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October 9, 2015

That Guy! Denis O'Hare

by Allyssa Lee, posted Jun 13th 2010 12:00PM
He's worked with a galaxy of stars, including Clint Eastwood, Angelina Jolie, George Clooney, Sandra Bullock, Tom Hanks and Sean Penn; and he's been in so many projects that while you immediately recognize the face it's hard to pinpoint what he's actually been in.

You know, that guy. The one who plays the no-nonsense boss or campaign manager or stuffy suit; who can be kind of a jerk; and hasn't he been on 'Law & Order'?

His name is Denis O'Hare. And unbeknownst to those outside of the Great White Way, the Michigan-raised, Northwestern-educated character actor is well known on Broadway as an acclaimed theater actor. A Tony award winner for his featured role in 2003's 'Take Me Out,' O'Hare was nominated for another Tony for his role in 'Assassins' a year later. He garnered a Drama Desk Award when he starred opposite Christina Applegate in the Broadway revival of 'Sweet Charity' in 2005.

And O'Hare is on the cusp of breaking out of his uptight suit niche with his latest role, as the undead and loving it Russell Edgington, the 2,800-year-old Vampire King of Mississippi, on season 3 of HBO's 'True Blood,' which premieres this Sunday.

"He's the oldest vampire we've met yet, and he's consequently also the most powerful vampire," says O'Hare on the phone from Los Angeles. "He feels like he's entitled to run things because he has a better grip on the history, and he doesn't think that human beings are in charge, and he's going to go about and try and change that."

It's a great part for the veteran theater actor to really sink his teeth into. "Russell has a great love of language, and as a theater actor, we have a different approach when it comes to big chunks of text: We eat it up," O'Hare says. "So they kind of have written it to my strengths."

Herewith, some other things you might not know about this character actor ...


Number TV and Movie Credits: Around 50.

Go-to "That Guy" For: While people from Broadway and the theater know O'Hare as more of a comic actor, "in film, I tend to be sober, angry government guys."

You Probably Recognize Him From: A multi-episode arc as campaign manager Travis March on ABC's 'Brothers & Sisters.' 'Milk,' in which he played Harvey Milk opponent Sen. John Briggs. 'The Proposal,' as the meanie trying to deport Sandra Bullock's character to Canada. 'Charlie Wilson's War,' as the CIA station chief in Islamabad, 'Michael Clayton' -- "I played an angry businessman who had a run-in with George Clooney," he says. 'The Changeling.' 'A Mighty Heart.' In 'Garden State,' "I was known as the guy with the boat at the end of the movie," O'Hare explains. And 'Duplicity,' with Julia Roberts and Clive Owen. Another businessman? "I was the head of the counter espionage unit ... with slicked back hair and black turtlenecks," he reveals. "A little bit of a departure."

On His "That Guy" Recognition From People On the Street: "Sometimes, they know me from a 'Law & Order,' but usually they think we're friends," O'Hare says. "They assume that I've worked with them, or I've waited on them, or I am their doctor, or I'm their next-door neighbor, and they go, 'Hey! How are you?' I go, 'Great.' 'What are you doing here?' 'I'm just picking up some groceries.' 'That's funny. ' 'Yeah.' Throughout the conversation it gradually dawns on them that they don't know me, and then they kind of back away."

"I usually don't correct them," he continues. "I don't want to get into a situation where I'm trying to run through my entire resume until something clicks."

On Getting His 'True Blood' Role: "[Creator] Alan Ball had actually seen me in ... 'Take Me Out' in 2003, and he remembered me from that," O'Hare says. "And Russell ... he is definitely not a comic character, but you've got to have a sense of humor to play a character like this."

His History With Vampires: "I've wanted to be a vampire since I was 5," O'Hare recalls. "I grew up with all kinds of monster books, vampire books, Frankenstein books. I've been a vampire twice when I was a kid. At one point I was a vampire with crutches," he says, explaining that a hip disease put him on crutches for a year when he was 8. "And that Halloween, I had a cape over my crutches, running around trying to get candy."

Empire State of Mind: O'Hare spent 12 years kicking around the Chicago theater scene when the play he was starring in, called 'Hauptmann,' made its move to New York. The production didn't stick around for more than 4 weeks, but O'Hare did: He's lived in New York ever since.

The 'Law & Order' Connection:
As is the case with many New York-based character actors, O'Hare has appeared in his share of 'Law & Order' episodes. He once said he played "an angry accountant, a schizophrenic who kills people and becomes his own lawyer, a militia guy who was also his own lawyer, a priest who kills people and a semi-retarded guy who rapes an old lady."

Making His Own Spin: O'Hare is an avid cyclist, even navigating those treacherous Manhattan streets on a two-wheeler. "If you see me in New York, you'll probably see me on my bicycle riding furiously between a city bus and a taxi cab, hitting one of them on the side and yelling at them," he says.

What's Next: After 11 episodes of 'True Blood,' a sword-and-sandal feature called 'The Eagle of the Ninth' starring Channing Tatum, set to open next February. "I play a Roman legionnaire," O'Hare says. "I'm kind of his lieutenant."

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Such a great actor! He's doing a show in October/November at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, NJ that's a one man version of the Iliad. I'm really looking forward to seeing it.

June 14 2010 at 8:07 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I met him and his boyfriend, Hugo, in New York several years ago. Two of the nicest, sweetest guys you could ever encounter.

June 14 2010 at 5:36 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Toby Herman

THANK YOU! I saw him at the Arclight in Hollywood about a month ago and could not for the life of me figure out where I knew him from. Now I can sleep!

June 13 2010 at 8:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Brett Alan

Yeah, Denis O'Hare is one heck of an actor. The L&O where he plays a schizophrenic, Pro Se, is one of the best of the series.

June 13 2010 at 1:38 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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