Sam Waterston
Sam Waterston at PaleyFest 2013.jpg
Waterston at the PaleyFest 2013 panel for The Newsroom
Samuel Atkinson Waterston

(1940-11-15) November 15, 1940 (age 81)
OccupationActor, television producer, television director
Years active1962–present
Barbara Rutledge Johns
(m. 1964; div. 1975)

Lynn Louisa Woodruff
(m. 1976)
Children4, including James and Katherine
AwardsFull list

Samuel Atkinson Waterston (born November 15, 1940) is an American actor, producer, and director. Waterston is known for his work in theater, television and film. He has received various award nominations including an Academy Award, Primetime Emmy Award, Tony Award, British Academy Film Award, Golden Globe Award, and a Screen Actors Guild Award. Having starred in over 80 film and television productions during his 50-year career,[1] he is also known for numerous stage productions on Broadway and Off-Broadway. AllMovie historian Hal Erickson characterized Waterston as having "cultivated a loyal following with his quietly charismatic, unfailingly solid performances."[2] Waterston received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2010 and was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame in 2012.

Waterston studied at the Sorbonne in Paris and the American Actors Workshop. He started his career in theater on the New York stage, appearing in multiple revivals of Shakespeare. In 1975, he starred as Hamlet at the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park, and later performed the role at Lincoln Center's Vivian Beaumont Theater. In 1977, he starred in an off-Broadway production of Measure for Measure as Duke Vincentio alongside Meryl Streep and John Cazale at the Delacorte Theatre.[3] Throughout Waterston's theater career, he continued to appear alongside notable actors including Raul Julia in Indians (1969), James Woods in The Trial of Catonsville Nine (1970), Liv Ullmann in A Doll's House (1975), Jane Alexander in Hamlet (1975), and Glenn Close in Benefactors (1980).[4] In 1993, he portrayed Abraham Lincoln onstage in Abe Lincoln in Illinois where he received a Tony Award, Drama Desk Award, and Outer Critics Circle Award nominations for his performance.[5]

In 1974 Waterston played Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby (1974) alongside Robert Redford and Mia Farrow, earning a Golden Globe Award nomination for his performance. He starred alongside Jeff Bridges in Rancho Deluxe in 1975, then appeared in Woody Allen's Interiors (1978), the Walter Matthau comedy Hopscotch, and Michael Cimino's Heaven's Gate (the latter two in 1980). He received critical acclaim for his portrayal of Sydney Schanberg in Roland Joffe's The Killing Fields (1984), for which he received a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actor as well as BAFTA Award and Golden Globe Award nominations. Waterston continued to appear in multiple Woody Allen films including Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), September (1987), and Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989). He also appeared in The Man in the Moon (1991) alongside Reese Witherspoon in her feature film debut, John Waters' Serial Mom (1994), and Oliver Stone's Nixon (1995). More recently he appeared in Miss Sloane (2016) and On the Basis of Sex (2018).

In 1973, one of his early television roles included a television film adaptation of Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie, alongside Katharine Hepburn. Among a variety of other television roles, he is perhaps most known for his iconic starring role as Jack McCoy on the NBC television series Law & Order (1994–2010, 2022–), for which he received a Screen Actors Guild Award along with Golden Globe Award and Emmy Award nominations. He also portrayed Abraham Lincoln in the miniseries Lincoln (1988). From 2012 to 2014, he portrayed Charlie Skinner in Aaron Sorkin's political HBO drama series The Newsroom alongside Jeff Daniels. He has since acted in the western limited series Godless (2017), the comedy series Grace and Frankie (2015–2022), and the limited series The Dropout (2022). In 2022, he returned as Jack McCoy in a revival of Law and Order (2022).

Early life and education

Sam Waterston, the third of four siblings (Roberta, George, and Ellen), was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His mother, Alice Tucker (née Atkinson), a landscape painter, was of English ancestry and a descendant of passengers on the Mayflower. His father, George Chychele Waterston was a semanticist, language teacher, and an emigrant from Leith, Scotland.[6][7] Waterston attended high school at the Groton School, graduating in the class of 1958.[8] He received a BA from Yale College, class of 1962.[9]



Waterston with the American Shakespeare Festival in 1972
Waterston with the American Shakespeare Festival in 1972

The classically trained Waterston has numerous stage credits to his name. For example, he played an award-winning Benedick in Joseph Papp's production of William Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing and played the title role in Hamlet. Throughout Waterston's theater career, he continued to act alongside the best theater had to offer. On October 13, 1969, he starred in Arthur Kopit's play Indians on Broadway at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre. The play was directed by Gene Frankel, and he acted alongside Stacy Keach as Buffalo Bill, Manu Tupou as Sitting Bull, and other actors such as Tom Aldredge, Kevin Conway, Charles Durning, and Raul Julia. The play ran for 96 performances and 16 previews.[10][11]

