Stephen Spinella vaulted from obscurity with his frighteningly realistic portrayal of AIDS-ravaged Prior Walter in Tony Kushner's two-part epic "Angels in America." Born in Naples, Italy, the lanky, light-haired, openly gay actor grew up in Glendale, Arizona, attended the University of Arizona and, later, New York University, where he met the budding playwright Kushner. After seeing him in a university production, Kushner invited Spinella to be in his play, "The Age of Assassins" and began writing parts specifically for the actor.
Although Kushner had written the Prior Walter role with him in mind and he had played it at the initial readings at San Francisco's Eureka Theatre (1989), Spinella almost pulled out of the inaugural workshop at The Mark Taper Forum in L.A., fearing he would be unceremoniously dropped when the play moved to New York. His anxieties were not groundless. When Kushner's "A Bright Room Called Day" (1990) was produced at NYC's Public Theatre, director Michael Greif had refused to cast Spinella in spite of his contributions to its development. With the playwright's guarantee that he would be a part of "Angels" wherever it went, Spinella persevered, earning two Tony Awards and two Drama Desk Awards for his efforts.
He received an OBIE Award for his work as a buttoned-up accountant, half of a long-term gay couple, in Terrence McNally's "Love! Valour! Compassion!," a role he reprised in Joe Mantello's 1997 feature adaptation. Spinella has periodically returned to the NY stage, appearing in "Troilus and Cressida" in Central Park and portrayed Thomas, the longtime lover of an AIDS patient who is contemplating suicide, in David Rabe's "A Question of Mercy" (1997).
Spinella's film debut came as the villainous Lindenmayer, the creator of a vicious computer-generated serial killer (Russell Crowe) in Brett Leonard's sci-fi thriller "Virtuosity" (1995). He appeared for the first time on TV in a cameo as a man dying from AIDS complications in the Emmy-winning HBO movie "And the Band Played On" (1993). His other feature roles have included a gay real estate agent in "Tarantella" (1995), with Mira Sorvino, and a small role in "The Jackal" (1997), opposite Bruce Willis.
Cast (Feature Film)
Moved from Arizona to New York to attend NYU, where he met "Angels of America" playwright Tony Kushner
Originated role of Prior Walter in 1989 readings of "Angels in America" at San Francisco's Eureka Theatre
Appeared as Prior in first workshop production of "Angels" at L.A.'s Mark Taper Forum
Played Prior in seven-hour marathon of "Angels" at Taper
Broadway debut as Prior in "Angels in America: Millenium Approaches"
Reprised role of Prior in "Angels in America: Perestroika", the second part of Kushner's epic
Portrayed Brandy Alexander in the HBO TV-movie "And the Band Played On"
Played Perry Sellars in Off-Broadway production of Terrence McNally's "Love! Valour! Compassion!"
Had a small role as Frank, a gay real estate agent, in "Tarantella" with Mira Sorvino
Screen debut as the villainous Lindenmayer in Brett Leonard's sci-fi movie "Virtuosity"
Appeared in the revival of Arthur Miller's "A View From the Bridge" when it played at the Roundabout Theatre
Played Thomas in David Rabe's "A Question of Mercy" at the New York Theatre Workshop
Had a small role in "The Jackal", starring Bruce Willis
Recreated role of Perry for film version of "Love! Valour! Compassion!
Had supporting role in the feature "The Unknown Cyclist"
Supported Claire Bloom and Zoe Wanamaker in "Electra" (performed at the McCarter Theatre in New Jersey and later on Broadway)
Portrayed a medic with a drinking problem in "Ravenous"
Appeared in Tim Robbins' period drama "Cradle Will Rock"
NYC musical theater debut in a supporting role in "James Joyce's The Dead"
Acted in the New York Shakespeare Festival Central Park production of "The Seagull", directed by Mike Nichols
Cast as Peaches in the comedy written by Nia Vardalos "Connie and Carla"