Born in San Francisco, California, David Russell Strathairn grew up primarily in Marin County as the second of three siblings. After graduating from Redwood High School in 1966, David attended college on the East Coast at Williams College in Massachusettes (which, at the time, was still an all-men's college.)
While studying there, David became interested in theater, particularly "experimental" theater, drawn to the community of artists and artisans. After being introduced to theater by means of a copy of Pinter's The Dumb Waiter, David took parts in several stage productions at college, including roles in such works as Of Mice and Men and Shakespearean works. After graduation, David set out to Florida and, in the fall of 1970, ended up at the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus Clown College in Venice, Florida. Subsequently, he was hired as one half of a Siamese twin sight-gag. He traveled with the circus for that following season. When asked later to "change his face or take a walk", he left the circus.
David moved to Glen Falls, New York, where he joined with friends (one being NYPD Blue actor Gordon Clapp) in starting a children's theater troupe traveling throughout New England, spending several summers at a summer stock playhouse in New Hampshire. It was there that David ran into John Sayles, an acquaintance at Williams College, who was also working with the New Hampshire playhouse. A few years later, Sayles cast David in his first feature film (Return of the Secaucus 7.) The movie, about a reunion of college friends who had protested the Vietnam War in the late 1960s and early 1970s, was also David's very first film role. During the early 1980s, he worked primarily in theatre in New York but also took supporting roles in films such as Mike Nichol's Silkwood (1983) with Meryl Streep, Enormous Changes At the Last Minute (1983) with Kevin Bacon that was written by Sayles, and Lovesick (1983) with Dudley Moore. What started with Return of the Secaucus 7 would continue for (to date) seven more Sayles pictures in the 1980s and 1990s. He was cast in his second Sayles film, The Brother From Another Planet, in 1984, playing a bounty hunter from outer space.
The late 1980s saw David breaking out into bigger ensemble films and larger character parts. He took his first onscreen comedic part in Troma Film's spoof When Nature Calls (1985) and worked alongside Christopher Walken in At Close Range (1986), as well as Ray Liotta in Dominick and Eugene (1988), playing an abusive and drunken father. In 1987, David played the role of Chief Sid Hatfield in yet another John Sayles project, Matewan, a drama about the organization of a labor union in the Appalachia and for which he received his first acting nomination from the Independent Spirit Awards. He followed this film up with Sayles's Eight Men Out in 1988 (a credit also considered to be David's first leading role.) During this time, he also became familiar to television audiences with the role of Moss Goodman on the hit series The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd from 1988-1991. David's character was the heroine's boss (played by Blair Brown), as well as one of her several admirers. He also starred in the CBS mini-series drama Day One (1989), playing opposite Brian Dennehy as the noted Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer, leader of the Manhattan project to develop the atomic bomb.
By the 1990s, David had established himself as a great and sought-after "character" actor. In 1991, he worked with Sayles again in City of Hope, in which he played a homeless man named Asteroid. For his work in the film, David won the Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Actor. He appeared in a host of other high-profiled films such as A League of Their Own (1992), Sneakers (1992), John Sayles's Passion Fish (1992), The Firm (1993), The River Wild (1994), Losing Isaiah (1995), Dolores Claiborne (1995), Academy Award-winning L.A. Confidential (1997), Simon Birch (1998), A Midsummer Night's Dream (1999), and Sayles's Limbo (1999). During this time, he garnered two more Independent Spirit Award nominations for his roles in Passion Fish and Limbo.
In the '90s, David also made his mark in several made-for-television programs. These included HBO's Judgement (1990) as a Catholic priest accused of sexual acts against a minor, Hallmark's O Pioneers! (1992), Arthur Miller's The American Clock (1993) for TNT, Showtime's Beyond the Call (1996) in the leading role of a troubled Vietnam Vet on death row, HBO's In the Gloaming (1997) for which he received an ACE nomination, and Showtime's Evidence of Blood (1998). More recently, David appeared in Disney's remake of The Miracle Worker (2000), A&E's remake of Lathe of Heaven (2002), and Master Spy: The Robert Hanssen Story (2002). In 2001, he starred on the short-lived ABC crime drama Big Apple as FBI Agent Will Preecher. He also appeared in the Showtime pilot Paradise (2004), headlining an impressive cast as Reverend Bobby Paradise, leader of a global ministry. His most recent television stint was as Edie Falco's love interest, Robert Wegler, on the hit series The Sopranos in 2004.
