American actor Robert John Burke has led an interesting and unpredictable career, ranging from indie art-house film star to temporary Hollywood leading man to reliable supporting player in both TV and movie productions. He didn't make much of an impression until his lead role in Hal Hartley's quirky low-budget romantic comedy "The Unbelievable Truth" (1989). Collaborating with the director again for the well-received road-trip movie "Simple Men" (1992), Burke soon found Hollywood calling; he made the leap to big-budget fare as the heroic title cyborg in "RoboCop 3" (1993). During much of the 1990s, he juggled supporting film roles with the occasional lead, later settling into recurring parts on major television dramas, including "Oz" (HBO, 1997-2003), "Rescue Me" (FX, 2004-2011) and "Gossip Girl" (CW, 2007-2012), with his sharp-jawed good looks still turning up semi-regularly in movies.
A born-and-bred New Yorker, Robert John Burke made his film debut while in his early 20s with a small part in the drama "The Chosen" (1981), based on the Chaim Potok story. He went on to study acting at SUNY Purchase where he met aspiring filmmaker Hal Hartley, who cast him as one of the leads in his debut feature "The Unbelievable Truth," an offbeat indie tale where he played a man trying to escape his troubled past. Working with Hartley again on the charming brother-centric dark comedy "Simple Men," Burke caught a major break when Hollywood producers decided that his chiseled jawline was the right one to replace Peter Weller's in the sci-fi/action sequel "RoboCop 3." Despite Burke's efforts, the movie tanked, and he went on to smaller roles in major films, including the lauded Western "Tombstone" (1993) and the prison-break movie "Fled" (1996). Burke landed his second chance in a Hollywood starring role with the Stephen King adaptation "Thinner" (1996), but the macabre tale, which featured him under heavy makeup to depict a callous man who magically loses weight, was deemed almost universally unlikable.
Though Burke's leading-man days were mostly behind him, his beastly role in Hartley's "No Such Thing" (2001) aside, he soldiered on, and began increasingly working on television with recurring roles on the grim prison drama "Oz" and the police procedural "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" (NBC, 1999- ). Appearing in George Clooney's first two movies as director, "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind" (2002) and "Good Night, and Good Luck." (2005), Burke nonetheless became more familiar to TV audiences, particularly when he signed on to play Mickey Gavin, the ex-priest cousin of Denis Leary's lead character on the firefighter series "Rescue Me," a part that dovetailed with Burke's real-life second job as a New York State fireman.
Often cast as a tough guy, the ruggedly handsome and tall actor continued to play imposing figures such as Major General James "Chaos" Mattis in the Iraq War miniseries "Generation Kill" (HBO, 2008) and Bart Bass, the controlling billionaire father of Chuck Bass (Ed Westwick) on the soapy drama "Gossip Girl." Before long, he was juggling his ongoing "Law & Order: SVU" part with regular spots on the military drama "Army Wives" (Lifetime, 2007-14) and the tense crime show "Person of Interest" (CBS, 2011-16), while still finding time for supporting turns in films, including the Denzel Washington/Mark Wahlberg action movie "2 Guns" (2013).
Cast (Feature Film)
Cast (TV Mini-Series)
Starred in Hal Hartley's debut film, "The Unbelievable Truth"
Took over the role of RoboCop in "RoboCop 3"
Starred in the feature adaptation of Stephen King's <i>Thinner</i>
Had his first recurring TV role on "Oz"
Began his long-running part as Mickey Gavin on "Rescue Me"
Joined the cast of "Gossip Girl" as Bart Bass
Began a recurring role on "Person of Interest"