Childhood & Early Life
Jason Butler Harner was born on October 9, 1970, in New York, USA, into a middle-class family. His father worked as a plumber while his mother was a homemaker. The family moved to Northern Virginia soon after Jason was born, and he spent most of his childhood years there.
In school, he was average in academics and showed more interest in extracurricular activities. Acting was nowhere on his radar, but he loved spending time around his school’s theater group. He was more into set designing and taking care of other mundane stuff than acting.
As he reached high school, his growing interest in theater made him the president of the drama club of his high school. That was when he thought of giving acting a real shot and he got addicted.
Once he graduated from high school, he started working as an usher at a local theater company. In his own words, he was not interested in the ‘fame’ factor attached to the profession of acting. He was just happy with his abilities to make people laugh or feel something.
Subsequently, he enrolled in ‘Virginia Commonwealth University,’ as a fine arts student. All the while, he continued with theatre, his passion. He subsequently attended the ‘Graduate Acting Program’ of the famous ‘Tisch School of Arts’ and majored in fine arts in the year 1997. .
He kept hopping between New York and Washington DC in order to strike a balance between work and studies. Soon after graduating, he moved to Los Angeles, where he was faced with a long period of struggle. Eventually, by the year 2000, he started finding significant screen roles.
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In 2000, he faced the camera for the first time with the series ‘Guiding Light.’ It was a one-episode long role, which had him playing the role of an unnamed character. He followed it up with a role in ‘Law & Order,’ one of the longest-running American crime dramas of all time.
In the same year, he made his film debut with a small role in the film ‘Trifling with Fate,’ an experimental film where he played the role of ‘an artist without a muse.’
He followed it up with very minor roles in a number of lesser-known films, such as ‘Garmento,’ and ‘The 3 Little Wolfs.’ While these films did not offer him anything extraordinary, he continued doing small stints on TV with a number of series, such as ‘Law & Order’ and ‘Hope & Faith.’
His involvement with theater prevented him from being too active in films and TV. He was primarily a theater actor, and some of his most famous roles are that of the title role in ‘Hamlet’ and that of ‘Amy Ryan’ in ‘Crimes of the Heart.’
The 2007 Nicolas Cage-starrer science-fiction action thriller, titled ‘Next,’ featured him in the first major role of his film career. He played the role of ‘Jeff Baines’ and received significant critical and commercial acclaim.
In 2008, he appeared in two series, namely, ‘John Adams’ and ‘Moonlight.’ He auditioned for a major role in ‘Fringe,’ a drama series, and also managed to star in the pilot. However, as fate would have it, the series was not chosen by any major network.
He then played a major role in the crime thriller ‘Changeling,’ which was based on a true story that took place in California in the 1920s. The Angelina Jolie-starrer film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and received immense praise and accolades.
In 2009, he played a small role in the action thriller ‘The Taking of Pelham 123,’ which starred two Hollywood heavyweights, John Travolta and Denzel Washington. Jason’s performance was appreciated but was overpowered by the leading men in the film.
In 2010, he played a major role in another iconic crime drama, ‘Kill the Irishman,’ which was based on the life of the notorious gangster Danny Greene. Although the film was a failure, it gained a cult following, over the years.
2012’s ‘Alcatraz’ had him playing another main character. The science-fiction crime thriller series was appreciated for its unique premise and the performances of all its cast members. Jason’s role, that of a deputy warden, received special mentions in several film reviews.
He started 2013 with a three-episode long role in the critically acclaimed series ‘Homeland.’ He followed it up with ‘Betrayal,’ where he played the character of ‘Zarek’ for four episodes.
He then appeared in films such as ‘Blackhat,’ ‘Non-Stop,’ and ‘The Family Fang.’ Following this, he featured in the crime drama series ‘Ray Donovan,’ playing a major role. The series premiered in 2013 and broke many records. Jason appeared in the third season of the series, playing a major character, ‘Varick Strauss.’
In 2017, he was signed to play a regular role in the web series ‘Ozark,’ where he played the role of an FBI agent. The series received great reviews and Jason is all set to appear in its second season.
Apart from acting, he has narrated the audiobook version of ‘Dark Prophecy: A Level 26 Thriller Featuring Steve Dark,’ written by Anthony Zuiker and Duane Swierczynski.
As for awards and honors, Jason has received quite a few, mostly for his performances in various theater productions. He has earned an ‘Obie Award’ for his performance in ‘Hedda Gabler’ and has received a nomination for a ‘Drama Desk Award’ for his performance in ‘The Paris Letter.’