Ving Rhames

Ving Rhames Headshot

Actor

Birth Name: Irving Rameses Rhames

Birth Date: May 12, 1959

Age: 65 years old

Birth Place: New York, New York

While actor Ving Rhames won a Golden Globe Award for his starring role as the infamous boxing promoter in "Don King: Only in America" (HBO, 1997), he was generally known as a supporting player on the big screen. Rhames' breakout role as crime kingpin Marsellus Wallace in Quentin Tarantino's unexpected cult hit, "Pulp Fiction" (1994), brought the actor his first major attention, while independent film fans had a taste of his imposing physicality and brooding air in earlier films, including "The Saint of Fort Washington" (1993) and David Mamet's "Homicide" (1991).

The actor went on to enjoy a steady screen career and continuous acclaim for his multi-dimensional sidekicks, supporting Tom Cruise in the "Mission Impossible" franchise (1996, 2000, 2006), and giving strong performances in films like "Out of Sight" (1998) and "Con Air" (1997), where, among his strengths, was lending a philosophical bent to career criminals and imbuing figures of authority with realistic flaws.

Born Irving Rhames on May 12, 1959, Rhames was raised in New York's unforgiving Harlem. He began performing as a student at the High School of the Performing Arts and went on to study acting at the State University of New York in Purchase, where fellow acting student Stanley Tucci bestowed him with the nickname Ving. From there, he furthered his training at the famous Juilliard School.

Rhames moved on to off-Broadway productions, making his Broadway debut in the short-lived Vietnam drama, "The Boys of Winter," which featured an unusually pre-famous cast including Matt Dillon, Andrew McCarthy, and Wesley Snipes. The following year, Rhames gained notice playing a young incarnation of writer James Baldwin's father in the autobiographical "Go Tell It On the Mountain" (PBS, 1984), delivering a vigorous performance as a young Baptist preacher attempting to escape the strictures of the 1920s South.

Throughout the 1980s, Rhames remained a busy TV player with a recurring role on "Another World" (NBC, 1964-1999) and guest roles on primetime street dramas like "Miami Vice" (NBC, 1984-1990) and "Spenser for Hire" (ABC, 1985-88). Rhames earned his reputation for intensity with his performance in Paul Schrader's "Patty Hearst" (1988) as the terrifying yet charismatic "Field Marshall" Cinque, leader of the self-styled revolutionary Symbionese Liberation Army and chief kidnapper and tormentor of the young heiress. Rhames also turned up often as a Vietnam combatant, including a TV guest spot on the CBS war drama, "Tour of Duty" (CBS, 1987-1990), then in Brian De Palma's feature drama, "Casualties of War" (1989), and in Adrian Lyne's psychological thriller, "Jacob's Ladder" (1990). Back on the home front, he was a hardworking, supportive husband to Whoopi Goldberg in the civil rights-era drama, "The Long Walk Home" (1990). Rhames supported as another military man in "Flight of the Intruder" (1991) and played one of the FBI's Ten Most Wanted in David Mamet's "Homicide" (1991), which was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for Best Picture.

The actor likely downplayed his involvement in the sitcom-ish Sylvester Stallone big screen offering, "Stop, or My Mom Will Shoot" (1992), and followed up with a strong performance as a street kingpin who exploits fellow homeless men in the unfortunately overlooked "The Saint of Fort Washington" (1993). It was during his research for this film that Rhames discovered his older brother, Junior, living on the streets. Rhames, who had understandably lost contact with his sibling, rescued his brother, setting him up with a job and apartment. Rhames next revealed a flair for comedy playing an uptight Secret Service man in "Dave" (1993), starring Kevin Kline as a presidential lookalike who finds himself taking over the actual duties of the commander in chief, and the following year, turned up in a major supporting role as a militant de-programmer of "buppies" in the poorly received (and barely released) satire, "DROP Squad" (1994). In what could be considered Rhames' truly breakout performance that year, he brought a distinctive blend of suaveness and menace to the role of crime boss Marsellus Wallace in "Pulp Fiction" (1994), a surprising box-office success that would prove to be a career turning point for Rhames and its then little-known director, Quentin Tarantino. On the strength of his work in the Oscar-nominated cult classic, he was next cast in a recurring role as Peter Benton's (Eriq LaSalle) brother on "ER" (NBC, 1994-2009) and lent his formidable presence to the rogues' gallery populating the remake of "Kiss of Death" (1995), starring Nicolas Cage.

