Sometimes watching actor James Woods (1947- ) on screen is like walking through a minefield: you never know when he is going to explode. Watching him is watching someone just hugging the edge of sanity; one little jolt will detonate the wild eyes and volatile temper.
Born on this day in Vermal, Utah, Woods was an Army brat who played classical guitar and dreamed of being an eye doctor until an accident severely damaged his arm and put an end to both endeavors.
He has a well-publicized 180 IQ and scored a perfect 800 on his verbal SATs, and 779 on the math section. With a full scholarship to MIT, he majored in political science, then dropped out just before his 1969 graduation to pursue acting.
He starred in off-Broadway and television, then landed the role of Barbra Streisand's jilted lover in The Way We Were (1972). His breakthrough role was as the psycho killer in The Onion Field (1979).
"I always have a rule that acting is acting and truth is truth and you just go out there and you do it," he once said.
Oliver Stone directed Woods in Salvador (1986) and Any Given Sunday (with Al Pacino, 1999) and called him "a lunatic." Another director, Frank Pierson (Citizen Cohn, 1992) said, "Actors of Jimmy's intensity and brilliance produce in the public mind an image that spills over into real life... Woods walks upon life's stage with the same white heat with which he acts. And nobody who knows him can call him unopinionated."
When he isn't consumed by a role, Woods has volunteered as an L.A. Police Department reserve officer. He also cooks. "I wouldn't say I'm a gourmet cook, but I cook all of the time because I love the process," he said. "I love preparing the food, feeding other people, and my best-kept secret is that I love doing the dishes -- and I don't know why! There's something about when it's all done, and it's all sparkling."
Minefields give life an edge: Walk gently.