Tall, dark, and scarecrow-thin, James Urbaniak is probably best known to art house audiences for his work in Hal Hartley's Henry Fool (1997) and The Book of Life (1998). Urbaniak, who met Hartley in the mid-1990s, made his film debut courtesy of the director, who cast the actor in his short Comedy Central film Opera No. 1 (1994), which also featured Adrienne Shelly and future Henry Fool co-star Parker Posey.
A product of New Jersey, where he was born in 1963, Urbaniak graduated from high school in 1981. Following a brief stint at community college, he spent the next several years "bumming around" (in his own words) New Jersey, working odd jobs, and doing community theatre. A 1987 introduction to theatre director Karin Coonrod led to the creation of the Arden Party theatre company, which had its debut on the Jersey shore that same year. The company moved to New York the following year and eventually became something of a downtown theatre institution with productions of such works as The Importance of Being Earnest and Romeo and Juliet. In addition to his work as the co-founder of the Arden Party, Urbaniak also performed with a number of other off-off-Broadway theatre companies, and in 1996, he won a Village Voice Obie award for his performance in avant-garde director and playwright Richard Forman's The Universe.