Sam Waterston
Birth Date:
Birth Place:
Cambridge, Massachusetts
6' 1" (1.85 m)
Famous for:
His portrayal of the motorcycle riding, potentially alcoholic attorney, Jack McCoy on the long-running NBC series “Law & Order” (1994-2009)
Show more

Law & Order


“As the spirit of the people in ‘The Visionaries’ shows us, it's about putting it out there and seeing what happens. Doing what you can about huge, intractable problems, now that's an idea worth encouraging.” Sam Waterston

Veteran television and film actor Sam Waterston is perhaps best recognized for his portrayal of District Attorney Jack McCoy on the long running NBC series “Law & Order” (1994-2009). The role has brought the hard working actor a Screen Actors Guild Award, nine SAG nominations, three Emmy nominations, a Golden Globe nomination, two Golden Satellite nominations, two TV Guide nominations and three Viewers for Quality Television nominations. First gaining notice in the TV film adaptation of Tennessee Williams' “The Glass Menagerie” (1973), from which he received his first Emmy nomination, Waterston went on to appear in the miniseries “Oppenheimer” (BBC,1980; PBS, 1982), the critical acclaimed series “I’ll Fly Away” (NBC, 1990-1993, won a Golden Globe Award) and its TV film installment “I'll Fly Away: Then and Now” (PBS, 1993) before landing his landmark role on “Law & Order.” He then took home an Emmy Award as the host of the documentary series “Lost Civilizations” (1995) and a Gemini Award for his scene stealing portrayal of Dennis Shepard in the award winning television movie “The Matthew Shepard Story” (NBC, 2002). Making his feature acting debut in the unreleased “The Plastic Dome of Norma Jean” (1965), the dark haired performer is well known to moviegoers for his Oscar nominated portrayal of journalist Sydney Schanberg in “The Killing Fields” (1984), where he also picked up nominations at the Golden Globe and BAFTA Awards, and as a narrator named Nick Carraway in “The Great Gatsby” (1974), where he earned two Golden Globe nominations. He also appeared in the Woody Allen films “Interiors” (1978), “Hannah and Her Sisters” (1986), “September” (1987) and “Crimes and Misdemeanors” (1989), and in many other movies, including “The Man in the Moon” (1991), “Serial Mom” (1994), “Shadow Conspiracy” (1997), “Le divorce” (2003) and “The Commission” (2003).

On stage, the classically trained performer was nominated for a Tony for playing Abraham Lincoln in a revival of Robert E. Sherwood's “Abe Lincoln in Illinois” (1993). He won an Obie Award, a Drama Desk Award and a New York Drama Critics Circle Award for his role of Benedict in “Much Ado About Nothing” (1972). Other stage credits include “Indians,” “Henry IV,” “Lunch Hour,” “The Trial of the Catonsville Nine,” “Hay Fever,” “A Walk in the Woods” and “Long Day's Journey Into Night.

Waterston received an honorary degree from his alma mater, Yale, in 2001 and an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree from The University of the South in 2004. Along with fellow “Law & Order” cast member Jerry Orbach, he was honored as “Living Landmarks” by the New York Landmarks Conservancy in 2002. He is also the recipient of the 2003 Richard Nelson Current Award of Achievement, which is awarded annually by the Lincoln Forum.

6' 1” Waterston has been married twice and is the father of four children, including actor James Waterston of “Dead Poets Society” fame and actresses Katherine and Elisabeth Waterston. He and present wife Lynn Louisa Woodruff, whom he married in 1976, currently live in Connecticut. Waterston was a good friend of legendary martial artist Bruce Lee.

Waterston is an active humanitarian. He has worked with many organizations, including Oceana, The United Way, Refugees International, The Episcopal Actors' Guild of America, and Meals on Wheels. An Episcopalian, he contributed his vocals to narrate the biographical documentary of Episcopal civil rights martyr Jonathan Myrick Daniels in “Here Am I, Send Me” (1999).


Childhood and Family:

Samuel Atkinson Waterston was born on November 15, 1940, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to George Chychele Waterston, an immigrant from Leith, Scotland, who worked as a semanticist and language teacher in North Andover, Massachusetts, and Alice Tucker Atkinson, a landscape painter. He and his three siblings were raised in New England. Under the direction of his amateur dramatist father, 7-year-old Sam made his stage debut in Jean Anouilh's “Antigone.” He also acted in school productions.

Sam was educated at the Brooks School, a boarding school in North Andover, MA, and the Groton School, a private Episcopal college preparatory boarding school in Groton, MA. In 1958, he won a scholarship to Yale University. While pursuing a BA in French and history, he was active in the Yale Dramatic Association. As a junior, he traveled to Paris to study at the University of Paris. A few weeks later, he joined the American Actors Workshop, which was founded by American director John Berry. Sam also spent several months honing in on his craft at Connecticut's Clinton Playhouse before relocating to New York City.

