With memorable roles in such gambling-themed films as Casino and The Gambler, it's no wonder that James Woods has found himself in a casino or two over the years. Still acting after more than 30 years and 70 major works, Woods now spends more and more of his free time at the poker table.
He was born on April 18, 1947 to Gail and Martha Woods. His father was an intelligence officer in the U.S. Army and the family accompanied him to his posts around the United States and abroad before settling in Warwick, Rhode Island in 1957. His younger brother Michael was born the same year.
In 1959 tragedy struck the Woods house when Gail passed away unexpectedly during a routine surgery. Woods has spoken passionately about his parents and the wonderful environment with which they provided him growing up. Martha, in an effort to provide for the family that now depended solely on her, started a preschool called "Lad ‘n' Lassie" which grew to become a successful enterprise. She was reputed to have accepted one quarter of her students at no charge in order to give poverty-stricken families a break.
Showing evidence of genius-level intelligence at a young age, Woods took his SAT test at 17 and scored an astonishingly high perfect 800 on the verbal component. His IQ is a staggering 180 according to the Stanford-Binet test. With a number of scholarships to choose from Woods opted for a political science program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It was there that he was first exposed to acting.
Showing evidence of genius-level intelligence at a young age
Joining MIT's Drama Workshop, Woods acted in over thirty plays during his time at the university. Despite success in his studies it was the stage that would eventually lure him away from his degree, just a few months short of graduation.
After deciding to make the switch from the sciences to the arts, James took to the stages of New York to begin the struggling-actor career phase every successful thespian endures. After two years of barely making ends meet he managed to land a central role in Brendan Behan's Borstal Boy.
The story goes that the casting panel wanted only authentic British actors for the part. Woods simply told them he was from Liverpool and the job was his.
The second break James got in New York - one that would earn him his first legitimate accolades - was the lead in Saved. For his work in this play he was honored with an Obie and the Clarence Derwent Award for Most Promising Actor.
As is customary in acting James soon made the jump from the stage to the big screen. In 1970 he was cast in Elia Kazan's The Visitor which gave rise to more work in both film and television.
It was his early roles in movies like Harold Becker's The Onion Field and Sergio Leone's Once upon a Time in America that typecast Woods in the cold-blooded and often criminal-minded roles for which he is best known. In 1983 he gave one of his most memorable performances in David Cronenberg's cult hit Videodrome.
Around this time his three-year marriage to costume designer Kathryn Greko Morrison began to fall apart; the two were divorced before the year was out. In 1985 Woods became involved with Sarah Owen, a horse trainer sixteen years his junior. The two were married in 1989 but were divorced only four months later.
It was in 1986 that James received his first Oscar nomination for his role as Richard Boyle in Oliver Stone's Salvador. Reputedly pursuing Marlon Brando for the part, Stone had originally been interested in casting Woods in a supporting role. Deep in the reclusive stage of his life, Brando was unavailable and with a little persuasion Woods had landed the job.
Although Woods lost out to Paul Newman in The Color of Money, the Oscar nomination nevertheless proved that he was capable of taking on leading roles.
Losing session of casino gambling led James Woods to poker
In the following years he continued to give poignant performances in both film and television. Teaming up with Martin Scorsese on Casino, Woods played the degenerate Lester Diamond to a tee. A reunion with Oliver Stone saw him cast as H.R. Haldeman in Nixon.
Woods received his second Oscar nomination in 1996 for his supporting role in Rob Reiner's Ghosts of Mississippi. It was another film in which Woods played a cold-blooded killer, this time Byron De La Beckwith, a white supremacist and convicted murderer.
Recently Woods has made a break from the serious pictures on which his career was built, taking on a series of lighter roles. Cameos on both The Simpsons and Family Guy, along with voice work in a number of animated feature films, have given a new generation the chance to appreciate his skills in a much less harsh context than that of his previous films.
In the last few years he has become a presence in the world of poker as well. Acting as the celebrity spokesperson for Hollywood Poker alongside Vince Van Patten, Woods can be seen playing and cashing in some of the biggest tournaments in the world.
He got his start in the game one night after participating in yet another losing session of casino gambling. Long-time friend John Myrick suggested Woods's math skills and sharp intellect would serve him well at the poker table and urged him to give Hold'em a try.
From his first session at $5/$10 Limit he walked away with $300 and a newfound interest in the game that would soon come to dominate his free time.