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What The Cast Of Primal Fear Is Doing Today

When William Diehl's 1993 novel about an altar boy accused of murder, "Primal Fear," was turned into a 1996 Paramount Pictures/Richard Gere courtroom drama popcorn flick, no one expected it to top the box office for three straight weeks, become the 24th highest grossing film of that year, and turn into a real life "A Star Is Born." Edward Norton went from being a complete unknown to going straight to the red carpet of the Academy Awards ceremony, thanks to his astounding work in the Gregory Hoblit directed film and that unforgettable twist ending.

Hoblit, a veteran producer and director of TV shows like "Hill Street Blues," "L.A. Law," and "NYPD Blue," tapped into those shows' rich talent pools when rounding out his cast for "Primal Fear." A lot of the actors enlisted into the film's wild ride have since gone on to become familiar faces on screens big and small. It's been 25 years since the release of "Primal Fear," so let's see what this accomplished cast has been up to these days...

Richard Gere as Martin Vail

Good looks and beautiful hair have long disguised what Richard Gere has in spades — natural acting chops that have served him well for over 40 years. It's been hard for Gere to be taken seriously and shake his Sexiest Man Alive title, which has been bestowed upon him twice (one of the few people to have ever achieved that honor). Never nominated for an Academy Award, he has handed in memorable work in Terrence Malick's masterpiece "Days of Heaven," "American Gigolo," "An Officer and a Gentleman," "Pretty Woman," as a cocksure hot shot attorney in "Primal Fear" and "Chicago" (which did result in a Golden Globe win). 

He's also as busy off screen as he is on it — the actor is a well-known activist and philanthropist, working tirelessly for AIDS awareness and fighting for human rights across the globe, especially for the independence of Tibet. Doing so has banned him from ever entering China.

Edward Norton as Aaron Stampler/Roy

In one of the most astounding film debuts of the past quarter century, Edward Norton stole the show in a "dual" role (one Leonardo DiCaprio passed on), as an abused choirboy turned archbishop murderer with Dissociative Identity Disorder (or perhaps not!) in "Primal Fear." Norton's work garnered an Academy Award nomination and skyrocketed him to instant stardom. His next two films were for Woody Allen and Milos Forman, followed by an Oscar-nominated turn in the stunning "American History X." 

That film had notorious behind-the-scenes drama between the actor and director Tony Kaye, leading to Norton gaining a reputation of being difficult to work with. That hasn't slowed him down, dual-ing it up again in the classic "Fight Club," not having it easy being green in "The Incredible Hulk," flying high with another Oscar nom in "Birdman," and becoming a staple in Wes Anderson's stable of actors, including his upcoming "The French Dispatch." He has also directed two features, including 2019's "Motherless Brooklyn."

Laura Linney as Janet Venable

Starring as the love interest of Clive Owen, in the 1993 TV movie "Class of '61" (as in 1861), turned out to be a fortuitous undertaking for up and coming actor Laura Linney. The film's director, Gregory Hoblit, enjoyed her work so much that he tapped her to play the venerable and vulnerable state's attorney Janet Venable 13 years later in his "Primal Fear." Her strong performance as Gere's adversary both in the courtroom and outside of it opened new doors and eyes, and she's worked steadily ever since. 

Outstanding work on her resume includes starring with Mark Ruffalo in "You Can Count On Me," playing opposite Philip Seymour Hoffman in "The Savages," John Adams' wife Abigail in the HBO miniseries of the same name, the big lead on "The Big C," and, currently, as Wendy Byrde on Netflix's "Ozark." In a small kind of reunion, Linney dated her "Primal Fear" boss' (John Mahoney) son on TV's Frasier for six episodes.

John Mahoney as John Shaughnessy

Although he left us in 2018 due to complications from throat cancer, John Mahoney left behind a body of work that still resonates today. He hit his stride in the late 1980s with special roles in "Moonstruck," "Eight Men Out," and "Say Anything...," then rolled into the '90s with "Barton Fink," "In The Line of Fire," and as the crafty, corrupt state's attorney Shaughnessy in "Primal Fear." 