On December 18, 1964, Sam married Barbara Rutledge. Their marriage ended in 1969 after producing one child, son James Waterston. He married Lynn Louisa Woodruff on January 26, 1976. The happy couple has two daughters, Elizabeth and Katherine Waterston, and a son named Graham. In addition to a residence in Connecticut, Sam also owns a summer home in Mattapoisett, Massachusetts.

The Killing Fields


Making his first stage appearance at age 7, Sam Waterston would continue to act in school plays during his youth and perform in a number of productions during his stint at Yale University. It was after a performance in “Waiting for Godot” that he came to the decision that he wanted to act professionally. After attending the Clinton Playhouse, where he again appeared in “Waiting for Godot,” he headed to New York City and hit the stage with Arthur Kopit's “Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mama's Hung You in the Closet and I m Feelin So Sad.” He went on to tour with the production and in August 1963, it moved to Broadway, which marked Waterston's first Broadway appearance. Also in 1963, Waterston made his debut appearance with the New York Shakespeare Festival in “As You Like It.”

Waterston kept a strong stage presence throughout the remainder of the 1960s. He was cast as Prince Hal a production of “Henry IV, Part I” and “Henry IV, Part II” in 1968 and starred in Arthur Kopit's “Indians” (1969). Meanwhile, Waterston also made his screen debut as Andy in the unreleased “The Plastic Dome of Norma Jean” (1965), directed and written by Juleen Compton. Following TV appearances in “Dr. Kildare” (1965), “Hawk” (1966) and “N.Y.P.D” (1967), he appeared in the films “Fitzwilly” (1967, starred Dick Van Dyke), “Generation” (1969, starred David Janssen) and “Three” (1969, with Charlotte Rampling and Robbie Porter).

In 1971, Waterston had a featured role in the off-Broadway play “The Trial of the Catonsville Nine.” He then assumed the role of Benedict in a production of “Much Ado About Nothing” (1972), opposite Kathleen Widdoes. The production later moved to Broadway and TV (aired on CBS in 1973) with the actor reprising his role. For his rendition of Benedict in A.J. Antoon's production of “Much Ado About Nothing” at the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park, he enjoyed critical success and was handed a Drama Desk Award, a New York Drama Critics Circle Award, and an Obie Award.

Waterston was next cast as Tom Wingfield in the ABC TV film “The Glass Menagerie” (1973, an adaptation of Tennessee Williams' play of the same name. Cast opposite Katharine Hepburn as Amanda Wingfield, he received an Emmy nomination for Best Supporting Actor in Drama. He doubled the victory the next year with his portrayal of narrator Nick Carraway in the big screen adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel “The Great Gatsby” (1974), which was directed by Jack Clayton and scripted by Francis Ford Coppola. The role brought him Golden Globe nominations for Most Promising Newcomer - Male and Best Supporting Actor - Motion Picture. Costars of the Oscar winning film included Robert Redford, Mia Farrow, Bruce Dern and Karen Black. 1974 also saw him play Michael Elliott in the TV movie “Reflections on a Murder,” opposite Tuesday Weld.

The accomplished performer returned to stage to play the title role in the New York Shakespeare Festival production of “Hamlet” and Torvald Helmer in Ibsen's “A Doll's House” in 1975. The same year, he costarred with Jeff Bridge in the western film “Rancho Deluxe” and starred in the thriller “Journey Into Fear,” for director Daniel Mann. He was next seen in such movies as “Dandy, the All American Girl” (1976, with Stockard Channing), Peter Hyams' “Capricorn One” (1978, with Elliott Gould and James Brolin), Woody Allen's “Interiors” (1978) and “Eagle's Wing” (1979, starred with Martin Sheen and Harvey Keitel). He then appeared in the ABC praised drama “Friendly Fire” (1979), where he starred opposite Carol Burnett and Ned Beatty.

In 1980, Waterston had title role in the film “Sweet William,” which was based on a novel by Beryl Bainbridge, and costarred in the films “Hopscotch” (with Walter Matthau and Glenda Jackson), and Michael Cimino's “Heaven's Gate” (with Kris Kristofferson, Christopher Walken and John Hurt). He then starred as a physicist on the BBC seven part miniseries “Oppenheimer” (1980), which was broadcasted in the U.S. on PBS in May 1982. For his good acting job, he picked up a 1981 BAFTA nomination for Best Actor and a 1983 Golden Globe nomination for Best Performance by an Actor in a Mini-Series or Motion Picture.

Waterston kept busy on the small screen in the miniseries “Freedom to Speak” (1982, played Theodore Roosevelt) and the short lived CBS adventure series “Q.E.D.” (1982, starred as Professor Quentin E. Deverill). He also acted in a string of TV films, including “In Defense of Kids” (1983), “The Boy Who Loved Trolls” (1984), “Finnegan Begin Again” (1985, with Mary Tyler Moore and Robert Preston) and “A Walk in the Woods” (1988). He also starred as Abraham Lincoln in the two part NBC film “Gore Vidal's 'Lincoln'” (1988), opposite Mary Tyler Moore as Mary Todd Lincoln.

