Joe the King
An American film and television actor celebrated for his roles in independent movies, Frank Whaley created a prolific acting career before making the transition to writing/directing. He received rave reviews for his work in movies like Jack Nicholson’s Hoffa (1992), Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction (1994), Swimming with Sharks (1994), Went to Coney Island on a Mission From God ... Be Back by Five (2000) and Pursuit of Happiness (2001, won a New York International Independent Film & Video Festival Award). One of John Willis’ Screen World’s “12 Promising New Actors of 1991,” Whaley also appeared in several of director Oliver Stone’s vehicles, including Born on the Fourth of July (1989), The Doors (1991), JFK (1991), and more recently, World Trade Center (2006). His television credits include Fatal Deception: Mrs. Lee Harvey Oswald (1993), The Desperate Trail (1995), Retroactive (1997), When Trumpets Fade (1998), Arthur Hailey’s Detective (2005) and Where There’s a Will (2006). Additionally, Whaley has guest starred in numerous series like “Law & Order,” “The Twilight Zone,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “Psych,” and starred in the short-lived CBS series “Buddy Faro” (1998). He also played a recurring role on “The Dead Zone” (2003-2004).
As a director/writer, Whaley made a promising debut with Joe the King, a 1999 semi-autobiographical supported by Val Kilmer and Ethan Hawke. For his bravura work, he was handed a Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award and a Grand Jury Prize nomination at the Sundance Film Festival, as well as a Gotham Open Palm nomination. Whaley’s sophomore effort, The Jimmy Show, followed in 2001 and once again co-starred Ethan Hawke. New York Serenade, his newest project starring Freddie Prinze Jr., is scheduled to be released this year.
Aside from his work in television and film, the stage-trained Whaley, who has often appeared Off-Broadway in such plays as “Tigers Wild” (1986), “The Years” (1993) and “The Size of the World” (1996), is known as the co-founder of a theater company called Malaparte, along with longtime friend and colleague Ethan Hawke, Robert Sean Leonard and Steve Zahn. He also founded and worked with the Naked Angels theater group.
As for his private life, Whaley is the husband of playwright-actress Heather Bucha.
Childhood and Family:
The son of Robert Whaley Sr., (died in the 1990s of health problems related to alcoholism) Francis David Whaley, who would later be famous as Frank Whaley, was born on July 20, 1963, in Syracuse, New York. He began acting in high school and later graduated with a B.A. in theater from the State University of New York in Albany, New York, in 1985. He went on to hone in on his craft at New York’s famed Actors Studio.
Frank is married to playwright-actress Heather Bucha, known as the author of “Social Notes: An Evening with Dorothy Parker.” His older brother, musician/composer/actor Robert Whaley, is the vocalist of The Niagaras, a New York-based rock group where Frank once worked as the drummer.
Pursuit of Happiness
Along with his brother, Frank Whaley formed the rock band The Niagaras in New York, but later quit to pursue an acting career. In 1987, he appeared in a CBS Schoolbreak Special, Soldier Boys, and made his motion picture debut that same year by playing the young version of Jack Nicholson’s character in Ironweed. Two years later, he again assumed the teenage version of another film icon, this time Burt Lancaster, in the Academy award-nominated Field of Dreams, and had his TV-movie debut in the CBS Unconquered, opposite Dermot Mulroney. His performances in Ironweed and Field of Dreams, in addition to his tormenting turn as a heroin-addicted Vietnam veteran in Oliver Stone’s Born on the Fourth of July (1989), starring Tom Cruise, led to Whaley’s first starring role in 1990’s Cold Dog Soup, opposite Randy Quaid. The actor then appeared in Andrew Bergman’s The Freshman (1990, opposite Matthew Broderick), and rejoined Stone as guitarist Robby Krieger in the biopic film The Doors (1991), starring Val Kilmer as Jim Morrison. He was next seen in JFK (also 1991) with Kevin Costner and Tommy Lee Jones. He returned to a lead role for the John Hughes-scripted-and-produced Career Opportunities (1991), alongside Jennifer Connelly.
