James Tolkan is a Hollywood actor known for his role in the ‘Back to the Future’ franchise films that became super hits in the mid-1980s. He served in the US Navy for a year before he began acting. He is famous for his portrayal of tough characters, including dangerous criminals, mean bosses, strict cops, and mobsters. Tolkan has done numerous notable movies and television series to date. The American actor did roles in the popular TV series ‘Fresh Prince of Bel Air’ and ‘Miami Vice’. His rough and gritty looks make him a good choice for a villain even though he has got his fair share of roles as both a good guy and a bad one.
James Tolkan began his acting career in the late 1960s. The movie world first noticed him in the 1973 movie ‘Serpico,’ where he acted as a homophobic police lieutenant. In 1975, he acted in the Woody Allen movie ‘Love and Death’ as Napoleon Bonaparte. In 1981, he became known for his part in ‘Prince of the City’ as the sneaky district attorney. In 1983, he was cast as a ramrod army officer in the film ‘WarGames’. Following ‘WarGames,’ he got a part in the original 1984 Broadway production of David Mamet's ‘Glengary, Glen Ross.’ Tolkan has also performed on stage in the productions of plays like "Between Two Thieves", "Wings", "One Tennis Shoe", "The Front Page", "Twelve Angry Men", "Full Circle", "The Tempest", "Golda" and "The Silent Partner".
His most famous performance was in the movie ‘Back to the Future’ (1985). The film, directed by Robert Zemeckis, is the first film in the movie franchise with two sequels. The movie became famous for its realistic portrayal of American societies of different eras. It was an instant favorite of the American audience. The film was inducted into the National Film Registry, and the Library of Congress chose to preserve it for its cultural, historic and aesthetic significance. Tolkan was cast as the gruff and loathsome Mr. Strickland in the film series.
In 1985, Tolkan landed a role in ‘Turk 182’ as Robert Culp's jocular assistant. In 1986, he was cast in the movie ‘Top Gun,’ starring Tom Cruise as ‘Commander Stinger’. He did multiple films following ‘Top Gun,’ including ‘Masters of the Universe’ (1987), ‘Dick Tracy’ (1990), ‘Problem Child 2’ (1991), ‘Boiling Point’ (1993) and ‘Leap of Faith’ in 1998.
He also appeared in several television series during his career. He acted as Wilson Mather in ‘Miami Vice’ in 1987, and in 1990, he got cast in Will Smith’s hit sitcom ‘Fresh Prince of Bel Air’.
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Family & Personal Life
James Stewart Tolkan was born on June 20, 1931, to Dale Nichols and Ralph M. Tolkan. He attended the University of Iowa, Coe College, and Eastern Arizona College. He served in the United States Navy for a year before leaving for New York to pursue a career in acting, and joined the Actors Studio. While at the Actors Studio, he learned acting from both Lee Strasberg and Stella Adler. He was also an understudy under Robert Duvall in the production of ‘A view from the Bridge’ written by Arthur Miller.
He is married to Parmelee Welles since 1971.