide his time between stage and television.
Despite his earlier vow, Schwimmer reluctantly accepted the role of Ross in Friends, a role that the show's creators wrote especially for him. The series, about a group of good-looking, but rather aimless buddies in their twenties, was an immediate hit and Schwimmer's lovable nerd character made him a star and got him an Emmy nomination for Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series
With his newfound stardom came offers for feature film roles. Though he had actually begun appearing in films in 1990, he had, thus far, played only small roles. He made his debut as a star playing a virtual clone of Ross in the Pallbearer (1996). He played a dramatic role as one of the inventors of silicon breast implants in the made-for-television docudrama Breast Men (1997). Schwimmer signed a lucrative contract with Miramax that will not only star him in several pictures, but also allow him to direct. But while nearly a decade of experience directing television prepared Schwimmer well for his feature directorial debut, the 2007 comedy Run, Fatboy, Run, not even the presence of rising comedy star Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead) could save the film from the bargain bins. Fortunately for Schwimmer, the animated comedy Madagascar proved enough of a hit to warrant at least two sequels, giving the able voice actor plenty of time to plan his sophomore feature, 2010's cautionary internet predator thriller Trust.