Some actors have such defining traits that they seem to have "leading man" written all over them, while others, like Terry Kinney, succeed with an uncanny ability to drastically alter their appearance at the drop of a hat. Though his chameleon-like skills have helped the actor land numerous roles on the stage and screen, it's his talent that ultimately formed the backbone of his enduring career. After graduating from high school, the Lincoln, IL, native attended Illinois State University. It was there that he befriended aspiring actor Jeff Perry, who invited Kinney to Chicago to watch his best friend perform in a stage production of Grease. Perry's friend was an ambitious young actor named Gary Sinise, and the three soon began planning to open their own regional theater.
Though it was founded in 1974, the Steppenwolf Theater wouldn't quite get off the ground until two years later -- when Kinney and Perry graduated from I.S.U. The venture was largely unprofitable at first, so its founders supported themselves and their dream through a series of odd jobs before the theater moved from a Highland Park church basement to the old St. Nicholas Theater building in the early '80s. The change of scenery proved to be just what the theater needed to flourish, and it was soon drawing good crowds. In the years that followed, the company moved once again -- this time to a permanent location in Chicago -- and Kinney served as Steppenwolf's artistic co-director alongside Sinise. During this profitable period, Kinney and his co-founders were nominated for numerous theatrical awards, while their productions made headway on Broadway. Kinney, of course, had aspirations beyond regional theater, and, in 1986, made his film debut with a small part in the romantic comedy Seven Minutes in Heaven. The remainder of the '80s found the actor landing bit parts in No Mercy (1986) and Sinise's Miles From Home (1988), in addition to a brief stint on television with thirtysomething. It wasn't until the following decade, however, that his film career truly began to blossom.
Following an appearance in The Last of the Mohicans (1992), Kinney drew favorable reviews for his top-billed turn in Abel Ferrara's Body Snatchers, and his billing remained high with The Firm (1993), Fly Away Home (1996), and Sleepers (1998). In 1997, Kinney landed an extended gig on the acclaimed HBO prison drama Oz. Cast as Cell Block Five Unit Manager Tim McManus, Kinney's hardened performance lent the show both dimension and a certain foundation. Kinney frequently balanced his role on this series with a number of feature performances, including such films as The Young Girl and the Monsoon (1999, his second lead), Luminous Motion (1998), and The House of Mirth (2000). Although the bulk of his work in Save the Last Dance (2001) ended up on the cutting room floor, audiences could still get a good look at Kinney in such features as The Laramie Project (2001) and the 2004 soccer drama The Game of Their Lives.