Burly, intense character actor William Forsythe played his share of tough guys in features ranging from big-budget extravaganzas to low-rent, direct-to-DVD exploitation movies. After his big break playing a bootlegger opposite Robert De Niro in Sergio Leone's gangster epic "Once Upon a Time in America" (1984), the actor quickly established himself - most often as a heavy - in more commercial endeavors like the Steven Seagal actioner "Out for Justice" (1991). Forsythe delivered exceptional performances in acclaimed indie films as well, including the rehabilitation drama "The Waterdance" (1992) and the quirky crime comedy "Palookaville" (1995). Increasingly known as a staple in genre films of all stripes and budgets, the actor could be seen in everything from Michael Bay's blockbuster "The Rock" (1997) to rocker-turned-filmmaker Rob Zombie's blood-soaked "The Devil's Rejects" (2005). Appearing more often than not in low-budget fare, he occasionally starred in features like the sardonic character study "Happy in the Valley" (2009) and on television as the star of such crime-dramas as "The Mob Doctor" (Fox, 2012-13). Like grizzled character actors Ernest Borgnine, Warren Oates or Lee Marvin before him, Forsythe regularly delivered solid work in respected projects amongst the steady stream of B-movies that were the working actor's bread and butter.
Born in Flatbush, NY on June 7, 1955, Forsythe grew up with a movie-obsessed mother who schooled him in actors and films from Hollywood's Golden Age. But his interest in performing did not fully develop until a teacher forced him to play Caesar in a school production of Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar." The acting bug bit deep, with Forsythe appearing in numerous high school plays before setting out for Manhattan at age 17 to try his hand at professional acting. The gambit worked. Forsythe found frequent work in summer stock and other stage shows on and off-Broadway, including several turns in musicals which took advantage of his opera training. Eventually, Forsythe made his way to California, where he blitzed studios and casting agencies in an attempt to land work. In an interview, Forsythe once confessed to disguising himself as a gas company worker and even a singing telegram performer in a gorilla suit to gain entry into casting sessions. His efforts began to pay off in the early 1980s with small roles in low-budget films and on television, including parts on "Hill Street Blues" (NBC, 1981-87) and an infamous episode of "CHiPS" (NBC, 1977-1983) in which he played a nefarious punk rocker. Forsythe's big break came in 1984 when legendary director Sergio Leone cast him opposite Robert De Niro and James Woods as cold-blooded Jewish gangster Philip "Cockeye" Stein in Leone's final film, "Once Upon a Time in America." The experience was a revelatory one for Forsythe, but studio interference led to the film arriving D.O.A. in theaters in a truncated form.
However, the exposure gave Forsythe's career a considerable boost, and he began appearing regularly in features and TV movies. Most of these roles were based entirely on Forsythe's imposing build and granite-faced stare; he played his share of tough cops, bikers and killers in "The Lightship" (1985) with Robert Duvall, Walter Hill's "Extreme Prejudice" and "Savage Dawn" (1985). But independent features saw some shades of grey at the edges of his stony persona. He was very funny as the dim-witted brother and partner to John Goodman's escaped convict in the Coen Brothers' "Raising Arizona" (1987), and played a jailbird who joins Nick Nolte's prison theater program in the underrated "Weeds" (1987). Forsythe also gave a volcanic performance as a member of the underground revolutionaries who kidnapped heiress Patty Hearst in Paul Schrader's "Patty Hearst" (1988). For the rest of the 1980s and 1990s, Forsythe divided his time between action films and independent fare - the latter of which allowed him to stretch his considerable acting talents. He was the gun-crazy Flattop in Warren Beatty's expensive film version of "Dick Tracy" (1990), and stole the show from leads Steven Seagal and pro-footballer-turned-actor Brian Bosworth in "Out for Justice" (1991) and "Stone Cold" (1991), respectively. But he gave nuanced performances in Neal Jimenez's "The Waterdance," which earned him an Independent Spirit Award nomination, and Edward James Olmos' "American Me" (1992). Forsythe also played gangster lord Al Capone in the syndicated TV revamp of "The Untouchables" (1993), as well as starred alongside Vincent Gallo in "Palookaville," a charming comedy based on the stories of Italo Calvino.
