Tim Robbins ranks among contemporary cinema's most acclaimed and provocative voices; a multifaceted talent, he has proved so adept at wearing the various hats of actor, writer, and director that no less a figure than the legendary filmmaker Robert Altman declared him the second coming of Orson Welles. Born October 16, 1958, in West Covina, CA, he was the son of folk singer Gil Robbins; raised in Greenwich Village, he made his performing debut alongside his father on a duet of the protest song "Ink Is Black, Page Is White." At the age of 12, Robbins joined the Theater for the New City, remaining a member for the next seven years; he also joined his high school drama club, an experience which afforded him his first opportunities to direct for the stage. After briefly attending the State University of New York at Plattsburgh, he relocated to Los Angeles to study at U.C.L.A.; there he also joined the Male Death Cult, an intramural softball team comprised of his fellow drama students. After graduating, the teammates reunited to form the Actor's Gang, an avant-garde theater troupe noted for productions of works by the likes of Bertolt Brecht and Alfred Jarry.
After guest starring on television series including Hill Street Blues and St. Elsewhere, in 1984 Robbins made his film debut with a bit part in the feature Toy Soldiers. His first starring role came in 1985's teen sex romp Fraternity Vacation. Small roles in hits including Top Gun and The Sure Thing followed before a breakout performance as a doltish fastballer in Ron Shelton's hit 1988 baseball comedy Bull Durham. An onscreen romance with co-star Susan Sarandon soon expanded into their offscreen lives as well, and the twosome became one of Hollywood's most prominent couples. A series of starring roles in films including 1989's misbegotten Erik the Viking and 1990s Jacob's Ladder followed, before Altman's 1992 showbiz satire The Player won Robbins Best Actor honors at the Cannes Film Festival. That same year, he wrote, directed, starred, and performed the music in Bob Roberts, a mock-documentary brutally parodying right-wing politics.
Upon appearing in Altman's 1993 ensemble piece Short Cuts, Robbins enjoyed starring roles in four major 1994 releases: The Hudsucker Proxy, I.Q., Ready to Wear (Prêt-à-Porter), and the Oscar-nominated The Shawshank Redemption. However, his most acclaimed project to date was 1995's Dead Man Walking, a gut-wrenching examination of the death penalty, which earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Director; Sean Penn, portraying a death row inmate, garnered a Best Actor nomination while Sarandon won Best Actress honors. After a three-year hiatus from acting, Robbins returned to the screen in 1997 with the comedy Nothing to Lose; he soon announced plans to mount a film adaptation of Cradle Will Rock, the Marc Blitzstein play first staged by Orson Welles six decades earlier. The film, which examined the relationship between art and politics in 1930s America, premiered at the 1999 Cannes Film Festival. That same year, audiences could view Robbins as a clean-cut suburban terrorist opposite Jeff Bridges in Arlington Road, as well as see the fruits of his directorial work in Cradle Will Rock.
Robbins opened the year 2000 with a brief but nonetheless fun role as the maddeningly calm Ian in High Fidelity. The early 2000s presented a series of misfires for Robbins -- AntiTrust (2001), Mission to Mars (2000), and Human Nature (2001), writer Charlie Kaufman's eagerly awaited follow-up to Being John Malkovich, fared rather badly in theaters -- though his versatility and respect within the industry remained solid. The polarizing presidential elections of 2002 certainly thrust Robbins into the political spotlight, if not major big screen successes. After multiple appearances on Politically Incorrect and various awards shows gave Robbins a platform for some of his views concerning the right-wing agenda, the legitimacy of the Bush administration, and the controversial pre-emptive action in Iraq, the planned screening of Bull Durham (and a subsequent appearance from Robbins and Susan Sarandon) for the 15th anniversary of the Baseball Hall of Fame was surprisingly cancelled in what Robbins claimed was a retaliatory measure.
By the end of 2003, the controversy was a distant memory with Robbins hitting it big with audiences and critics alike in the film adaptation of Mystic River. The performance, which saw Robbins as a tragic adult who couldn't overcome a devastating childhood, eventually won the actor his second Golden Globe along with his first ever Oscar.
Robbins followed up his Oscar win by switching gears substantially. In 2004, audiences could find him as a charicature of a cutthroat PBS news'man in an extended cameo in Anchorman and starring opposite Samantha Morton in the futuristic sci-fi thriller Code 46. In 2004 wrote and staged a satire about the Iraq war titled Embedded. He returned to the big-screen as the father in the science-fiction family fantasy Zathura. In the same year he turned in a memorable supporting performance as a deranged survivor of an alien attack in Steven Spielberg's War of the Worlds. One year later he played a white police officer in Philip Noyce's anti-Apartheid drama Catch a Fire. ~ Jason Ankeny, Rovi