The prolific actor resumed his feature film career when he was hired to star as Sydney Schanberg in the Roland Joffé directed “The Killing Fields” (1984). Delivering a fine portrayal of an American journalist in Cambodia, he was handed an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role. He also earned Golden Globe and BAFTA nominations in the same categories. Subsequent film credits included Woody Allen's “Hannah and Her Sisters” (1986), “September” (1987) and “Crimes and Misdemeanors” (1989), and Franklin J. Schaffner's “Welcome Home” (1989). Waterston also resurfaced on stage in the Broadway comedy “Lunch Hour” in 1980-1981 and “A Walk in the Woods” in 1988. He returned to the New York stage in 1993 in revival of Robert E. Sherwood's “Abe Lincoln in Illinois.” His performance earned a Tony nomination for Best Actor (Play).

In 1991, Waterston began his regular role of District Attorney Forrest Bedford in the NBC drama series “I’ll Fly Away,” opposite Regina Taylor and Jeremy London. The show collected many awards and nominations but suffered from low ratings. It was eventually canceled in 1993 despite protests from critics and audiences. For his outstanding acting job, Waterston picked up a Golden Globe Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a TV Series, Drama and Emmy nominations for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series (1992 and 1993). He also directed the 1992 episode “Since Walter,” which marked his first venture behind the camera as a director. Waterston reprised his role n the TV movie sequel “I'll Fly Away: Then and Now,” which aired on PBS on October 11, 1993, and was nominated for a 1994 Emmy in the category of Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Special.

Waterston next played the father of Reese Witherspoon’s character in the drama “The Man in the Moon” (1991) after appearing in “Mindwalk” (1990), in which he costarred with Liv Ullmann. He then starred in the independent film “A Captive in the Land” (1993), was cast as Kathleen Turner's husband in John Waters' “Serial Mom” (1994), supported Jason Patric and Thandie Newton in John Duigan's “The Journey of August King” (1995), in which he also made his debut as a producer, and portrayed Harry Bancroft in Ismail Merchant's “The Proprietor” (1996). He also played the U.S. President in the political thriller “Shadow Conspiracy” (1997), which starred Charlie Sheen, Donald Sutherland and Linda Hamilton.

In 1994, after costarring with Kirstie Alley in the heralded TV movie “David's Mother,” Waterston landed his most prominent role to date in the popular legal drama “Law & Order” (NBC, 1990-present). Joining the show in season 5, the actor received a 1995 Golden Globe nomination for Best Performance by an Actor in a TV-Series - Drama, and a 1997 Emmy nomination for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series. The role also brought the talented performer a 1999 Screen Actors Guild for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor and countless other nominations. As the host of the documentary TV series “Lost Civilizations” (1995), Waterston shared a 1996 Emmy Award in the category of Outstanding Informational Series. He rejoined Mia Farrow in the 1998 fact based TV film “Miracle at Midnight.” He also recreated his famous role of A.D.A. Jack McCoy on the 1998 TV film “Exiled: A Law & Order Movie” and in two episodes of “Homicide: Life on the Street” (1997 and 1999).

Apart from his regular gig on “Law & Order,” Waterston provided the voice of Dr. Kaplan in two episodes of “Family Guy” (2000), produced and starred in the Showtime TV film “A House Divided” (2000), and earned a Gemini for Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Supporting Role in a Dramatic Program or Mini-Series for the NBC TV movie “The Matthew Shepard Story” (2002), where he was cast as the father of real life murdered college student Matthew Shepard. On stage, he costarred with his son, James, in a production of “Long Day's Journey Into Night” at the Syracuse Stage in 2000.

After a six year absence, Waterston returned to films with the small, but memorable, role of Chester Walker in “Le divorce” (2003), a drama directed by James Ivory and starring Kate Hudson as Isabel Walker. He also costarred with Martin Landau in Mark Sobel's “The Commission” and reprised his role of Jack McCoy in two episodes of “Law & Order: Trial by Jury” in 2005 and two episodes of “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” in 2000 and 2007. He then made a guest appearance in a 2007 episode of “Masters of Science Fiction” called “A Clean Escape.”


  • Gemini: Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Supporting Role in a Dramatic Program or Mini-Series, “The Matthew Shepard Story,” 2002

  • Screen Actors Guild: Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Drama Series, “Law & Order,” 1999

  • Emmy: Outstanding Informational Series, “Lost Civilizations,” 1996

  • Golden Globe: Best Performance by an Actor in a TV-Series - Drama, “I'll Fly Away,” 1993

  • Drama Desk: “Much Ado About Nothing,” 1972

  • Obie: “Much Ado About Nothing,” 1972

  • New York Drama Critics Circle: “Much Ado About Nothing,” 1972

Show Less
© Retna
© Fox Searchlight
© Retna
© Retna
© Retna
© Retna
© Retna
© Retna
© Retna
© Retna