Primarily a supporting and character actor, Philip Baker Hall has also played the occasional lead on stage, screen, and television. Hall made his film debut playing a priest in Cowards (1970). He then appeared in three television series during the mid-'70s, including Man From Atlantis (1977). He became best known during the '80s for his portrayal of Richard Nixon in Robert Altman's brilliant Secret Honor (1984), for which Hall also wrote the screenplay. Though the film garnered mixed reviews, the actor's portrayal of Nixon was hailed as a tour de force. Through the '80s and '90s, Hall continued to work steadily in films and on television; his talents were perhaps best, and most famously, utilized by director Paul Thomas Anderson, who cast Hall in substantial roles in Hard Eight (1996), Boogie Nights (1997), and Magnolia (1999), the last of which saw the actor in fine form as a game show host dying of cancer. Hall also had a memorable turn as a private investigator who is far too convinced of the infallibility of his own instincts in Anthony Minghella's The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999); that same year, he gave a strong performance as CBS producer Don Hewitt in Michael Mann's The Insider. Clearly, Hall had no intention of slowing down, and he would spend the next several years remaining extremely active, appearing in such films as The Matador, Rush Hour 3, The Lodger, 50/50, and Mr. Popper's Penguins.
Biography by Sandra Brennan
- Early TV credits include bit parts on M*A*S*H, Good Times and Man From Atlantis.
- Breakthrough role was Richard Nixon in 1984's Secret Honor at the University of Michigan, where director Robert Altman was a visiting professor. The production was crewed by UM students.
- Met director and frequent collaborator Paul Thomas Anderson in 1992 on the set of a PBS special, where Anderson was a production assistant.
- Nominated for 1997 IFP Best Actor Spirit Award for Hard Eight.
- Memorably appeared in an episode of Seinfeld as library investigation officer Mr. Bookman, with whom Jerry haggles about an overdue book.
- Appeared as two different judges on ABC's The Practice.