While award-winning stage actor Michael Stuhlbarg was known in New York theater circles since the 1990s, he was considered a relative unknown when the Coen Brothers cast him as the lead in their 2009 feature, "A Serious Man." Among Stuhlbarg's calling cards were his chameleonic versatility, including his ability (and willingness) to wildly alter his physical appearance, as well as a talent that could toe the line between comedy and tragedy. He appeared in a number of Shakespeare in the Park productions in New York, including starring roles in "Hamlet" and "Richard II," and garnered a Tony Award nomination in 2005 for his supporting Broadway role in "The Pillowman." Prior to 2009, Stuhlbarg made a few supporting film appearances and found he was curiously at home in period pieces, but it was his "Serious Man" breakout that truly showcased the soulfulness and expressive face of the stage-to-screen crossover talent.
Long Beach, CA native Stuhlbarg was born July 5, 1968. As a child, he was more interested in drawing cartoons than acting at the time his mother enrolled him at a local community theater. He hoped to just paint sets, but was also required to appear in a production of "Bye Bye Birdie," and that is when the 11-year-old discovered his "inner ham." He spent 1986-88 with the theater department at UCLA, appearing in productions and exploring every area - from theater design to directing - before deciding to concentrate on performing. After scoring a scholarship for an intensive month-long training program with renowned French mime Marcel Marceau, Stuhlbarg was off to New York City where he earned his bachelor of fine arts degree from Juilliard. While a student at the esteemed school, Stuhlbarg appeared in numerous Juilliard productions including "Angels in America," and participated in an international exchange program that brought him to Lithuania for a month to immerse himself in the works of Chekhov. Stuhlbarg's Broadway debut was in a National Actors Theater revival of Bernard Shaw's "St. Joan," and he appeared on Broadway twice more in 1993 in "Timon of Athens" and "Three Men on a Horse," in which he shared the stage with comic legends Tony Randall, Jack Klugman and Jerry Stiller.
Following an appearance in "Sweetbitter Baby" at Playwrights Horizons, Stuhlbarg was promoted from supporting roles to a memorable lead as Shakespeare's "Richard II" at the 1994 New York Shakespeare Festival. His reputation growing, he was cast as one of the two characters in John Maran's Pulitzer prize-nominated play "Old Wicked Songs" in 1995, for which he earned a Drama League Award. The following year in Boston, Stuhlbarg appeared in an American Repertory Theater production of Eugene O'Neill's "Long Day's Journey Into Night," where his performance as Edmund, the youngest, intellectual son of a dysfunctional family, earned him an Elliot Norton Award. Back on Broadway, Stuhlbarg starred with Ed Harris in the World War II-set play "Taking Sides" in 1996 and returned to Shakespeare in the Park in Tony Kushner's 1997 adaptation of "A Dyybuk." In a rare musical turn, Stuhlbarg spent the better part of 1999 in Sam Mendes' Broadway production of "Cabaret" before revisiting Shakespeare in "A Winter's Tale" at the Delacorte Theater.
Meanwhile, the established theater actor made a few inroads into screen work with supporting roles in a pair of period dramas: the Civil War-set TNT movie, "The Hunley" (TNT, 1999), and the indie feature, "The Grey Zone" (2002), about a group of morally torn inmates at a Nazi concentration camp during World War II. In 2001, Stuhlbarg appeared in the Tony Award-nominated play, Tom Stoppard's "The Invention of Love." Following a supporting role as a portly café owner in the Toulouse Lautrec bioplay "Belle Epoch" at Lincoln Center, the dedicated actor put on a few dozen more pounds to play the mentally handicapped brother of an author (Billy Crudup) under suspicion of child murder in Martin McDonagh's "The Pillowman," earning a Tony nomination and a Drama Desk Award for his complex and unsettling performance.
