Best known for his hilarious, show-stealing performances in Christopher Guest's "Best in Show" (2000) and "A Mighty Wind" (2003), actor John Michael Higgins almost shot his career in the foot when he played David Letterman in the HBO docudrama, "The Late Shift" (1996), a behind-the-scenes look at the struggle between Letterman and rival Jay Leno (David Roebuck) for Johnny Carson's prized chair on "The Tonight Show." The real Letterman expressed his loathing of the movie in general and the actor's performance specifically, calling Higgins a "psychotic chimp." Letterman even bumped him from his late night talk show, "The Late Show with David Letterman" (CBS, 1993-2015), after inviting him on to be a guest. Actors of lesser caliber may have been stuck doing bit parts but Higgins' talent for both comedy and drama allowed him thrive on stage and screen as a dependable character actor in hit films like "Pitch Perfect" (2012) and co-starring on sitcoms such as the Tina Fey-created "Great News" (NBC 2017- ).
Born in Boston, Higgins spent his youth as a Navy brat moving from one base to the next-sixteen at final count-though most of his time was spent in Washington, D.C. He delved into acting as a child, performing at the Folger Theatre, Arena Stage and Round House Theatre. Though he took acting classes at the time, Higgins shifted gears when he attended Amherst College to study literature. He continued to act, however, turning in fine performances that included a "restrained, ironic and aloof" Hamlet. Though on the path to becoming an academic, the acting bug never went away. Higgins continued theater after college, building an impressive resume on and off-Broadway: his Antipholus of Ephesus in Caca Rosset's interpretation of the Bard's "Comedy of Errors" was one of the few highlights in an excessively overproduced show, and as the title character in Paul Rudnick's "Jeffrey," he earned plenty of laughs as a 30-something gay man who declares his celibacy after becoming tired of treading the perilous waters of safe sex.
After playing Letterman, offers poured in for the once-unknown actor. He began making appearances on television, most notably as Elaine's balding beau on an episode of "Seinfeld" (NBC, 1989-1998). He had a short-lived recurring role as Ar'nox the alien whose spaceship is continually stolen by men in black on "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids" (Syndicated, 1997-2000) and a more frequently recurring role as Steven Milter, an attorney who frequently opposed the lawyers of Cage & Fish and her colleagues and was fond of the phrase "I'm not comfortable with that" in the waning years of "Ally McBeal" (Fox, 1997-2002). Meanwhile, Higgins crossed over to the silver screen. Though his official movie debut was in the little-seen horror comedy "Vampire's Kiss" (1989), he appeared years later as a supporting player in "Wag the Dog" (1997), "G.I. Jane" (1997) and "Bicentennial Man" (1999).
Higgins was then cast as Scott, the more flamboyant of two gay men who enter their overly pampered Shih Tzu into the Mayflower Kennel Club Dog Show (a parody of the Westminster Dog Show) in Christopher Guest's "Best in Show." Stealing nearly every scene, Higgins was memorable for packing enough kimonos for forty-eight hours worth of tea services and telling a hotel clerk to "talk to daddy" when asked for payment on the room. After a brief appearance as a doctor in the drama "The Man Who Wasn't There" (2001), Guest cast him for his next mockumentary, "A Mighty Wind," the story of folk performers who gather for a musical reunion celebrating the life of a folk icon. Played with self-righteous confusion touched with unrelenting ambition, his portrayal of the perpetually grinning leader of the New Main Street Singers-a group bordering on a cult because of their spiritual adherence to the vibrancy of colors-earned Higgins high critical praise.
In 2004, he directed his first play, "The Play's the Thing," Ferenc Molnar's farcical look at theater people engaged in a clash of wits over love and art in a castle on the Italian Riviera. That same year, Higgins earned a Drama Desk Award nomination for his swaggering performance as the closeted gay tennis champion, Bill Tilden, in the off-Broadway bio-play, "Big Bill." Higgins continued his on-screen presence, appearing in a recurring role on "Arrested Development" (Fox, 2003-06; Netflix, 2013- ) as the hard-nosed government attorney seeking to prosecute the Bluth family, as well as episodes of "George Lopez" (ABC, 2002-06), "Monk" (USA, 2001-09) and "Boston Legal" (ABC, 2004-09). After a comic turn as a psychiatrist-cum-vampire in "Blade: Trinity" (2004), he stole every scene he was in when he played Andre Divine, the Euro-trash paramour of a murdered actress (a character whose verbal quirks and crude bluntness he based on a former Russian landlord of his) in the improvised Martin Short comedy vehicle, "Jiminy Glick in Lalawood" (2005). Based in large part on his association with Guest, which continued in the Hollywood satire "For Your Consideration" (2006) and "Mascots" (2016), Higgins worked steadily on both film and television, both in small comic roles such as a record producer in "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story" (2007) and more substantial parts in films like "Pitch Perfect" (2012) (and its 2015 and 2017 sequels) and Cameron Crowe's "We Bought a Zoo" (2011). On television, Higgins costarred on the sitcom "Kath and Kim" (NBC 2008-09), throwback comedy "Happily Divorced" (TV Land 2011-13) and Tina Fey workplace sitcom "Great News" (NBC 2017- ), as well as a seemingly inexhaustible string of guest spots.
Cast (Feature Film)
Music (Feature Film)
Cast (TV Mini-Series)
Made film debut in the little-seen horror comedy "Vampire's Kiss"
Played David Letterman in the highly acclaimed HBO film "The Late Shift"
Cast as a sleazy senatorial aid in Ridley Scott's "G.I. Jane"
Played a press secretary opposite Robert De Niro in "Wag the Dog"
Portrayed Elaine's balding beau on an episode of "Seinfeld" (NBC)
Landed a recurring role as attorney Steven Milter, on the TV comedy "Ally McBeal" (Fox)
Portrayed the flamboyantly gay Shih-Tzu hander in Christopher Guest's "Best in Show"
Reunited with Christopher Guest to star in "A Mighty Wind" as Terry Bohner, the color cultish leader of the New Main Street Singers
Cast in a recurring role on "Arrested Development" (Fox) as the hard-nosed government attorney seeking to prosecute the Bluth family
Played a psychiatrist opposite Wesley Snipes in David Goyer's "Blade: Trinity"
Starred in the title role of the A.R. Gurney play "Big Bill" at the Lincoln Center
Directed his first play, "The Play's the Thing," Ferenc Molnar's farcical look at theater people engaged in a clash of wits over love and art in a castle on the Italian Riviera
Cast as the English-butchering euro-trash producer Andre Devine in Martin Short's "Jiminy Glick in Lalawood"
Cast opposite Jim Carrey and Tea Leoni in "Fun with Dick and Jane"
Played Jennifer Aniston's brother in the comedy "The Break-Up"
Co-starred with Vince Vaughn and Paul Giamatti in "Fred Claus," a comedy about Santa's disgruntled older brother
Cast opposite Steve Carell in "Evan Almighty," a sequel to the 2003 comedy "Bruce Almighty"
Cast on NBC's short-lived series "Kath & Kim" as Phillip 'Phil' Lesley Knight
Appeared in the romantic comedy "The Ugly Truth"
Co-starred with Cameron Diaz in the raunchy comedy "Bad Teacher"
Cast in the Cameron Crowe directed family feature "We Bought a Zoo," starring Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson
Cast alongside Drew Barrymore in "Big Miracle," a drama centered on a campaign to save a family of gray whales trapped by rapidly forming ice in the Arctic Circle