After starring in Back in the U.S.S.R, the first American movie shot exclusively in Moscow, and teaming up with Ethan Hawke in A Midnight Clear (both 1992), Whaley won acclaim that year for portraying a young roadside stranger in the Jack Nicholson vehicle Hoffa, directed by Danny De Vito, which was followed with one of the titular roles in 1993’s Swing Kids, opposite Robert Sean Leonard and Christian Bale. He made a brief comeback to television with the NBC film Fatal Deception: Mrs. Lee Harvey Oswald, playing Lee Harvey Oswald opposite Helen Bonham Carter’s Marina Oswald, and the based-on-novel To Dance with the White Dog (both 1993) before giving an unforgettable portrayal of the college scholar gunned down by Samuel L Jackson in the Quentin Tarantino-directed film Pulp Fiction (1994). The same year, he also scored critical success with Swimming with Sharks, portraying the ill-fated assistant to a sadistic, high-powerful movie agent (played by Kevin Spacey).
Whaley starred as a creepy, lopsided mathematical genius who hunts and murders a TV sitcom star (played by Sheryl Lee) in the disturbing Homage (1995), where he also served as associate producer, was cast in the Showtime original movie Cafe Society (1995), played the brother of Craig Sheffer on TNT’s The Desperate Trail (1995) and had the supporting role of a time machine creator in the direct-to-cable Retroactive (1997). Additionally, he acted in the My Brother’s Keeper segment of Showtime’s Dead Man’s Gun (1997) and in two made-for-cable war films, the unpleasant, Vietnam-inspired The Wall (Showtime, 1998) and the much better World War II drama When Trumpets Fade (HBO, 1998). He was also seen in the CBS miniseries “Shake, Rattle and Roll: An American Love Story” (1999). Whaley, however, did not make his TV series debut as a regular until he landed the role of Bob Jones in the CBS drama “Buddy Faro” (1998).
Disenchanted with his career’s development, Whaley decided to express himself as a director and writer and made his debut with Joe the King (1999). Premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, Joe the King, where Val Kilmer played the bad-tempered and alcoholic father and Ethan Hawke played the guidance counselor, garnered Whaley a Waldo Salt Screenwriting and a Grand Jury Prize nomination from the Sundance Film Festival. He also nabbed a Gotham’s Open Palm nomination.
Returning to acting, Whaley gave a bright cameo performance as Skee-ball Weasel in the nostalgic Went to Coney Island on a Mission From God ... Be Back by Five (2000, originally made in 1998), played the hyperkinetic, exploiting cousin in Josh Evans’ Glam (2001), reunited with fellow actor Ethan Hawke for Hawke’s feature directing debut, Chelsea Walls (2001) and starred as Alan in the romantic comedy Pursuit of Happiness (2001), from which Whaley picked up a Best Actor New York International Independent Film & Video Festival award. Also in 2001, the boyishly handsome performer directed his second feature, The Jimmy Show, in which he also wrote and starred opposite Hawke.
Whaley continued to appear in episodes of “Law & Order” (2002), “The Twilight Zone” (2003), “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” (2004), “Navy NCIS: Naval Criminal Investigative Service” (2004) and the hit HBO comedy “Curb Your Enthusiasm” (2005), and had a recurring role on “The Dead Zone,” playing Christopher Wey from 2003 to 2004. He also had supporting roles in the made-for-TV films Arthur Hailey’s Detective and Mrs. Harris (both 2005). In 2006, Whaley guest starred on USA Network’s “Psych,” as Robert Dunn, and costarred on the made-for-TV film Where There’s a Will. On the wide screen, he appeared in four films and played paramedic Chuck Sereika in Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center (2006) and Harris in Ethan Hawke’s The Hottest State (2006).
The 44-year-old-actor will appear with Tony Danza, Anthony Michael Hall and Chris Penn in the crime/thriller movie Aftermath (2007) and support Kate Beckinsale and Luke Wilson in the Mark L. Smith-written Vacancy (2007). He also serves as the director and writer of the upcoming comedy/drama New York Serenade (2007), starring Freddie Prinze Jr., Chris Klein, Jamie-Lynn DiScala and Ben Schwartz. On the small screen, he is set to costar with Sam Shepard in the ESPN-produced Ruffian (2007), based on the well-known racehorse.