Mahoney is most beloved as Frasier's father Martin Crane, who appeared in all 263 episodes of "Frasier" along with Kelsey Grammer, Jan Leeves, David Hyde Pierce, and Peri Gilpin. For his work over 11 seasons, he earned two Golden Globe and two Emmy nominations. Mahoney had actually guest starred on the "Frasier" predecessor "Cheers," not as a Crane, but as Sy Flembeck, an ad exec who specializes in jingles who tried to write a theme song for the bar. And yes, there is a scene where Grammer and Mahoney exchange witty banter. You are missed, John.

Alfre Woodard as Judge Shoat

Throughout her entire career, Alfre Woodard has approached the bench as a judge on screen twice — in 2018's "Saint Judy," and in a vital role as the order-keeping Judge Shoat in "Primal Fear." Lately, she has also been outfitted as President ("State of Affairs"), a prison warden ("Clemency"), a professor ("Burning Sands"), a lion (Sarabi in the live action remake of "The Lion King"), and a foil to superheroes ("Captain America: Civil War" and "Luke Cage"). 

Woodard has been nominated for an Oscar (1983's "Cross Creek"), two spoken word Grammys, and numerous Emmys. She's won four Emmys in total, two of which were with her "Primal Fear" director Gregory Hoblit, who produced "Hill Street Blues" and directed the "L.A. Law" pilot. While she has much life to live and more roles to play, when it's time to go, two-thirds of her fortune will go to her granddoggy Dawson.

Frances McDormand as Dr. Molly Arrington

The seven-time nominated (including for last year's "Nomadland") and twice Academy Award-winning Frances McDormand was tailor made to play the open-eared, -minded and -eyed neuropsychologist Dr. Molly Arrington in "Primal Fear." Her director Gregory Hoblit praised McDormand's reactions to other actors: "She really listens, and all of her reactions are directly in response to what she's hearing or sensing. They aren't memorized or rehearsed, although she can do them and over again." Hoblit had actually cast McDormand early in her career for "Hill Street Blues." 

No director or writer knows her better besides her husband and brother-in-law respectively, Joel and Ethan Coen, who broke her into the industry with their "Blood Simple." They went on to cast her in seven more of their films, including "Raising Arizona" with her Yale School of Drama roommate, Holly Hunter. McDormand will reteam with her husband Joel, and his new writing partner, William Shakespeare, as the Lady opposite Denzel Washington's Lord in "The Tragedy of Macbeth."

Terry O'Quinn as Bud Yancy

With sharp eyes and a bright smile, Terry O'Quinn has straddled the lines of good and evil over a robust 40-year career, including his role as the mustached, shady public servant Bud Yancy in "Primal Fear," and as attorney Jay Floyd in director Hoblit's TV movie "Roe Vs.Wade." Most took notice of him after starring as the deranged title character in the 1987 horror film "The Stepfather" and its 1989 sequel.

He rose to new prominence as John Locke, the once wheelchair-bound, now able-body "man of faith" survivor of Oceanic Flight 815 on "Lost," which led to three Emmy nominations and one win in 2007. O'Quinn mainly works in television these days, even returning to a tropical isle on "Hawaii Five-0." On the side, he interacts with and entertains his fans with Cameos, donating all of his funds to benefit the animals of the Virginia Beach SCPA. O'Quinn had to add the O' to his last name as a "Terrance Quinn" was already registered with Actors Equity.

Andre Braugher as Tommy Goodman

Andre Braugher exudes a knowing confidence about himself, with a calm delivery that makes audiences feel at ease whenever he appears on screen. Best known as Detective Frank Pembleton in the 1990s series "Homicide: Life On Street," which co-starred his fellow "Primal Fear" castmate Jon Seda, he most recently lightened up in the loosey-goosey police procedural "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" as the no-nonsense Captain Ray Holt. Braugher told Variety that his foray into comedic work has given him a "a second act," adding, "I feel as though new life has been breathed into my career." 

Nominated for Emmys for both series, he took home an award as a lead actor in the 2006 FX mini-series "Thief." Some of his earlier roles included playing Telly Savalas' sidekick in several "Kojak" TV movies, a soldier in "Glory" alongside Denzel Washington, an escaped slave in Hoblit's "Class of '61" with Laura Linney, and later, a priest pushing for civil rights in high school basketball in the Steve James-directed TV movie "Passing Glory."

