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James Howard Woods (born April 18, 1947) is an American film, stage and television actor and comedian. Woods is known for starring in films such as Once Upon a Time in America, Ghosts of Mississippi, Salvador, Casino and as the Disney villain Hades in Hercules.

Early life

Woods was born in Vernal, Utahmarker. His father, Gay Peyton Woods, was an army intelligence officer who died in 1960 following routine surgery. His mother, Martha A. (née Smith), operated a pre-school after her husband's death and re-married to Thomas E. Dixon. Woods grew up in Warwick, Rhode Islandmarker, where he attended Pilgrim High School. Woods, an army brat, had been accepted to attend the United States Air Force Academy. But, several weeks before he was to depart, Woods suffered an accident involving a plate glass window which injured his hand tendons severely enough to result in his acceptance being retracted.

Woods chose to pursue his undergraduate studies at MITmarker, where he majored in political science (though he originally planned on a career as a surgeon). While at MIT, Woods pledged to Theta Delta Chi Fraternity. He was also an active member of the student theatre group "Dramashop" where he both acted in and directed a number of plays. He dropped out of MIT in 1969 just before his graduation in order to pursue a career in acting. Woods moved to New York Citymarker, calling his mother to tell her of his plans. While his mother wasn't thrilled at the news, she gave him her blessing to pursue a career in acting. At the 2006 CBS UpFront, James Woods stated that his mother told him that if he was going to switch careers to acting that he needed to be the best actor he could possibly be.


Woods began his career in theatre, making his Broadwaymarker debut in 1970 at the Lyceum Theatre in the first US production of Frank McMahon's Borstal Boy. He returned to Broadway the following year portraying David Darst in Daniel Berrigan's The Trial of the Catonsville Nine. In 1971 he portrayed the role of Bob Rettie in the American premiere of Michael Weller's Moonchildren at the Arena Stagemarker in Washington, D.C.marker The production moved to Broadway the following year and Woods won a Theatre World Award for his performance. He returned to Broadway one last time in 1973 to portray Steve Cooper in the original production of Jean Kerr's Finishing Touches. Since then he has been a busy actor, producer, director, and writer for film and television.

Woods is considered one of the finest character actors in Hollywood today. He is known for his dark, intense characters, an early example being his portrayal of a sadistic murderer in 1979's The Onion Field. He appeared in an episode of The Rockford Files, playing a son whose parents were murdered and wanted James "Jim" Rockford to find the murderer. He was nominated for an Academy Award twice: the first in 1987 for Best Actor in Salvador and again in 1996 for Best Supporting Actor for his acclaimed performance as Byron De La Beckwith in Ghosts of Mississippi. He has also garnered critical praise for his voice work as Hades in Disney's Hercules.

Woods' favorite role, however, is Max - the domineering gangster in Sergio Leone's epic film Once Upon a Time in America (1984).

In 1995, Woods took the role of Lester Diamond, the sleazy pimp in Martin Scorsese's Casino. That same year, he portrayed H.R. Haldeman in Nixon, the biopic of Richard M. Nixon directed by Oliver Stone.

He was briefly considered for the role of The Joker by Tim Burton and Sam Hamm for the Batman film in 1989. Hamm recalls that he and Burton thought, "James Woods would be good and wouldn't need any makeup, which would save a couple of hours' work every morning." The role ended up going to Jack Nicholson. Quentin Tarantino wrote a part in Reservoir Dogs with Woods in mind, but his agent rejected the script without showing it to the actor. When Woods learned of this some time later, he fired the agent. Woods was also considered for the part of Donald Kimball in American Psycho, but he turned it down. The part was given to Willem Dafoe.

Woods lent his voice again in Disney's 2001 animated comedy Recess: School's Out as antagonist Phillium Benedict, the twisted former headmaster who attempts to abolish summer vacation. He also appeared as himself in the episode of The Simpsons entitled "Homer and Apu" and in two episodes of Family Guy entitled "Peter's Got Woods" and "Back to the Woods". The high school in Family Guy is called James Woods High and a forest that is briefly mentioned in The Fat Guy Strangler called James Woods are named after him. In 2004, Woods played the character Jallak in the animated film "Ark". Woods also more recently performed in the movie Surf's Up, voicing the animated otter who recruited surfers and pitted them against each other.

In 2006, Woods starred opposite Cuba Gooding, Jr. in the political thriller End Game. Also in 2006, Woods played himself in the premiere episode of Entourage's third season. He also starred in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas as Mike Toreno and voiced the falcon in Stuart Little 2.

Woods also starred in the CBS legal drama Shark, which ran for two seasons between 2006 and 2008. Woods played an infamous Los Angeles defense lawyer who, after growing disillusioned, became a successful prosecutor.


Woods is a vocal supporter of former U.S. President George W. Bush and the war in Iraq, though he has some politically liberal views. He is a particularly ardent supporter of former Mayor of New Yorkmarker Rudy Giuliani. Woods lobbied hard to play Giuliani in the biopic Rudy: The Rudy Giuliani Story, and considers the role one of the favorites of his career.

In 2001, before the September 11 attacks, while on a commercial flight from Boston to Los Angeles in July, Woods claims to have noticed two men, who were to later become two of the 9/11 hijackers, and informed a flight attendant that he felt they were acting very suspiciously. He stated they never ate, drank, slept, or read during the flight, only whispering to each other in low tones. He filed an official report with the FAA about the incident. Woods has been interviewed several times by FBI agents regarding this incident.

Woods's name was in an advertisement in the Los Angeles Times (17 August 2006) that condemned Hamas and Hezbollah and supported Israelmarker in the 2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict.

In the 2008 presidential election, Woods endorsed John McCain for president.

Personal life

Woods plays on the World Poker Tour in the Hollywood Home games for the American Stroke Association charity. In 2006, James finished in 24th place out of 692 at the L.A. Poker Classic for $40,000. Woods has shared an endorsement for the online poker website Hollywood Poker which is run in conjunction with Ongame Network, and "co hosted" with poker enthusiast Vince Van Patten. He can be found playing regularly at Hollywood Poker, and contributes content to the website.

His brother, Michael Jeffrey Woods, died of cardiac arrest on July 26, 2006. This occurred shortly after James Woods finished 24th at a World Poker Tour event.

During a press interview for Kingdom Hearts II, Woods noted that he is an avid video game player.

He volunteers as a Reserve Police Officer for the LAPD.



  1. Warwick Online: Michael Woods remembered for a smile, and a laugh
  2. James Woods Biography (1947-)
  3. [1]
  4. Reiter, Amy Woods on Fire, Front Page Magazine, Originally published in August 01, 2003
  5. Rudy: The Rudy Giuliani Story (2003) (TV)
  6. "[2]"
  7. "[3]"
  8. " Nicole Kidman and 84 Others Stand United Against Terrorism" Hollywood Grind. 18 August 2006.
  9. [4]

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