Throughout the last three decades, David has continued to work steadily and passionately in theater and, to this day, still considers the stage his first love. He has appeared on Broadway in Einstein and the Polar Bear (1981), Three Sisters (1997), Dance of Death (2001) and Salome (2003), as well as an extensive list of Off-Broadway and regional productions that include A Lie of the Mind (1985-1986) and premiere productions of Eyes For Consuela (1998), Ashes to Ashes (1999), and Cherry Docs (2000). More recent critically-acclaimed pieces have included Stranger (2000), The Winter's Tale (2003), and the premiere production of Hannah and Martin (2004). In 2004, David starred as Rodney, a fading movie star, in playwright Richard Nelson's Rodney's Wife at the Classic Stage Company. Most recently, he performed in Beauty On the Vine (2007) for the Epic Theatre Center and will soon be seen in the anticipated Public Theater's production of Richard Nelson's Conversations in Tusculum (2008). In addition, David has and continues to take part in many stage and benefit readings for new plays, charities, and organizations each year.
Audiences may be most familiar with his wonderful roles in mainstream cinema, but David has also lent his talents to a number of small, poignant independent features such as Bad Manners (1997), The Giraffe (1998), A Map of the World (1999), A Good Baby (2000), Relative Evil (2001) and, more recently, Missing In America (2005). In 2002, he gave one of his bravest and most daring performances to date in the gem indie flick Blue Car, playing an English teacher who has an affair with a troubled young student.
Though he has given several unforgettable performances, David's most recent film role as legendary newsman Edward R. Murrow in the George Clooney-directed picture Good Night, And Good Luck (2005) has become the highlight of his career (thus far.) A role that has been hailed by the critics as "the performance of a lifetime", David won the prestigious Coppa Volpi Best Actor Award at the Venice Film Festival for his role, as well as the Womens Film Critics' Circle Award for Best Actor and the Movies For GrownUps Award for "Breakaway Accomplishment", and garnered several other nominations, including his first Golden Globe and Academy Award nods.
With the success of Good Night, And Good Luck (2005), David continues to work fervently in film, with several projects being released or screened the next few years. In 2006, he continued his indie streak with several noted films including Steel Toes, Heavens Fall and The Sensation of Sight (his first co-producing project). He appeared in the critically-acclaimed short The Shovel, as well as the Warner Bros. We Are Marshall with Matthew McConaughey and Matthew Fox. David also starred in the world's very first interactive movie, The Onyx Project, a fully browseable movie that uses the patent-pending video story-telling architecture called NAV.
In 2007, David performed in several interesting features including Fracture with Sir Anthony Hopkins, the beautiful independent picture Racing Daylight and Universal Pictures's The Bourne Ultimatum, the highly-grossed third installment in the popular spy series starring Matt Damon. David has several films lined up for 2008, including Wong Kar-wai's English directorial debut My Blueberry Nights, The Spiderwick Chronicles (based on the popular children's fantasy novels by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black), the horror remake of A Tale of Two Sisters, and the already festival-acclaimed documentary Trumbo which celebrates the life and times of Dalton Trumbo. Currently, he has landed leading roles in the forthcoming films Challenger as famous scientist Richard Feynman and Hereafter (about a man who must search for his family admist the 2004 Asian tsunami disaster).
David and wife Logan at the Venice Film Festival (2005)David remains one of the most sought-after American actors. He works steadily in the theater, television and film industries, taking projects that are as complex as they are challenging and versatile. David lives in the upstate New York countryside with his longtime wife, Logan Goodman. They have two sons.