Harris is a three-time nominee of the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performances in Apollo 13 (1995), The Truman Show (1998), and The Hours (2002). He was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor for playing artist Jackson Pollock in his directorial debut Pollock (2000).
Harris was born November 28, 1950, at the Englewood Hospital in Englewood, New Jersey, and was raised in Tenafly, New Jersey, the son of Margaret (née Sholl), a travel agent, and Robert L. "Bob" Harris (1922–2014), who sang with the Fred Waring chorus and worked at the bookstore of the Art Institute of Chicago. He has two brothers, Paul and Robert. Harris was raised in a middle-class Presbyterian family. His parents were from Oklahoma. He graduated from Tenafly High School in 1969, where he played on the football team, serving as the team's captain in his senior year.
A star athlete in high school, Harris competed in athletics at Columbia University in 1969. When his family moved to New Mexico two years later, Harris followed, having discovered his interest in acting in various theater plays. He enrolled at the University of Oklahoma to study drama. After several successful roles in local theaters, he moved to Los Angeles and enrolled at the California Institute of the Arts, where he spent two years and graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1975.
Harris began his career on the stage. In 1975, he played an FBI agent in the world premiere of Thomas Rickman's play, Baalam at the Pasadena Repertory Theatre located at the historic The Hotel Carver. He followed that at the Pasadena Repertory Theatre in 1976 playing Lot in the West Coast premiere of Tennessee Williams's play Kingdom of Earth (aka The Seven Descents of Myrtle).
Harris' first film role came in 1978 with a minor part in the suspense film Coma, starring Michael Douglas. His first major role in a film came two years later with Borderline (1980), in which he starred alongside Charles Bronson. In 1981, Harris played the lead, William "Billy" Davis, a king of a motorcycle riding renaissance-fair troupe (a role modeled after King Arthur), in Knightriders. The following year, he has a small role as Hank Blaine in Creepshow, directed by George A. Romero.
In 1983, Harris became well known after portraying astronaut John Glenn in The Right Stuff. In 1984, he co starred in the Robert Benton directed drama film Places in the Heart; during production of this film, Harris met and married his wife Amy Madigan.
In 1986, he received a Tony Award nomination in the Best Actor in a Play category for his role in George Furth's Precious Sons. He also won the Theatre World Award and Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actor in a Play for his performance. Harris then portrayed William Walker, a 19th century American who appointed himself President of Nicaragua, in Walker (1987). That same year, he played Harry Nash in the HBO television thriller film The Last Innocent Man.
In 1989, his role as David "Dave" Flannigan in Jacknife earned him his first Golden Globe Award nomination, for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture. Also in 1989, he portrayed Virgil "Bud" Brigman in the sci fi film The Abyss, directed by James Cameron.
In 1992, Harris co starred as Dave Moss in the drama film Glengarry Glen Ross, based on the play of the same name by David Mamet. He won the Valladolid International Film Festival Award for Best Actor for his performance in the film. He next appeared in the films The Firm (1993) and Needful Things (1993), before portraying the lead role of Kyle Bodine in the neo noir film China Moon (1994).
In 1995, Harris portrayed Watergate figure E. Howard Hunt in the Oliver Stone biopic Nixon, and received his first Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor nomination for his performance as NASA Mercury Mission Control Director Gene Kranz [[IMDb name|438|Ed Harris]] in Apollo 13. In 1996, Harris starred in and executive produced the television adaptation of Riders of the Purple Sage. That same year, he returned to Broadway as Major Steve Arnold in the Ronald Harwood play Taking Sides. In 1998, his co starring role in The Truman Show earned him a second nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, and a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture win.
Harris made his directorial debut in 2000 with the drama biopic Pollock, in which he also starred as artist Jackson Pollock. He was nominated for his first Academy Award for Best Actor (and third Oscar overall) for his performance. To prepare for the role, he built a small studio in which to copy the painter's techniques. Two years later, Harris was nominated for his fourth Academy Award (third in the Best Supporting Actor category) for his role as Richard Brown in the British American drama film The Hours.
In between the two Oscar nominated roles, he appeared in the biographical drama A Beautiful Mind (2001) and portrayed German sniper Major Erwin König in the war thriller Enemy at the Gates (2001). From June to July 2002, he starred in adverts for the Vauxhall Vectra in the United Kingdom.
For his lead role as Miles Roby in the 2005 miniseries Empire Falls, Harris was nominated for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie and the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Miniseries or Television Film.
He played a vengeful mobster in David Cronenberg's A History of Violence (2005) starring Viggo Mortensen. In 2006, he portrayed composer Ludwig van Beethoven in the film Copying Beethoven, and starred in the television documentary film The Armenian Genocide as American diplomat Leslie Davis. He next appeared alongside Casey Affleck and Morgan Freeman in the Ben Affleck directed neo noir mystery film Gone Baby Gone (2007). Harris then co-starred as the antagonist Mitch Wilkinson in National Treasure: Book of Secrets (2007), alongside Nicolas Cage.
In 2008, he co wrote, directed and starred along with Viggo Mortensen in the western Appaloosa. In 2010, he and wife Amy Madigan appeared together in Ash Adams' independent crime drama Once Fallen. Later that same year, Harris starred in the survival drama The Way Back as Mr. Smith. His performance received much critical praise, and he was suggested by critics to receive a fifth Oscar nomination.
In 2012, he co starred alongside Sam Worthington in the thriller film Man on a Ledge for Summit Entertainment. He then won the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Series, Miniseries or Television Film and was nominated for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie for his performance as Senator John McCain in the HBO made for television drama Game Change.
In 2013, he appeared in the western thriller Sweetwater, and starred opposite Annette Bening in the romantic drama film The Face of Love. Harris then voiced Mission Control in Alfonso Cuarón's sci-fi epic Gravity (2013), starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney.
In 2015, he portrayed the title character in the film version of the Shakespeare tragedy Cymbeline. In 2016, he appeared alongside Madigan and Taissa Farmiga in The New Group's revival of Sam Shepard's Buried Child, for which he was nominated for the Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Play.
In 2016, he also played the villainous Man in Black in HBO's sci fi thriller series Westworld, and had a co starring role in the ensemble cast of Warren Beatty's romantic comedy drama Rules Don't Apply, with Lily Collins and Alden Ehrenreich. In 2017, he is set to appear in Dean Devlin's sci fi film Geostorm, alongside Gerard Butler and Andy García. That same year, Harris will star in Alejandro González Iñárritu's Starz drama series The One Percent with Hilary Swank and Ed Helms.
Harris co-starred in Darren Aronofsky's horror film Mother! (2017), alongside Jennifer Lawrence and Domhnall Gleeson.
Harris married actress Amy Madigan on November 21, 1983, while they were filming Places in the Heart together. They have one daughter, Lily Dolores Harris (born May 3, 1993).
On March 20, 2012, the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) completed a merger of equals to form a new union, SAG-AFTRA. Harris, along with Edward Asner, Martin Sheen, Valerie Harper, Michael Bell, and Wendy Schaal (to name a few), were adamantly opposed to the merger and sued SAG President Ken Howard and several SAG Vice Presidents, seeking, unsuccessfully, to have the merger undone. The lawsuit was dismissed on May 22, 2012.
Harris has a reputation for being serious on the film set. He told a journalist in 2006, "I don't like bullshittin'... so, I guess that comes across as serious." On March 13, 2015, he was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his work in motion pictures, located at 6712 Hollywood Boulevard. Harris received an honorary degree from Muhlenberg College on May 17, 2015.
Harris is one of several actors who have been dubbed "the thinking woman's sex symbol" (others include Hugh Laurie and Denzel Washington).