Making an art out of portraying dysfunctional losers and likable freaks, Steve Zahn worked for years before getting his due as one of the most engaging and unconventionally gifted actors in Hollywood. Hailing from Marshall, MN, where he was born in 1968, Zahn was first introduced to improvisational acting in high school. Following a year at Gustavus-Adolphus College, he was accepted at the prestigious American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, MA, where he trained for two years. After completing his tenure there, Zahn settled in Hoboken, NJ, and tried to support himself with acting in New York, working a variety of odd jobs on the side. He found work in various theater productions, including a 13-month road tour of Bye, Bye Birdie, which provided both steady employment and an introduction to his wife, who was a dancer in the musical.
Zahn's break came when he was cast in Sophistry, a play that also starred Ethan Hawke. His performance was seen by Ben Stiller, who offered him a role in his upcoming film, Reality Bites. Zahn took the part of Sammy, Winona Ryder's amiable, slightly conflicted gay friend. The film, which was released in 1994, was actually Zahn's second feature, the first being the 1993 drama Rain Without Thunder. Reality Bites met with relative success and helped to jump-start not only Zahn's career, but those of Ben Stiller and Janeane Garofalo, as well. Zahn proceeded to take a significant role in Eric Bogosian's play SubUrbia and his work in the production led to his casting in the 1995 submarine thriller Crimson Tide, starring Denzel Washington. The following year, he won a leading role in Tom Hanks' That Thing You Do! and subsequently re-created his SubUrbia role for the play's film adaptation, which also featured Giovanni Ribisi and Parker Posey.