Like other comedians such as Jim Carrey and Robin Williams, Steve Zahn has attempted to traverse other genres and riskier roles outside his funnyman comfort zone. But unlike those higher profile stars, Zahn has taken his journey in a quieter fashion and has emerged as an impressive character actor, whether it be as the POW in “Rescue Dawn” or “Comanche Moon.”
Steve was born in Minnesota in 1967 and as a boy listened to George Carlin records provided by his father, a Lutheran minister. He won a role in a local dinner theater production of “Biloxi Blues” and soon thereafter was studying at the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, MA as a two-year drama student. By 1991, Steve found himself in a New York musical (“Bye Bye Birdie”) where he met fellow cast member Robyn Peterman, who he would later marry in 1994. He also participated in the Ethan Hawke Off-Broadway play “Sophistry,” where Steve caught the eye of Ben Stiller, who signed Steve up for his directorial debut “Reality Bites.”
Thanks to Stiller’s help, Steve was a burgeoning presence perfect for supporting roles. Tom Hanks took note, bringing Steve aboard for “That Thing You Do!” and later “From the Earth to the Moon” and “You’ve Got Mail.” Steve made further impressions on critics and audiences as Glenn Michaels in Steven Soderbergh’s “Out of Sight” in 1998. A year later, Steve was honored at Sundance for a Special Jury Prize for his performance in “Happy, Texas.” The sidekick parts expanded for Steve in the early 2000s – like in “National Security” and “Daddy Day Care” – but it was also at this time that Steve showed signs of wanting to explore his range, to shed the typecast, and forge new ground. He would do so in “Shattered Glass,” “Riding in Cars with Boys,” and “Rescue Dawn” in which he confirmed his stature as a strong dramatic actor effectively putting an end to the limited roles he was given at the outset of his career.
Lately, Steve’s branched out into voice acting while keeping his dramatic options open. When not working on projects, he lives with his family on a farm in Kentucky, as far removed from establishment Hollywood as possible. Steve’s outsider perspective has not only shown itself in his work onscreen, but in his down to earth outlook on life.
Steve on the Web
Steve’s ultimate web resource guide.
TV Guide: Steve Zahn
Latest news, video clips of Steve at work, and photos.
Detailed bio, list of milestones, links to new projects, and stills from past films.
Decent bio that charts Steve’s rise with some links and complete filmography.
“Daily Show” Clip
Steve visits Jon Stewart.
A.V. Club Random Roles: Steve Zahn
A chat with Steve on some of his most memorable roles throughout the years.
UGO “Rescue Dawn” Diary
Steve notes a day’s work promoting “Rescue Dawn.”
SPLICEDwire “Sahara” Interview
2005 chat with Steve on the “Sahara” experience.
Steve on the Screen
Getting his start in theatre, Steve made his small screen debut in a 1990 episode of “All My Children.” In 1994, Ben Stiller cast him as Sammy Gray in “Reality Bites.” He’s William Barnes in “Crimson Tide,” Buff in Eric Bogosian’s “SubUrbia,” Frank in “The Object of My Affection,” Alan in “Forces of Nature,” the voice of Monty the Mouth in “Stuart Little,” Rosencrantz in the 2000 “Hamlet” starring Ethan Hawke, Wayne in “Saving Silverman,” Fuller in “Joy Ride,” and one of the “Safe Men.” Most recently, he’s been seen as Al Giordino in the adventure “Sahara,” the voice of Runt of the Litter in “Chicken Little,” Duane in Herzog’s “Rescue Dawn,” and Gus McCrae in the TV mini-series “Comanche Moon.”
After receiving high praise for his work in “Rescue Dawn,” Steve will appear in the comedy “Calvin Marshall,” the Woody Harrelson / Jennifer Aniston romance “Management,” the action picture “Night Train,” and the thriller “A Perfect Getaway.”
On filming “Rescue Dawn”:
“Sometimes Christian [Bale] and I would just sit on a rice paddy and laugh, like, ‘Can you believe this?’ It was intense. I'd need a 12-pack in the backyard and a full five hours to tell all the stories.”