In 1996, Rhames received a profile boost with roles in two major summer films - Brian De Palma's "Mission: Impossible," in which he supported Tom Cruise as his computer expert sidekick, followed by the guilty pleasure, "Striptease," as Demi Moore's wisecracking bodyguard. A year later, Rhames portrayed a former militant leader and one of a crew of prison inmates who hijack a plane during a transfer in the huge action hit, "Con Air" (1997), and appeared alongside Ice Cube in the South African-set political drama, "Dangerous Ground" (1997). But neither of these films brought Rhames the critical attention that the HBO film "Don King: Only in America" (1997) would. A biopic of the legendary boxing promoter, Rhames was inundated with outstanding reviews for his first starring performance. In one of the more feel-good but also awkward moments in award show history, he won the Golden Globe Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Miniseries or Motion Picture Made for TV for his work, but upon accepting it, memorably gifted it to fellow nominee Jack Lemmon, asking the veteran actor up on stage with him where Rhames insisted he take his award. Other nominations for "Don King" included Emmy, Image, and Screen Actors Guild. Rhames' follow-up leading role in "Rosewood" (1997), John Singleton's fact-based drama about racial violence in a 1920s Florida town, brought in a second Best Lead Actor nomination from the Image Awards.

Rhames gave an excellent supporting performance opposite George Clooney the following year in Steven Soderbergh's "Out of Sight" (1998), a smart, stylish heist film in which Rhames played an escaped convict plagued by a nagging conscience. More heist films followed, with Rhames starring with Forest Whitaker and David Caruso in "Body Count" (1998) and acting as Sean Connery's backup in the blockbuster, "Entrapment" (1999), which earned the actor another nomination from the Image Awards. He returned to the other side of the law as a paramedic in Martin Scorsese's underappreciated "Bringing Out the Dead" (1999) and reprised his sidekick role in the sequel "Mission Impossible II" (2000).

Returning to television, Rhames portrayed lawyer Johnny Cochran in CBS' dramatization of the O.J. Simpson trial in "An American Tragedy" (2000), and took on the unique challenge of playing a drag queen who helps raise a drug-addicted friend's (Alfre Woodard) child in "Holiday Heart" (Showtime, 2000). With television proving to be the only real starring role outlet for the actor, he nabbed the lead as a Texas rancher in the family drama "Little John" (CBS, 2002) and starred in the period drama about race relations, "Sins of the Father" (FX, 2002).

Reuniting with filmmaker John Singleton, Rhames played an ambiguous father figure to Tyrese in "Baby Boy" (2002), receiving nominations from the Black Reel and Image awards for his supporting role. Rhames took on the role of a heavyweight champion who challenges a former prison boxing champion (Wesley Snipes) in "The Undisputed" (2002), and went from prisoner to policeman as an assistant LAPD chief dealing with the mean streets of South Central in "Dark Blue" (2002), co-starring Kurt Russell and Scott Speedman as less-than-honest policemen. In one of Rhames few family-friendly film projects, he voiced the similarly large and bald social worker Cobra Bubbles in the animated blockbuster, "Lilo and Stitch" (2002), and reprised his role in the straight-to-DVD sequel, "Stitch!" (2003). During this busy period, the in-demand actor concurrently lent his voice to the documentary miniseries, "A History of US" (PBS, 2003) and had a recurring role as a district attorney on the legal drama, "The District" (CBS, 2000-04).

In "Dawn of the Dead" (2004), a re-envisioning of George Romero's 1978 horror classic, Rhames played a police officer in a post-apocalyptic world who leads a group of ragtag survivors in a battle against rampaging zombies. He went on to snare his first regular series television role in an update of the 1970s classic cop show, "Kojak" (USA Network, 2005), starring as the lollipop-loving plainclothes detective, Lt. Theo Kojak, made famous decades earlier by Telly Savalas. Originally planned as a run of TV movies, USA Network aired a two-hour pilot and ordered an additional nine episodes. Mediocre ratings, however, meant that the series did not return after its initial run. Following back-to-back video dramas "Animal" (2005) and "Shooting Gallery" (2005), Rhames re-joined co-star Tom Cruise for "Mission: Impossible 3" (2006), the third installment in the franchise and the first directed by television wunderkind, J.J. Abrams. He appeared in the little-seen Depression-era musical "Idlewild" (2006) and was a surprising one-dimensional sight in the broad comedy "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry" (2007), starring Kevin James and Adam Sandler.

Rhames retreated from the public consciousness somewhat with three straight-to-DVD releases in 2008 - a remake of the zombie classic "Day of the Dead" (2008), and the dramas "Saving God" (2008) and "A Broken Life" (2008); the latter about a suicidal man documenting his last day on film. He returned to theaters in the 2009 film "Echelon Conspiracy" as a government agent trying to clear an American engineer framed as part of an international conspiracy. Rhames reminded audiences of his comic abilities later in the year with his co-starring role opposite Jeremy Piven in "The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard" (2009), about an ailing used car lot and the super-salesman brought in to save it (Piven). Later that year he teamed up with Bruce Willis in the futuristic sci-fi thriller, "The Surrogates" (2009).

Credits

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