Željko Ivanek

Active - 1982 - 2021  |   Born - Aug 15, 1957 in Ljubljana, Yugoslavia  |   Genres - Drama

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Biography by Jason Buchanan

Possessing a near-perfect balance of everyman looks and tremendous talent on both stage and screen, actor Zeljko Ivanek has been a key supporting player in feature films since the early '80s. A native of Ljubljana, Yugoslavia (now Slovenia), Ivanek's family moved to the United States in 1960 in order for his father to complete his doctoral research in electronic engineering at Stanford University. Briefly returning to Yugoslavia before settling in Palo Alto, CA, in 1967, it was only a few short years before young Ivanek was pursuing his higher education at Yale. Subsequently accepted at The London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, he continued to refine his passion for acting and the summers of 1978-1980 found him honing his stage skills in the Williamstown Theater Festival in such efforts as Hay Fever and The Front Page. In 1983, Ivanek was nominated for a Tony award for his role in Brighton Beach Memories and it was around this time that he made his first film and television appearances. An early role as a telepathic killer in the 1982 thriller The Sender found Ivanek making a chilling impression, and strong performances in Mass Appeal (1984) and the AIDS drama Our Sons (1991) kept expectations high for the rising star. As his feature credits continued to build, Ivanek began appearing in such popular television series as L.A. Law, Law & Order, The X-Files, and Murder, She Wrote. Though the adjustment from stage to screen was initially daunting for the classically trained actor, once he got accustomed to the change of pace, he adjusted remarkably well. As the '90s rolled on, Ivanek's film credits included such A-list releases as Courage Under Fire (1996), Donnie Brasco (1997), and the John Travolta thriller A Civil Action (1998). It was also around this time that Ivanek embarked on a six-year stint as Governor James Devlin on HBO's acclaimed series Oz. As the millennium turned, so did Ivanek's onscreen career, and his resume seemed to be exclusively built of nothing but high-profile efforts in both film and television. In addition to appearing in Dancer in the Dark (2000), Hannibal (2001), Black Hawk Down (2001), Unfaithful (2002), and Dogville (2003), memorable roles on The Practice and The West Wing kept television audiences glued to their sets. He reteamed with Lars Von Trier for the director's drama Maderlay, and continued his film career in projects such as The Hoax, In Bruges, and Tower Heist, while maintaining a presence on the small-screen with appearances on Damages, Heroes, and Big Love.

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  • Born in Yugoslavia (now Slovenia) and moved with his family to California at age 3 so his father could complete his doctorate in electronics engineering at Stanford University.
  • Began his studies at Yale with a double major in theater and geology; dropped geology after one course.
  • Earned his undergraduate degree in three years.
  • Out of respect for his parents, refused several agents' requests to change his name.
  • Is often cast by producer Tom Fontana, whom he met while working at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in Massachusetts after graduating from Yale.
  • Known for frequently playing white-collar villains.