Denis O’ Hare, the prolific actor-writer-activist, has long been the venerable hyphenate, gracefully wielding the status years before he dazzled us on our televisions and movie screens. In his humble recollection, he was once “actor-waiter, an actor-bartender, an actor-temp, even an actor-gardener,” never shedding the performative quality of his identity, a quality whose genesis can be traced back his organ performance at the Michigan State Fair at the age of eight.
Around the same time, Denis made his acting debut in a grade school production about a peddler, casted as a pig. From these humble beginnings, his high school career included roles in more musicals like Guys and Dolls, plays like Don Quixote, and choir performances. It was around this time that he became unequivocally certain that he was going to be a performer — either a musician or an actor, eventually studying theatre at Northwestern University.
Fast forward to the current decade, where Denis has evolved into one of the more distinguished character actors in the industry, terrifying and fascinating us with his astonishing performances in beloved television series’ like True Blood and American Horror Story, the latter of which earned him two Emmy nominations for Outstanding Supporting Actor. During his illustrious career, he’s also shared the screen with some of the industry’s most talented and coveted actors like Meryl Streep and Nicole Kidman in Big Little Lies, Emma Thompson in the new comedy Late Night, Matthew Mcconaughey in Academy Award winning film Dallas Buyers Club, and the core cast of Milk, which won Best Ensemble from the Critic’s Choice Awards.
On the stage, Denis has been no less impressive, collecting a Tony Award in the Richard Greenberg’s Take Me Out, a nomination for the musical Assassins, and forming the creative collective Homer’s Coat, whose exploration and reimagining of foundational literature have spawned its seminal, award winning stage piece, An Iliad. In this adaptation of Homer’s epic, co-authors Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare have soared into the depths of the original literature, distilling the strife and anguish of the Trojan War into a mesmerizing solo performance. While it underscores an unsettling continuity of violence, An Iliad, in its theatrical brilliance, unfurls into an incendiary experience that, as the Chicago Sun-Times acclaims, “brilliantly meshes past and present calamity, with touches of the most caustic dark humor suddenly shifting into unimaginable pathos.”