An accomplished playwright, screenwriter, director, and actor, former classics major Tim Blake Nelson is perhaps most familiar to the movie audience as the hilariously dim Delmar in Joel and Ethan Coen's goofy Oscar-nominated comedy O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000).
Born in Oklahoma, Nelson attended college at Brown University where he became a Latinist in the classics department. Opting for the arts over academia, Nelson headed to New York after college, studying acting at Juilliard and embarking on an Obie Award-winning career as a stage writer. After making his film debut in Nora Ephron's freshman directorial effort This Is My Life (1992), Nelson occasionally appeared in films throughout the 1990s, playing small roles in Hal Hartley's Amateur (1994), the Al Pacino/Johnny Depp mob drama Donnie Brasco (1997), and Terrence Malick's radiant anti-war anti-epic The Thin Red Line (1998). Along with film acting, Nelson turned to filmmaking with the screen adaptation of his play Eye of God (1997), a somber rural drama about a woman's marriage to a pious ex-con with a violent past, which earned positive notice at the Sundance Film Festival. Because of his ability to handle difficult questions of violence and create an ominous mood out of the everyday, Nelson was asked to helm the modernized, teen version of Shakespeare's Othello, retitled O (2001). Shot in 1999, O languished on the shelf in the wake of a series of high school shootings, deemed an inappropriate release because of its violent denouement.
In the meantime, Nelson's friend Joel Coen offered him one of the starring roles in O Brother, Where Art Thou?. As comfortable playing rural comedy as directing rural drama, Nelson shined as the dimmest of a trio of hare-brained fugitives in the Coen brothers' shaggy-dog 1930s Southern Odyssey. After his successful stint with the Coens' light-hearted movie, Nelson returned squarely to downbeat material, directing the screen adaptation of his play The Grey Zone (2001). A drama about the only armed revolt at Auschwitz, The Grey Zone was already hitting the film-festival circuit when Lionsgate removed O from its Miramax purgatory, releasing it in August 2001. Impressing some critics with its central performances and evocative Southern Gothic atmosphere (if not always with all aspects of the adaptation), O confirmed Nelson's ability to translate his concern with the complex motivations for (and fall out from) violence to the film medium.
Back to being an actor for hire, Nelson scored a summer 2002 hat trick with roles in one glossy big studio blockbuster and two well-regarded independent releases. In Steven Spielberg's Minority Report (2002), Nelson stood out (albeit a bit too much for some critical tastes) as the oddball, organ-playing guardian of the imprisoned "pre"-killers captured by Precrime hotshot Tom Cruise. Refraining from such theatrical eccentricity, Nelson garnered more positive reviews for his turn as a shy technician charged with servicing house arrestee Robin Tunney's ankle bracelet in the singular indie romance Cherish (2002), and as John C. Reilly's doltish, stoner best friend and co-worker in Miguel Arteta's dark comedy The Good Girl (2002).
Nelson's roles proliferated through the first years of the new millennium -- he averaged around six to eight A-list features per year, the number doubtless heightened by Nelson's status as a character actor and his resultant tendency to gravitate to bit parts in lieu of leading roles. For the first several years after The Good Girl, Nelson's roles included, among others: Dr. Jonathan Jacobo, the "pterodactyl ghost" in Raja Gosnell's Scooby Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed (2004); Danny Dalton, a representative of the oil company Killen, in Stephen Gaghan's muckraking drama Syriana (2005); and Tom Loyless, the supervisor of a polio treatment center revitalized by F.D.R., in Joseph Sargent's superior telemovie Warm Springs (2005). Nelson then appeared as Curly Branitt, an entrepreneur determined to build a pancake house and expel the resident animals at the location, in the Jimmy Buffett-produced, family-oriented comedy Hoot (2006). He plays Kevin Munchak in Michael Polish's drama The Astronaut Farmer (2006), starring Billy Bob Thornton, Virginia Madsen, and Bruce Dern; and The North Beach Killer in Finn Taylor's fiendish black comedy The Darwin Awards (2007). He had a major supporting turn in 2008's The Incredible Hulk, and in 2010 he wrote directed and acted in Leaves of Grass. He appeared in the 2011 teaching drama Detachment, and in 2012 he landed a major part in the inspirational drama Big Miracle and appeared in Steven Spielberg's long-planned biopic Lincoln.Nelson is married to the actress Lisa Benavides; they reside in Southern California.