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Samuel Atkinson "Sam" Waterston

Birthplace: Cambridge, Middlesex County, Massachusetts, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of George Chychele Waterston and Alice Tucker Atkinson
Husband of Private and Private
Father of Elisabeth Waterston; Katherine Waterston; Private and James Waterston

Managed by: Gene Daniell
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Sam Waterston

Samuel Atkinson "Sam" Waterston (born November 15, 1940) is an American actor and occasional producer and director. Among other roles, he is noted for his Academy Award-nominated portrayal of Sydney Schanberg in 1984's The Killing Fields, and his Golden Globe- and Screen Actors Guild Award-winning portrayal of Jack McCoy on the NBC television series Law & Order. He has been nominated for multiple Golden Globe-, Screen Actors Guild-, BAFTA- and Emmy Awards, having starred in over eighty film and television productions during his forty-five year career.[1] Allmovie has characterised Waterston as having "cultivated a loyal following with his quietly charismatic, unfailingly solid performances."[2]

Waterston received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2010 and was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame in 2012.

Waterston, the third of four siblings, (Roberta, George and Ellen) was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His mother, Alice Tucker (née Atkinson), was an American Mayflower descendant and worked as a landscape painter, and his father, George Chychele Waterston, was an immigrant from Leith, Scotland and a semanticist and language teacher.[4][5] Waterston attended both the Brooks School, a boarding school in North Andover, Massachusetts where his father taught, and the Groton School in Groton, Massachusetts. He entered Yale University on a scholarship in 1958 and graduated with a BA in 1962. After graduating from Yale, he attended the Clinton Playhouse for several months. Waterston also attended the Sorbonne in Paris and the American Actors Workshop.


The classically trained Waterston has quite a few stage credits to his name. For example, he played an award-winning Benedick in Joseph Papp's production of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, and played the title role in Hamlet. He continues live theater work during the summers, often seen acting at places like Long Wharf Theatre and the Yale Repertory Theatre in New Haven.[6][7]

Waterston made his debut in 1965's The Plastic Dome of Norma Jean, coming to prominence in Fitzwilly in 1967. He starred with Katharine Hepburn in a 1973 TV movie adaptation of Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie. The film also featured Michael Moriarty, whom Waterston later replaced as the Executive Assistant District Attorney on Law & Order. Other films include Savages (1972), The Great Gatsby (1974), Journey Into Fear (1975), Capricorn One (1978), Heaven's Gate and Hopscotch (1980), The Killing Fields (1984, nominated Academy Award for Best Actor), Mindwalk (1990), Serial Mom (1994) and Woody Allen's Interiors (1978), Hannah and Her Sisters (1986, cameo), and Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989). Waterston is a six-time Emmy Award nominee as well as a winner of the Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Awards.

Aside from Law & Order, he has played other television roles including D.A. Forrest Bedford in I'll Fly Away, for which he won a Golden Globe Award as Best Actor - Drama Series in 1993. He also had a starring role in an episode segment on the TV series Amazing Stories called "Mirror Mirror". In 1994 he appeared as US President William Foster, alongside Forest Whittaker and Dana Delany, in the made for TV movie The Enemy Within, a remake of director John Frankenheimer's Cold War political thriller Seven Days In May.

Waterston also served on the Advisory Committee for the Lincoln Bicentennial, celebrating Abraham Lincoln's 200th birthday. Waterston has portrayed Lincoln on stage and screen (The Civil War, Gore Vidal's Lincoln, Abe Lincoln in Illinois on Broadway, voiced Lincoln in an exhibit at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, and delivered Lincoln's Cooper Union speech on May 5, 2004.

