A handsome, brooding actor equally at home in mainstream Hollywood fare and in American independent projects -- as well as on the theatrical stage -- Peter Gallagher was born August 19, 1955, in Armonk, NY. While attending Tufts University, he spent his summers appearing with area theater groups, and after graduating in 1977, he acted on Broadway in a revival of Hair. Gallagher then starred as Danny Zuko in Grease, a performance which led to his portrayal of a '50s-era pop singer in his film debut, 1980's The Idolmaker. Summer Lovers followed two years later, but proved such a miserable experience that Gallagher fled Hollywood to return to the stage. He won a Theatre World Award that same year for his work in the Broadway musical A Doll's Life, and earned a Clarence Derwent Award in 1984 for his turn in Tom Stoppard's The Real Thing.
After garnering a Tony nomination for his work in a controversial revival of Long Day's Journey into Night, he enjoyed his motion picture breakthrough as an adulterous attorney in Steven Soderbergh's influential 1989 debut sex, lies, and videotape. The performance earned Gallagher considerable credibility within the independent filmmaking community, but his next several efforts were more mainstream productions like 1990's Tune in Tomorrow and the television drama Love and Lies. However, a subsequent turn in Peter Sellars' 1991 avant-silent The Cabinet of Dr. Ramirez brought acclaim from art-house audiences, and with a lead role in Robert Altman's 1992 comeback The Player, Gallagher's stock rose even higher. That same year, the actor wowed theater audiences with his portrayal of Sky Masterson in the Broadway revival of Guys and Dolls, a widely praised production that also starred Nathan Lane.
Over the following years, Gallagher split his time between edgier material (Tim Robbins' Bob Roberts, Altman's Short Cuts, and Soderbergh's The Underneath) and lighter, glossier projects (Malice, While You Were Sleeping, and To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday). In 1999, he gave smarm a good, or at least convincing, name, starring as a sleazy physician in The House on Haunted Hill, a remake of William Castle's 1958 horror classic, and as a similarly repugnant real estate salesman in American Beauty.
Gallagher would spend the following years enjoying particular fame in the realm of TV, starring on such successful shows as The O.C., Californication, Rescue Me, and Covert Affairs. Gallagher would also remain active in film, however, in movies like Burlsesque and Conviction.