In 1977, he starred in an Off-Broadway production of William Shakespeare's Measure for Measure as Duke Vincentio alongside Meryl Streep and John Cazale at the Delacorte Theatre.[12] In 1980, he starred in Benefactors alongside Glenn Close, Mary Beth Hurt, and Simon Jones at The Brooks Atkinson Theatre on Broadway.[13] In 1993, he portrayed Abraham Lincoln onstage in Abe Lincoln in Illinois where he received Tony Award, Drama Desk Award, and Outer Critics Circle Award nominations for his performance.[14]

He continues live theater work during the summers, often seen acting in such venues as Long Wharf Theatre and the Yale Repertory Theatre in New Haven.[15][16] Waterston appeared as Polonius in the 2008 Shakespeare in the Park production of Hamlet. His performance received excellent reviews in The New York Times and many other newspapers around the country, particularly in the northeast.[17][18] In 2015, Waterston appeared as Prospero in a Shakespeare in the Park production of The Tempest, directed by Michael Greif.[19]


In 1994, Waterston debuted as Executive Assistant District Attorney Jack McCoy in the fifth season of the television series Law & Order. He played the role of McCoy, who would eventually become District Attorney, through the series finale in 2010, and has reprised the role throughout the Law and Order franchise. Upon the show's cancellation, Waterston was the second longest-serving cast member (behind S. Epatha Merkerson), having reprised his role through 16 seasons.[20][21] Due to the success of the New York–based TV series, Waterston and his fellow longtime Law & Order castmate Jerry Orbach were declared "Living Landmarks" by the New York Landmarks Conservancy.[22]

Waterston displaying gifts from fans
Waterston displaying gifts from fans

Waterston has appeared as a celebrity contestant on Jeopardy! twice. In his first appearance, which aired on May 1, 1997, Waterston faced off against his castmates Carey Lowell and Benjamin Bratt and won the game, raising $23,800 for Refugees International, an organization that advocates for better treatment of displaced people around the world. He made his second appearance on November 10, 2006, taking on Kathryn Erbe of Law & Order: Criminal Intent and Christopher Meloni of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Waterston finished in second place behind Meloni with a total score of $12,000, but was awarded $25,000 for his charities as a runner-up. In addition to supporting Refugees International, Waterston also donated part of his price to the environmental group Oceana.

He made a popular cameo appearance on an episode of Saturday Night Live as himself, extolling the virtues of Old Glory Insurance, meant to protect the elderly from robot attacks.[23]

Waterston returned to television in 2012 as cable news president Charlie Skinner in The Newsroom, an HBO series by Aaron Sorkin.[24]

In 2015, Waterston joined the cast of the Netflix series Grace and Frankie, starring alongside Martin Sheen, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin. In an interview with the New York Daily News, Waterston supported Tomlin and Fonda in demanding higher salaries than the supporting actors, saying, "I think they're being cheated."[25]

In 2021, Waterston was cast in the revival of Law & Order, reprising his role as District Attorney Jack McCoy. He appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert to promote the show.[26]

Other activities

On February 12, 2009, Waterston joined the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College orchestra and chorus, along with the Riverside Inspirational Choir and NYC Labor Choir, in honoring Abraham Lincoln's 200th birthday at the Riverside Church in New York City. Under the direction of Maurice Peress, they performed Earl Robinson's "The Lonesome Train: A Music Legend for Actors, Folk Singers, Choirs, and Orchestra" in which Waterston depicted Abraham Lincoln.[27]

Personal life

In 1975, Waterston divorced his first wife, Barbara Rutledge-Johns. They have one son, James, also an actor. In 1976, Waterston married his second wife, a former model, Lynn Louisa Woodruff.[28] They have three children, daughters Katherine Waterston and Elisabeth Waterston who are also actresses, and a son, Graham.[29]

Waterston is a board member of Oceana.[30] In 2012, Waterston received the Goodermote Humanitarian Award from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health for his longtime support of refugees around the world.[31]

Waterston is a practicing Episcopalian.[32]

He was a spokesman for the Unity08 movement, which unsuccessfully sought to run a non- or bipartisan presidential ticket in the 2008 presidential election.[33] Waterston has stated that he was a Democrat until he left the party in disgust following the airing of Lyndon B. Johnson's "Daisy" election advertisement in 1964.[34] However he endorsed Democratic President Barack Obama for re-election in 2012,[35] and is currently a registered Democrat.[36]

Waterston is a longtime friend and fan of the Mark Morris Dance Group and hosted the television presentation of Mozart Dances on PBS's Live from Lincoln Center on August 16, 2007.[37]

Waterston has a summer home in Mattapoisett, Massachusetts.[38]

On October 18, 2019, Waterston was arrested with Grace and Frankie co-star Jane Fonda for protesting the Trump administration's policies concerning climate change outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C.[39]

Acting credits

Main article: Sam Waterston on screen and stage

Awards and honors

Main article: List of awards and nominations received by Sam Waterston

Waterston received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor for his performance in The Killing Fields (1984), losing to F. Murray Abraham for his role in Amadeus (1984). He also received a Tony Award nomination for Best Actor in a Play for his performance in the Broadway revival of Abe Lincoln in Illinois (1994). Waterston is known for his role as Jack McCoy in the popular long running criminal investigation series Law & Order for which he received 3 Primetime Emmy Award nominations and a Golden Globe Award nomination. He also received 11 Screen Actors Guild Award nominations for Law & Order, winning in 1999 for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Drama Series. He also received 3 Primetime Emmy Award nominations for I'll Fly Away as well as two Golden Globe Award nominations for the series, winning in 1994.

On January 7, 2010, Waterston received the 2,397th star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.[40] In 2012, he was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame.[41]


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  6. ^ "Ancestry of Sam Waterston". Retrieved November 17, 2012.
  7. ^ Staff. "Sam Waterston". Archived from the original on June 10, 2011. Retrieved July 30, 2013.
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  10. ^ Indians
  11. ^ "Indians". Playbill. October 13, 1969.
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  13. ^ "Sam Waterston Broadway Credits". Playbill. Retrieved May 12, 2020.
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  15. ^ Hernandez, Ernio (May 11, 2005). "Sam Waterston Travesties Opens at Long Wharf Theatre May 11". Playbill. Archived from the original on October 17, 2012.
  16. ^ Wren, Celia (May 18, 2003). "When Chekov had a Bad Dream". The New York Times.
  17. ^ "Public Theater – Shakespeare in the Park". August 22, 2006. Archived from the original on May 9, 2008. Retrieved November 17, 2012.
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  19. ^ Healy, Patrick (January 29, 2015). "Sam Waterston to Star in 'The Tempest' in Central Park". The New York Times.
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  21. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on May 11, 2013. Retrieved 2016-02-07.((cite web)): CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link). NBC.
  22. ^ "Archives: Events". Archived from the original on September 16, 2016. Retrieved 2016-06-26.. New York Landmarks Conservancy.
  23. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on January 27, 2012. Retrieved 2016-02-07.((cite web)): CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link). Hulu. Retrieved June 9, 2009.
  24. ^ Kenneally, Tim (March 28, 2011). "Greg Mottola Tapped to Direct Aaron Sorkin's HBO Pilot". The Wrap. Retrieved December 22, 2011.
  25. ^ Vanmetre, Elizabeth (May 12, 2015). "Martin Sheen, Sam Waterston agree 'Grace and Frankie' stars Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin deserve pay raise". The New York Daily News. Retrieved June 10, 2015.
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  27. ^ "". February 1, 2009. Archived from the original on October 27, 2012. Retrieved November 17, 2012.
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  29. ^ Smith, Dinittia (July 15, 2004). "Father and Daughter, in Life and in Shakespeare". The New York Times. Archived from the original on May 17, 2013. Retrieved May 21, 2010.
  30. ^ "Sam Waterston in Shakespeare in American Life". Retrieved March 2, 2013.
  31. ^ "Actor Sam Waterston Receives Goodermote Humanitarian Award". May 8, 2012. Retrieved November 17, 2012.
  32. ^ "The General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church". September 28, 2007. Archived from the original on April 29, 2009. Retrieved November 17, 2012.
  33. ^ "Actor Sam Waterston Calls on Americans to Join Growing 2008 Political Movement, Unity08". Archived from the original on November 3, 2007. Retrieved July 28, 2010.((cite web)): CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link). Retrieved January 4, 2008.
  34. ^ Alston, Joshua (December 15, 2007). "The Real McCoy". Newsweek. Retrieved July 30, 2013 – via The Daily Beast.
  35. ^ Yoon, Robert (July 24, 2012). "Celebs Open Wallets In WH Race, Mostly For Obama". The Denver Channel. Archived from the original on August 31, 2012. Retrieved July 31, 2012.
  36. ^ "Connecticut Office of the Secretary of State Voter Registration Lookup". Retrieved July 19, 2016.
  37. ^ "Second Thoughts | Seeing Things". Retrieved May 21, 2020.
  38. ^ [Sermon–June 14, 2015 | All Saints' Episcopal Church] Retrieved 2017-05-10.
  39. ^ Parker, Ryan (October 18, 2019). "Jane Fonda and Sam Waterston Arrested While Protesting in D.C." The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved October 27, 2019.
  40. ^ "Sam Waterston on the Hollywood Walk of Fame". October 25, 2019.
  41. ^ "EXCLUSIVE: Betty Buckley, Sam Waterston, Trevor Nunn, Christopher Durang, Andre Bishop Among Theater Hall of Fame Inductees". Archived from the original on December 20, 2013. Retrieved February 17, 2014.