Waterston has appeared in episodes of four different series with Richard Belzer: Law & Order, Homicide: Life on the Street, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and Law & Order: Trial by Jury. He also made a popular cameo appearance on an episode of Saturday Night Live as himself, extolling the virtues of Old Glory Insurance, meant to protect the elderly from robot attacks.[8]

Waterston lent his voice to the animated television series Family Guy where he played Dr. Kaplan, the psychiatrist Brian Griffin consults during his mid-life crisis in the episode "Brian in Love". He voices Dr. Kaplan again in the episode "Road to Rhode Island", but he is not credited in any other episode in which the character appears. Waterston also narrated NBC's documentary, The Great Race, the story of the famous 4 x 10-kilometer cross-country relay at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, which Italy won over the host nation. The special aired during NBC's coverage of the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy, on February 18, the day before the 2006 relay took place, which was also won by Italy. He added partial narration to the Ken Burns documentary, Lewis & Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery, serving as the voice of Thomas Jefferson. He also played Jefferson in Burns' documentary about Jefferson. He also appeared in the first episode of ABC's Masters of Science Fiction, playing an amnesiac in the episode "A Clean Escape".

Waterston appeared on the 5,100th edition of Jeopardy!, on November 10, 2006, with Kathryn Erbe of Law & Order: Criminal Intent and Christopher Meloni of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Waterston finished second to Meloni, and received a $25,000 prize, which he donated to Refugees International and Oceana.

Waterston is regularly featured in television advertisements for TD Ameritrade (formerly TD Waterhouse, which is mostly owned by Toronto-Dominion Bank and the Ricketts family). He replaced former Law & Order castmate Steven Hill as TD's spokesman. He has lent his voice to an ad for The Nation.

Waterston has appeared in a recurring segment on The Colbert Report, called "Sam Waterston Says Things You Should Never Believe In A Trustworthy Manner." The segments usually involve Waterston simply stating an obviously untrue film quote in a very convincing voice.

Waterston appeared as Polonius in the 2008 Shakespeare in the Park production of Hamlet. His performance received excellent reviews in The New York Times and many other newspapers around the country, particularly in the Northeast.[9][10]

Waterston narrates for Time-Life history specials.

On Thursday January 7, 2010 Waterston received the 2,397th Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Law & Order completed its 20-year run on NBC on May 24, 2010, with Waterston ending the series as its second longest-serving cast member (16 seasons). It remains to be seen if Waterston will continue to appear as McCoy in the spin-off series.

Personal life

Waterston was married to his first wife, Barbara Rutledge-Johns Waterston, from 12/28/1964 to 1975. They married in a Methodist ceremony at Branford College at Yale. Barbara Waterston is the sister of Alexandra Johns Stoddard. Sam and Barbara had one son, James, also an actor (his most famous role probably being that of Gerard Pitts in Peter Weir's Dead Poets Society). Waterston married his second wife, former model Lynn Louisa Woodruff in 1976. [11] They have three children, daughters Katherine and Elisabeth, who are also actors, and a son, Graham. [12]

An active humanitarian, Waterston donates considerable time to organizations such as Oceana, where he is a board member, Refugees International, Meals on Wheels, The United Way, and The Episcopal Actors' Guild of America. Waterston, a practicing Episcopalian,[13] narrated the 1999 biographical documentary of Episcopal civil rights martyr Jonathan Myrick Daniels, Here Am I, Send Me.

He was a spokesman for the Unity08 movement, which unsuccessfully sought to run a non- or bipartisan presidential ticket in the 2008 presidential election.[14] Waterston has stated that he was a Democrat until he left the party in disgust following the airing of Lyndon B. Johnson's infamous "Daisy" election ad in 1964.[15] Waterston has also appeared in print ads, and announced in television commercials, for the liberal magazine The Nation. Waterston also volunteered at an Obama campaign office just outside of Philadelphia on Election Day 2008.

In 2002, Waterston and fellow Law & Order castmate Jerry Orbach were honored as "Living Landmarks" by the New York Landmarks Conservancy.

Waterston is a longtime friend and fan of the Mark Morris Dance Group and hosted the television presentation of Mozart Dances on PBS' Live from Lincoln Center on August 16, 2007.


