Stone-jawed and puppy-eyed, Elias Koteas has the enviable ability to call on both his distinctive looks and talent to portray a variety of complex, often troubled characters. Koteas is one of Canada's most prominent and well-respected actors, and during the late '90s, he began to amass international critical attention for his work in a number of high profile films, including David Cronenberg's Crash (1996) and Terrence Malick's The Thin Red Line (1998).
Koteas, who is of Greek ancestry, was born in Montreal on March 11, 1961. His father was a mechanic for the Canadian National Railways and his mother worked as a hatmaker; Koteas himself planned to be an architect until his teenage introduction to acting changed his plans. He was particularly inspired by Nick Nolte's performance in the TV miniseries Rich Man, Poor Man; little did Koteas know that two decades later, he would be starring opposite Nolte in The Thin Red Line.
After beginning his education at Montreal's Vanier College, Koteas left to study at New York's prestigious American Academy of Dramatic Arts in 1981. Following his graduation, he went to New York's Actors Studio, where he studied under Ellen Burstyn and Peter Masterson. The actor made his film debut in the Mary Steenburgen drama One Magic Christmas in 1985 and went on to do supporting work in a variety of films that included Francis Ford Coppola's Gardens of Stone (1987), Some Kind of Wonderful (1987), Coppola's Tucker: The Man and His Dream (1988), and She's Having a Baby (1988). In 1989, he earned a Genie Award nomination (Canada's equivalent of the Oscar) for his portrayal of the title character of Malarek: A Street Kid Who Made It; two years later, he earned additional acclaim for his performance as a voyeuristic insurance adjustor in Atom Egoyan's The Adjuster. It was for his portrayal of an embittered DJ in another of Egoyan's films, Exotica (1994), that Koteas garnered his second Genie nomination; following this critical success, he began to appear in an increasing number of high profile productions.
Koteas was subsequently featured to great effect as the creepy Vaughan in David Cronenberg's controversial Crash (1996), and he invested his brief but pivotal role as Holly Hunter's mystery man in the acclaimed Living out Loud (1998) with memorable charisma. In The Thin Red Line, he managed to stand out from his accomplished co-stars -- who included Nolte, Sean Penn, John Cusack, and Ben Chaplin -- as Captain Storos, an alienated, idealistic soldier who refuses his superior's orders to send his men on a suicidal attack plan.
Over the next several years, Koteas would prove to be a consistent force on screen, appearing in films like Shooter, Shutter Island, and Let Me In, as well as the series Combat Hospital.