Who is David Strathairn, you ask? Who ISN’T he? He’s Edward R. Murrow, J. Robert Oppenheimer, and William Seward. He’s nuanced and practiced, leading and supporting. Whether you realize it or not, you’ve seen him everywhere from stage to screen for the last 4 decades.

With a filmography of over 90 movies and over 30 television shows, including classic titles like A League of Their Own and The Firm, and recent blockbuster hits like The Bourne Legacy and Where the Crawdads Sing, Strathairn is hard to miss.

And Strathairn’s credits don’t end at the movie theater. He has played several roles on Broadway, and is a familiar face here at People's Light, starring in our productions of The Cherry Orchard, Nathan the Wise, Sally's Gone, She Left Her Name, and in in our workshop of Carey Perloff's Edgardo or White Fire during The Kiln 2023. He even appeared opposite Olivia Wilde in the Off-Broadway World Premiere of our Producing Artistic Director Zak Berkman’s Beauty On The Vine.

In honor of his return to People’s Light, we asked staff to share their favorite David Strathairn acting moments:

Good Night, and Good Luck

Community Programs Creative Director Andrew Watring calls David's role as Edward R. Murrow "a masterclass in character acting".

Eve Trojanov, Director of Marketing, Sales, & Patron Engagement, shares: "As a teenager, Good Night, and Good Luck was my first introduction to McCarthyism and the Red Scare. This prompted me to research this era further, and I ended up writing a paper my senior year of high school on The Crucible as a result. I've always loved history, but this was one of the first chances I had to research a topic that interested me and write a paper focusing on whatever thesis I wanted to argue. To this day it's one of my favorite academic projects I've ever done, and Good Night, and Good Luck is still one of my all-time favorite movies. The cast, acting, and cinematography are powerful and incredible. Years later, post-college, I would see Lincoln in the theatre three times. (I had ended up taking a historical focus throughout all my photography degree work in college and became obsessed with the Civil War.) Another phenomenal film with a powerful cast. Plus it's based on the book Team of Rivals by one of my favorite authors, Doris Kearns Goodwin."

The Cherry Orchard (People's Light)

Associate Producer & Director of New Works Deepa Purohit says she enjoys David's "humility and humor on stage".

Eight Men Out, Lincoln, Sneakers

Director of Production Chaz Brastow appreciates these performances because of their "economy and nuance, specificity, depth, and honesty to character".

Hannah and Martin (Off-Broadway), Dark Rapture (NY Stage & Film)

"David always has an undercurrenta wink and wonder underneath his expressionthat is as fascinating as what comes to the surface."

-Zak Berkman, Producing Artistic Director

Temple Grandin

"His character was a very caring and patient person, who shared his love of science with Claire Danes' character. He was a calming energy onscreen and felt like a great role model."

-Alex Savage, Box Office Manager

Where the Crawdads Sing, A League of Their Own, We Are Marshall

"My favorite performances from David are the ones he plays in each of these movies, kind and considerate, strong but compassionate, steadfast and trustworthy. David does so well portraying a soft-spoken character with a gentle strength, that you just know that everything will be ok."

-Jennifer Mullen, Development Manager

LCD Soundsystem's oh babyFast ColorThe Spiderwick Chronicles

As a member of Gen Z, I can attest to the imprint of David's acting across generations. The Spiderwick Chronicles movie was a huge part of my childhood, and I loved Fast Color when I watched it in college. And David's ability to convey happiness, fear, despair, and love without speaking in the oh baby music video blew me away.

-Fiona Selden, Marketing Apprentice

All of them!

David Strathairn in The Firm (1993)

What I love about David Strathairn is the way he uses his eyes and asks questions. One scene of his I think about a lot is from the John Sayles film Eight Men Out. At the beginning of the film, he asks about getting a bonus, and finds out that the champagne he’s holding is the bonus. Most actors would have played the anger the character is feeling, but when he realizes the champagne is flat, he simply tosses the cork and walks away. That look sets the whole tone for the film and allows the audience to understand why the players choose to go crooked for the world series, they’re broke and have been disrespected and Strathairn generates the empathy required for the audience at the beginning of the film. Strathairn has an incredible partnership with Sayles, whose films are deeply human, poignant, and have a strong resonance today. Return of the Secaucus Seven, Matewan, and Passion Fish are all incredible films that I hope everyone will seek out. People like to throw out great actor/director partnerships, and I always have loved to say Strathairn/Sayles is one of my favorites.

But how do you pick the favorite performance of an actor who has worked with directors like John Sayles, Mike Nichols, Penny Marshall, Sydney Pollack, Curtis Hanson, George Clooney, Steven Spielberg, Chloe Zhao, and Guillermo del Toro? His performances always leave an impression, and he’s a master of subtly. His performance in del Toro’s Nightmare Alley as an alcoholic circus leader at the end of his line shows why he is one of the most compelling screen presences working today. The camera never needs to do much more than show his face, and we can understand what his character is going through, and we can feel how difficult it is for him to move and get out of his bathtub, but it’s exhilarating when he comes alive for the show. You know you’re in the presence of a great actor when a master director just leaves the camera on them and doesn’t need to do much else for the scene.

My personal favorite Strathairn film will always be The Firm. In a film that features Tom Cruise, Gene Hackman, Holly Hunter, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Hal Holbrook, Wilford Brimley, Ed Harris, Gary Busey, Tobin Bell, Margo Martindale, and Dean Norris; I can’t help but think about Strathairn’s performance. When we meet his character, Tom Cruise is visiting him in jail. Strathairn’s first line is “you start to miss the sky in a place like this”. I have watched this film many times and every time I hear that line, I immediately start to feel guilty, like I have been taking the sky for granted. That’s why I love David Strathairn, I know anytime he’s in a movie, he’s going to give a look or a line reading that will stay with me.

-Lyle Sweppenheiser, Education Assistant and Resident David Strathairn Expert

Let's keep the conversation going! Share some of your favorite David Strathairn acting moments in the comments section below: