Today we continue our look at the many great actors who grew up or got their start in the Chicagoland area. Last week we spotlighted Harrison Ford, Robin Williams, and John Malkovich, and that was indeed just the tip of the iceberg. Whether going on to become big or small screen favorites, characters actors, or action superstars, these actors all can trace their rise to stardom back to the good old Windy City. So let’s take a look at the next batch of great Chicago actors.
Gary Sinise: The fan-favorite actor was born in 1955 in Blue Island before relocating with his family to Northerly Island. Sinise eventually moved again to Highland Park, where he graduated from Highland Park High School. In 1974, Sinise became a co-founder of the Steppenwolf Theater Company, where his acting and directing skills began to shine and get noticed. Sinise earned two Tony Award nominations for his acting in the Steppenwolf productions of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and The Grapes of Wrath. Of course, audiences the world over know him for his portrayal of Lieutenant Dan in 1994’s Forrest Gump. That role opened the doors for more substantial parts in films like Apollo 13, Ransom, and The Green Mile. On the small screen, Sinise won Emmy and Golden Globe awards for his work in the George Wallace and Truman television miniseries, and from 2004 to 2013, he played Detective Mac Taylor on the hit CSI: New York. In addition to his acting resume, Sinise is a strong supporter of various veterans’ organizations. On a side note, the actor’s high school rock band was named Half Day Road after the highway exit on I-94, which takes you into Highland Park.
Joan Allen: Born in Rochelle, Illinois, in 1956, the talented actress graduated from Northern Illinois University with a bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts. From there, she made her way to Chicago, where she joined the Steppenwolf Theater Company (notice a theme here?) in 1977 upon the invitation of actor John Malkovich. In 1989, Allen won a Tony for Best Actress for her Broadway debut in Burn This opposite Malkovich. A bevy of nominated roles for her theater work cemented Allen as a talented artist, and her work on the big screen saw the same acclaim. Allen was nominated for the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress as Pat Nixon in 1995’s Nixon. The actress solidified her resume with standout work in films like The Crucible, The Ice Storm, Face/Off, The Notebook, and the Jason Bourne film series. Throughout her illustrious career, Allen continually returned to Lincoln Park to perform in a plethora of Steppenwolf Theater Company productions.
Bernie Mac: One-fourth of the legendary Kings of Comedy, Mac was born in Chicago in 1957 and grew up on the city’s west side. After graduating from Chicago Vocational High School in 1975, Mac worked a wide variety of jobs to support himself and his family while doing standup comedy during the weekends. In 1990, Mac won the grand prize at Chicago’s Miller Lite Comedy Search Contest, and his career began to take off. Bit roles in films such as House Party 3, B.A.P.S., and Friday paid off when Mac was cast as the lead in 1998’s The Players Club, directed by Ice Cube. From there, the talented comedian starred in Ocean’s Eleven, Bad Santa, and Guess Who, amongst many other films. His biggest hit was on the small screen, where The Bernie Mac Show ran from 2001 to 2006. A favorite of audiences and critics alike, the show won a Peabody Award for excellence in broadcasting, the Humanitis Prize for television writing, and the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actor in a Comedy Series four years in a row from 2003 to 2006. Sadly, Mac passed away in August of 2008 from complications of pneumonia.
While we can’t be sure if it’s the Lake Michigan drinking water, there is something in our amazing city that continually breeds top-notch talent across all genres of art. Tune in tomorrow for even more actors who got their start in Chicago.
ERIC KAPLAN AND DEAN’S TEAM CHICAGO