Steven Bauer as Joey Pinero

Versatile actor Steven Bauer has often played gangsters, thugs and drug lords, but ones with charm and a sensible smile. Bauer has played good guys too, including a rookie cop on the Hoblit-produced "Hill Street Blues." A lot of his rough and tough characters, like Joey Pinero in "Primal Fear," Don Eladio on "Breaking Bad," and most infamously, Manny Ribera in "Scarface," all end up murdered. Due to the initial poor response to "Scarface" by critics, he and the cast felt like their careers were murdered and were long ashamed to be associated with the film, but are glad that it has since become a classic over time. 

Bauer's memorable ex-Mossad agent Avi on "Ray Donovan" was supposed to face the chopping block as well, but his character faked his own death and exited the series. Bauer's career is very much alive however, with several projects in production or soon to be released, like "Mister Mayfair," co-starring Armand Assante and "Borat" actor Ken Davitian.

Joe Spano as Abel Stenner

Joe Spano is no stranger to law enforcement, having walked the beat as Lt. Henry Goldblume on "Hill Street Blues" (where he first collaborated with director Gregory Hoblit), Captain Abel Stenner in "Primal Fear," Detective Ray Velacek on "Murder One," Detective John Clark Sr. on "NYPD Blue," and currently as FBI Special Agent Tobias C. Fornell on "NCIS." Twice nominated for Emmys, he won one as an Outstanding Guest Actor in the series "Midnight Caller." 

Spano often hangs up his badge and works in theater, frequently for companies and troupes he's founded, and during the pandemic, has stayed creative starring in Zoom plays. He has also dabbled in voice acting, lending his pipes to "Batman Beyond" and, from 1977 to 1983, as Chuck E. Cheese's pizza chef Pasqually, one of the few "human" members of the Pizza Time Theatre. Guess we can add "dinner theater" to his resume.

Tony Plana as Martinez

For almost 50 years, Cuban-American Tony Plana has done just about everything related to the craft of acting. He's appeared in over 200 films and television shows, directed other actors on screen and off, and served as both a mentor and teacher to communities underserved by the dramatic arts. Plana's come a long way since playing "Amid" on "What's Happening!!," co-starring with "Primal" pal Richard Gere in the Academy Award-winning "An Officer and A Gentleman," conjuring up a "plethora" of laughs as Jefe in "The Three Amigos," giving Oliver Stone high energy in "Salvador," "JFK" and "Nixon," and being a beautiful padre to "Ugly Betty." 

In the past few years, he directed Homeland Security operations on "The Punisher," played a pivotal role in a flash-forward episode of "The Affair," reported for duty as an admiral on "Madam Secretary," and got made up as Geraldo Rivera in "Bombshell." And yes, he too once appeared on "Hill Street Blues."

Stanley Anderson as Archbishop Rushman

Not many actors can say they got their fingers split apart by a split-personality murderer (like he did by Edward Norton in "Primal Fear"), or played Drew Carey's father in his eponymous show, or played General Slocum in "Spider-Man," or played the President in two Michael Bay flicks ("The Rock" and "Armageddon") or played the judge who presided over Jerry, Elaine, George and Kramer's trial for not being good Samaritans on the "Seinfeld" finale, but Stanley Anderson can. 

He took to the screen, both small and large, later in life, even teaming with director Hoblit on an episode of "NYPD Blue," but had a long and well regarded stage career up until then. He spent 20 years at Washington D.C.'s Arena Stage, as one of the "greatest" actors that "no one round the world" knew. In 2018, he was diagnosed with brain cancer and sadly died six weeks later.

Maura Tierney as Naomi Chance

Maura Tierney felt she had graduated to Hollywood as soon as she saw her "movie star" boss Richard Gere cross the set of "Primal Fear," and from then on, she didn't have to fear landing a job. The following year she played Jim Carrey's truthful wife in "Liar, Liar," and eventually made the rounds for 189 episodes in an Emmy-nominated turn as Abby Lockhart on "E.R." Later in life, she was on the opposite end of the stethoscope, being a patient and surviving breast cancer

She had the honor to co-star with Gene Hackman in what would be his final role before retiring, in the 2004 comedy "Welcome to Mooseport." Tierney is only getting better with age, winning strong reviews and accolades playing the scorned but loving wife and mother Helen Solloway on Showtime's "The Affair." She continued with the network on the limited series "Your Honor," and will again, opposite Jeff Daniels, in the upcoming series "Rust."