Showcasing further versatility, Stuhlbarg donned dandy makeup for the Restoration comedy, "Measure for Pleasure." Hot on the heels of a flamboyant starring turn at the New York Shakespeare Festival as "Hamlet," for which he won a Drama League Award, Stuhlbarg's screen profile began to grow, starting with a role as Leonardo DiCaprio's attorney in Ridley Scott's "Body of Lies" (2008), and a key role in the indie "Afterschool" (2009), about a teen who witnesses a drug overdose death at his high school. Stuhlbarg further explored the world of onscreen acting with guest spots on "Ugly Betty" (ABC, 2006-2010) and "Law & Order" (NBC, 1990-2010). However, it was Stuhlbarg's continued stage presence that led to his film breakout later that year in the Coen Brother's darkly comedic, "A Serious Man." Several years prior, Stuhlbarg had met actress Frances McDormand while both were working at the 52nd Street Project Children's Theater in New York. They collaborated again in a workshop at Lincoln Center, where McDormand took her husband Joel Coen to see Stuhlbarg in David Mamet's adaptation of "The Voysey Inheritance," for which he was nominated for a Lucille Lortel Award and won an Obie Award.
Coen was so impressed with Stuhlbarg's performance that he invited the actor to audition for "A Serious Man." After much deliberating over which role to give him (Stuhlbarg had wowed the Coens with readings of several characters), he was cast in the lead as Larry Gopnik, a Jewish physics professor in 1967 Minnesota whose life begins to fall apart piece by piece - from the departure of his wife to his gambling brother's run-ins with the law to the undermining of his tenureship by a co-worker. As Gopnik, Stuhlbarg offered a soulful blend of heartbreak and bewilderment that netted him major attention from film critics as well as a Golden Globe nomination. Stuhlbarg's next screen appearance was in the cast of "Boardwalk Empire" (HBO, 2010-14), a Martin Scorsese-created period drama about the early days of Atlantic City, in which Stuhlbarg portrayed real life Jewish gangster Arnold Rothstein, renowned for allegedly fixing the 1919 World Series.
Cast (Feature Film)
Made Broadway debut in a National Actors Theater revival of Bernard Shaws "St. Joan"
Played the lead as Shakespeare's "Richard II" at the New York Shakespeare Festival
Cast in John Maran's Pulitzer prize-nominated play "Old Wicked Songs"
Appeared in an American Repertory Theater production of Eugene O'Neill's "Long Day's Journey Into Night"
Starred in Tony Kushner's adaptation of "A Dyybuk" at the New York Shakespeare Festival
Made film debut in "A Price Above Rubies" as a young Hassid
Featured in the Civil War-set TNT movie "The Hunley"
Was cast in Sam Mendes' Broadway production of "Cabaret"
Appeared in Tom Stoppard's Tony Award-nominated play "The Invention of Love"
Played the mentally handicapped brother of an author (Billy Crudup) under suspicion of child murder in Martin McDonagh's "The Pillowman"; earned a Tony nomination
Cast as Leonardo DiCaprio's attorney in Ridley Scott's "Body of Lies"
Played the lead role in the Coen brothers' "A Serious Man"; earned a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor
Co-starred on HBO's "Boardwalk Empire"
Cast in Martin Scorsese's family adventure "Hugo"
Appeared in "Men in Black III" opposite Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones
Cast in ensemble crime comedy "Seven Psychopaths"
Portrayed studio executive Lew Wasserman opposite Anthony Hopkins' "Hitchcock"
Joined the cast of Stephen Spielberg-helmed biopic "Lincoln"
Played Andy Hertzfeld in "Steve Jobs" biopic
Played legendary screen actor Edward G. Robinson in "Trumbo"
Had a small role in Marvel's "Doctor Strange"
Appeared in Denis Villeneuve's sci-fi epic "Arrival"
Had a supporting role in "Call Me by Your Name"
Co-starred on the third season of "Fargo"
Appeared in Guillermo del Toro's fairy tale romance "The Shape of Water"
Appeared in Stephen Spielberg's newspaper drama, "The Post"