Tall, outdoorsy, easygoing, and known for giving consistently well-wrought, naturalistic performances, Fred Ward seems to have all the makings of a leading man, but for some reason he has had more success in supporting and character roles. He became an actor after a three-year Air Force stint and time spent studying at New York's Herbert Berghof Studio and in Rome. While in Italy he dubbed Italian movies and worked as a mime until he made his debut in two Roberto Rossellini films. Upon returning stateside in the early '70s, Ward spent time working in experimental theater and doing some television work. He made his first American film appearance playing a truck driver in Ginger in the Morning (1973). His first major role came in the Clint Eastwood vehicle Escape From Alcatraz (1979) as fellow escapee John Anglin. For Ward, 1983 was a very good year as he played key roles in three major films, Uncommon Valor, as an anguished Vietnam vet-turned-sculptor, Silkwood, as a brave union activist, and in a scene-stealing performance as Virgil "Gus" Grissom in Philip Kaufman's The Right Stuff. In 1985, Ward starred in Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins, a James Bond-ian spy thriller; this was to be the film that made Ward a leading man. Unfortunately, it fizzled at the box office. This led to more leading roles, but again, none were particularly successful and he returned to major supporting roles. Notable performances from the '90s include that of a beaten-down, humiliated cop in Miami Blues, (Ward also co-produced it), a fascinating portrayal of author Henry Miller in Henry & June (both 1990), and as the studio security chief in The Player (1992). His role alongside Kevin Bacon in 1990's Tremors found Ward's comic abilities sharp and in tact, and after again appearing alongside Tim Robbins in the 1992 satire Bob Roberts, the talented actor would continue through the 1990s with role in The Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult (1994), and the Keanu Reeves thriller Chain Reaction (1996). Increasingly busy into the new millennium, Ward continued to move effortlessly between television and film roles, displaying his sense of humor in Joe Dirt and Corky Romano (both 2001), and his penchant for action in The Chaos Factor (2000) and Full Disclosure the following year. He worked continuously in projects such as Enough and Sweet Home Alabama (both 2002), the Bob Dylan vehicle Masked and Anonymous, and appeared briefly on the hit television series Grey's Anatomy. In 2010 he was part of the cast of The United States of Tara, and the next year he appeared in the crime comedy 30 Minutes or Less.
Biography by Sandra Brennan
- Studied acting at New York's famed Herbert Berghof Studio after serving in the U.S. Air Force.
- Before his acting career took off, worked as a lumberjack, janitor and short-order cook.
- While living in Rome, dubbed Italian films into English and appeared in films by neorealist director Roberto Rossellini.
- First high-profile screen role was in Clint Eastwood's 1979 prison thriller Escape From Alcatraz.
- His acclaimed performance as doomed astronaut Gus Grissom in The Right Stuff (1983) led to one of his few starring roles, in 1985's Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins.