"Funny" isn't the first word people associate with character actor David Strathairn. The understated performer, who won critical plaudits all over the world for his portrayal of journalist Edward R Murrow in Good Night And Good Luck, is no stranger to more slapstick productions, however.
Indeed the prolific actor's first forays into showbusiness owed more to custard pies than dramatic flair, as he quite literally ran away and joined the circus. Upon finishing his studies at Williams College in Massachusetts he moved to Florida where he learned his trade at the Ringling Brothers Clown College.
After a spell travelling around the US with a circus troupe, the aspiring performer decided that more serous productions might suit him better, and so he bade farewell to the big top and set about making his name in theatre. He had obviously developed a taste for life on the road, though, as he spent the next few years hitchhiking around the country and working in local theatres.
It was thus that the 6ft 1in star, who was born the son of a San Francisco physician in 1949, got to know his country, before making New York his home. Along the way he met a young nurse by the name of Logan Goodman, who would later become his wife and the mother of his two sons. Family life didn't curb his wanderlust, though, and he'd still take stage jobs in other parts of the country during the summer months.
It was a chance reunion with the budding director John Sayles, who David had been friends with during his college days, that led him making the move into screen work. The young filmmaker offered him a role in his directorial debut, Return Of The Secausus 7,
which would eventually win widespread critical acclaim, if not box office glory. The two men went on to work together with a series of collaborations, many of which fared better financially, most notably Matewan
and Eight Men Out
His unconventional good looks - which must owe something to the unusual combination of Scottish and Hawaiian lineage - combined with a gentle screen presence, caught the attention of other directors, too. Although during the Nineties he became a Hollywood staple, with appearances in major productions like Memphis Belle, The Firm
and LA Confidential,
he came to accept he would never land a leading role.
"People, through no fault of their own, get pigeonholed," he explained. "You can only be what people perceive you to be, and I'm sure that at this stage of the game, I'm perceived as someone who can show up and do the job as a character actor
not the leading man."
Studio executives may have agreed with his modest self-appraisal, but George Clooney
thought he was mistaken. The Hollywood heart-throb's decision to offer David the lead role in Good Night And Good Luck
led to jokes in the Tinseltown press that he'd "waited 30 years to become an overnight success".
David's portrayal of legendary newsman Edward R Murrow has won plaudits the world over, not to mention an Oscar nomination. But like the gentle characters he is best-known for, the actor is not letting the attention go to his head. Asked how he feels about the buzz surrounding his performance, the unassuming actor shrugs it off. "The important thing is that the audience gets into the story," he says. "They say it's great for the film. Well, if it's great for the film, then that's great."