James Caan, born on March 26, 1940 in New York City, became interested in acting while studying at the Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York. Originally studying economics, he was intrigued by acting, and eventually trained at the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre in New York City. He then made his start in television programs, appearing in shows like The Untouchables, Dr. Kildare, Combat!, The Alfred Hitch!$#!# Hour, Route 66 and Naked City.
Caan’s first major film role was in 1964’s Lady in a Cage, where he played the villainous punk Randall Simpson O’Connell. He first won praise for his performance, in the 1971 film Brian’s Song, as dying football player Brian Piccolo. The following year, he starred in the Francis Ford Coppola-directed film The Godfather, as mobster Sonny Corleone. His performance earned him an Oscar nomination.
Caan’s film career went on a roll in the ‘70s and early ‘80s, appearing in films such as Cinderella Liberty, Funny Lady, Harry and Walter Go to New York, Comes A Horseman, and Rollerblade, which won him a Saturn Award. He also made his directorial debut in 1980, with the film Hide in Plain Sight, about a father looking for his children lost in the Witness Protection Program; the film received critical praise, but wasn’t a box office hit. He appeared as professional safe cracker Caan in the 1981 film Thief, a role which he is proudest of, after The Godfather.
He took a break from showbiz in 1982, reeling from depression after the death of his sister, cocaine addiction, and general burnout. He returned in 1987, when Coppola cast him in the Vietnam War film Gardens of Stone, and resumed his film career with appearances in, among others, Dick Tracy, Honeymoon in Vegas, Eraser, City of Ghosts and Dogville. In 2003, he played the role of security officer “Big Ed” Deline in Las Vegas, a role that he portrayed until 2007. In 2008, he appeared on the television production Wisegal, and was cast as The President on the comedy spy movie Get Smart with Steve Carell, Anne Hathaway and Dwayne Johnson.