Jon Seda as Alex

Alex isn't the most exemplary choir boy in "Primal Fear," but the man who played him, Jon Seda, is an outstanding actor with a steady resume, ever since the boxer made his acting debut as one in 1992's "Gladiator." He continued to play tough guys on both sides of the law, mainly good guys, including a 46-episode stay on "Homicide: Life on the Street" (working alongside his pushy fellow "Primal Fear" castmate Andre Braugher) and three segments on HBO's "Oz." He had his recurring role on "Chicago Fire" spun off onto "Chicago P.D.," and spun off again onto the short-lived "Chicago Justice." 

Using his pugilist background, he treats every script like it's a boxing ring, hoping to deliver a "knockout" every time. He has done so on HBO's "Treme" and "The Pacific," while also playing Jennifer Lopez's husband in "Selena." Look for Seda to next come out swinging in NBC's upcoming sci-fi drama "La Brea."

Reg Rogers as Jack Connerman

In a movie filled with endless cross-examinations, Reg Rogers' journalist Jack Connerman opens "Primal Fear" by asking tough questions of hot shot attorney Martin Vail for a City Magazine cover story. That wouldn't be the only time he crossed paths with Richard Gere, however: the latter got to play the reporter this time, and Rogers the third jilted groom of Julia Roberts, in "Runaway Bride." 

The Yale School of Drama graduate has also made a splash on stage, include his Tony-nominated work in the 1996 play "The Holiday," his 2002 Obie Award-winning turn in the off-Broadway play "The Dazzle," and in 2019's "Tootsie." On TV, he's stood out as the director of one of Joey's plays on "Friends," Dr. Bertram Checkering, Sr. on "The Knick," and recently on "You," "NOS4A2" and "The Blacklist."  He is also the proud father of a son who loves eating lobster.

Kenneth Tigar as Weil

Being an actor is one thing, but having a Bachelor of Arts and a PhD from Harvard in German Literature, a Fulbright scholarship under his belt, and working as a translator are just several other facets to the many talents of Kenneth Tigar. The Jewish actor has used his Germanic studies to his advantage, having played numerous characters like the "German Old Man" who defied Loki in 2012's "The Avengers," Henrich Himmler in "The Man in the High Castle," and most recently as an elderly guard at Auschwitz, Heinz Richter, being pursued in modern times in "Hunters." 

If you've watched a TV drama or sitcom anytime from the 1970s until today, you've probably seen Tigar in meaty supporting roles in shows ranging from "Wonder Woman" to "Cheers" to "Dallas," "Dynasty," "Baywatch," "Beverly Hills 90210," "Law & Order," "The Good Wife" and "House of Cards," to name (more than) a few. The same is true in film, with his LAPD bomb squad leader in "Lethal Weapon 2" and "3" being one of his more notable characters. And yes, he not only popped up on an episode of "Hill Street Blues," but one which also guest starred Alfre Woodard!

Lester Holt as WBBM Anchor

Well before Lester Holt was a household name, replacing Brian Williams in 2015 as the anchor of the NBC Nightly News, he was cutting his professional teeth in Chicago. For 14 years, he rose through the ranks at the CBS-owned station WBBM. He eventually replaced the venerable Bill Kurtis and co-anchored the 10pm News. While there, he landed small roles doing what he does best, playing a reporter in "The Fugitive," the "Miracle on 34th Street" remake and "Primal Fear." 

He has since appeared in nine other works, including the "Fugitive" quasi-sequel "U.S. Marshals," "30 Rock," "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," and "House of Cards." Holt is also the host of NBC's "Dateline," has won numerous awards for his work, and is a bass player. While he shows no signs of retiring from his day or night jobs, don't expect his former mustache to rejoin the workforce.