For most of the late 1990s and into the new millennium, Forsythe stayed busy in action pictures of both the big-budget and direct-to-cable variety, ranging from "The Rock" and "Firestorm" (1998) to "The Substitute" (1996) and the Tarantino manqué "Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead" (1996). He also gave a notable turn as mobster informant Sammy "The Bull" Gravano in the superior TV biopic "Gotti" (1996), and took another rare comic turn as an LAPD detective with an embarrassing physical problem in the broad comedy "Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo" (1999). In the late 1990s, Forsythe began co-producing several of his own features, including two action titles with Burt Reynolds, "Big City Blues" (1999) and "The Librarians" (2003). Forsythe also shared a writing credit on the latter. He also made recurring appearances on two well regarded but ratings-challenged TV series: "UC: Undercover" (NBC, 2001-02, as a homicidal thief) and "John Doe" (Fox, 2002-03, as the title character's best friend).
In 2003, rocker-turned-director Rob Zombie tapped Forsythe to play the seething Sheriff Wydell, who was consumed by his obsession to destroy the murderous Firefly family in "The Devil's Rejects" (2005), the semi-sequel to "House of 1000 Corpses" (2003). The collaboration was evidently a positive one, as Zombie cast Forsythe as the ill-fated boyfriend of Michael Myers' mother in his revamped version of "Halloween" (2007). Forsythe continued to split his time between Hollywood and the indie world during this period, playing hardnosed cops opposite Samuel L. Jackson in the Richard Price-penned "Freedomland" (2006) and Al Pacino in the Jon Avnet thriller "88 Minutes" (2007). He also found time to turn up in lower-budgeted features like the horror spoof "Hack!" (2007), as a Scottish groundskeeper-cum-red herring, and "We All Scream for Ice Cream," a 2007 episode of the Showtime splatter anthology "Masters of Horror" (2005-), as a gentle ice cream truck driver who returns from the dead to avenge his murder.
Although the majority of his work was not always widely viewed, Forsythe appeared constantly in material both large and small in budget. He comfortably played a hired gun in the direct-to-DVD revenge movie "Stiletto" (2008), then enjoyed a starring role as the washed-up, self-described "world's greatest erotic photographer" in the indie drama "Happy in the Valley' (2009). Never afraid of darker material, he later portrayed one of America's most notorious and prolific serial killers in the based-on-fact drama "Dear Mr. Gacy" (2010). Forsythe battled ferocious creatures on an isolated deep-sea oil derrick in "The Rig" (2010), and took part in a slew of similar low-budget genre pictures over the course of the next year, prior to picking up a recurring role as Philadelphia mobster Manny Horvitz on the heralded prohibition drama "Boardwalk Empire" (HBO, 2010-14). Forsythe grabbed one of his higher profile roles in years when he was cast as Alexander Constantine, a morally ambiguous mob leader exerting control over an indebted surgeon (Jordana Spiro) in the crime drama "The Mob Doctor" (Fox, 2012-13).
Cast (Feature Film)
Producer (Feature Film)
Cast (TV Mini-Series)
TV movie debut, "The Miracle of Kathy Miller"
Feature acting debut, "Smokey Bites the Dust"
Co-starred with Robert De Niro and James Woods in "Once Upon a Time in America," the last film by director Sergio Leone
TV miniseries debut, "The Long Hot Summer"
Co-starred in the Coen Brothers comedy "Raising Arizona" opposite Nicolas Cage and Holly Hunter
Cast in "Dick Tracy," a film based upon the Dick Tracy comic strip character and directed by Warren Beatty
Co-starred in Edward James Olmos' directorial debut, "American Me"
TV series debut as a regular, "The Untouchables," playing Al Capone
Portrayed organized crime figure Sammy "The Bull" Gravano in the HBO motion picture "Gotti"
Co-starred in director Michael Bay's thriller, "The Rock"
Cast as a detective in the comedy, "Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo"
Played villain Sonny Walker in NBC's "UC: Undercover"
Cast as a bar owner in the FOX series "John Doe"
Co-starred with Samuel L. Jackson and Julianne Moore in "Freedomland"
Cast in Rob Zombie's remake of the classic horror film "Halloween"