The Plastic Dome of Norma Jean (1965) – Andy

Fitzwilly (1967) – Oliver

Generation (1969) – Desmond

Three (1969) – Taylor

Cover Me Babe (1970) – Cameraman

Who Killed Mary What's 'Er Name? (1971) – Alex

Mahoney's Estate (1972) – Felix

Savages (1972) – James, the Limping Man

The Glass Menagerie (1973) – Tom Wingfield

The Great Gatsby (1974) – Nick Carraway

Reflections of Murder (1974) – Michael Elliott

Rancho Deluxe (1975) – Cecil Colson

Journey into Fear (1975) – Mr. Graham

Sweet Revenge (1976) – Le Clerq

Capricorn One (1978) – Lt. Col. Peter Willis

Interiors (1978) – Mike

Eagle's Wing (1979) – White Bull

Friendly Fire – C D Bryan

Sweet William (1980) – William

Hopscotch (1980) – Joe Cutter

Heaven's Gate (1980) – Frank Canton

Oppenheimer (1982) – J. Robert Oppenheimer

Q.E.D. (1982) Professor Quentin Everett Deverill

The Killing Fields (1984) – Sydney Schanberg

The Boy Who Loved Trolls (1984) – Ofoeti

Love lives on (1985)

Warning Sign (1985) – Cal Morse

Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) – David (cameo)

Just Between Friends (1986) – Harry Crandall

Flagrant désir (1986) – Gerry Morrison

Devil's Paradise (1987) – Mr. Jones

September (1987) – Peter

Lincoln (1988) – Abraham Lincoln

Welcome Home (1989) – Woody

Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989) – Ben

The Civil War (1990) – Abraham Lincoln (voice)

The Nightmare Years (1990) – William Shirer

Mindwalk (1990) – Jack Edwards

The Man in the Moon (1991) – Matthew Trant

A Captive in the Land (1993) – Royce

David's Mother (1994) – John Nils

Serial Mom (1994) – Eugene Sutphin, D.D.S.

The Enemy Within (1994) – President William Foster

The Journey of August King (1995) – Mooney Wright, Producer

Nixon (1995) – Richard Helms (scenes present only in director's cut)

The Proprietor (1996) – Harry Bancroft

Shadow Conspiracy (1997) – The President

Miracle at Midnight (1998) – Dr. Karl Koster

The Matthew Shepard Story (2002) – Dennis Shepard

Le Divorce (2003) – Chester Walker

The Commission (2003) – J. Lee Rankin

The National Parks: America's Best Idea (2009) – Various historical figures (voice)


Academy Awards

Nominee: 1984 - Best Actor in a Leading Role, "The Killing Fields"

Primetime Emmys

Nominee: 2000 - Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series, "Law & Order"

Nominee: 1999 - Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series, "Law & Order"

Nominee: 1998 - Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series, "Law & Order"

Winner: 1996 - Outstanding Informational Series, "Lost Civilizations"

Nominee: 1994 - Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or TV Special, "I'll Fly Away: Then and Now"

Nominee: 1993 - Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series, "I'll Fly Away"

Nominee: 1992 - Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series, "I'll Fly Away"

Nominee: 1974 - Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama, "The Glass Menagerie"

Golden Globe Awards

Nominee: 1995 - Best Performance by an Actor in a TV Series - Drama, "Law & Order"

Winner: 1993 - Best Performance by an Actor in a TV Series - Drama, "I'll Fly Away"

Nominee: 1992 - Best Performance by an Actor in a TV Series - Drama, "I'll Fly Away"

Nominee: 1985 - Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Drama, "The Killing Fields"

Nominee: 1983 - Best Performance by an Actor in a Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for TV, "Oppenheimer"

Nominee: 1975 - Best Supporting Actor - Motion Picture, "The Great Gatsby"

Nominee: 1975 - Most Promising Newcomer - Male, "The Great Gatsby"

Screen Actors Guild

Nominee: 2004 - Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series, "Law & Order"

Nominee: 2002 - Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series, "Law & Order"

Nominee: 2001 - Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series, "Law & Order"

Nominee: 2000 - Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series, "Law & Order"

Winner: 1999 - Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Drama Series, "Law & Order"

Nominee: 1999 - Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series, "Law & Order"

Nominee: 1998 - Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series, "Law & Order"

Nominee: 1997 - Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series, "Law & Order"

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Sam Waterston's Timeline

November 15, 1940
Cambridge, Middlesex County, Massachusetts, United States
January 17, 1969
March 30, 1977
March 3, 1980