Tracy Letts

Tracy Letts

Letts was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma with acting and writing in his blood; his father, Dennis Letts, was an actor and his mother, Billie Letts, is a writer. Despite this pedigree, however, Letts paid his dues as a struggling playwright and actor, working as a waiter and telemarketer to support himself. He landed small roles in a couple of films, the comedies "Paramedics" (1988) and "Straight Talk" (1992) starring Dolly Parton, but most of his early acting roles were in theater. For several years in the early 1990s he worked alongside actors such as Michael Shannon and Paul Dillon in the Bang Bang Spontaneous Theater Company in Chicago, which made an effort to combine the aesthetics of the improvisational comedy troupe Second City with the legendary theatre company Steppenwolf. "Killer Joe," written in 1990 when Letts was 25, was his first play, produced three years later in a tiny theater in Evanston, Illinois. Letts hoped the funny, violent crime story - he has cited the film "Blood Simple" (1984) and hardboiled crime writer Jim Thompson as some of its influences - "might run for a few weeks" (Chicago Sun-Times, August 1, 2012); in fact, it ran for eight months and was subsequently produced in London's West End and as part of the Edinburgh Festival, among other venues. Letts continued to work onstage and in the occasional TV role, and in 1996, his second play, "Bug," debuted at the Gate Theater in Notting Hill, London, England. "Bug" puts two disintegrating characters together in a hotel room where in a kind of folie à deux, they succumb to increasing paranoid delusions. It went on to play in Ithaca, New York and premiere a second time following revisions at Washington, D.C.'s Woolly Mammoth Theater. Small roles in films and on TV, including "Seinfeld" (NBC, 1989-1998), "The Drew Carey Show" (ABC, 1995-2004) and "U.S. Marshals" (1998), continued as well as theater work, and in 2002 Letts became a member of the Steppenwolf Theater Company. His third play, "Man from Nebraska" (2003), surprised audiences accustomed to Letts' outrageous, over-the-top earlier works with its quiet study of a man struggling to regain his faith in God. Produced by Steppenwolf, the play was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. In the meantime, director William Friedkin, who had seen a production of "Bug" and wanted to make it into a film, had contacted Letts. Letts adapted the script from his play and the film, released in 2006, starred Michael Shannon, who had appeared in the stage version, and Ashley Judd. Letts' father was dying of cancer a year later when Letts cast him as the suicidal patriarch - based on his own maternal grandfather, who committed suicide in the 1970s - in the Broadway production of his next play, "August: Osage County," which Letts has described as "a political parable" (The Telegraph, Nov. 13, 2008) of the Bush years in the guise of a family melodrama. The elder Letts alternated play rehearsals with cancer treatments, and his death tempered the playwright's jubilation on winning both a Tony Award for Best Play and a Pulitzer Prize in 2008. Hollywood came calling again, this time with Warren Beatty expressing interest in a film version of the play followed by the Weinstein Company. The same year, Steppenwolf premiered Letts' fifth play, "Superior Donuts," to a somewhat quieter reception. Letts' next play was not his own at all but an adaptation of Anton Chekhov's "Three Sisters" commissioned for the Artists Repertory Theater in Portland, OR in 2008. Letts meanwhile was collaborating again with Friedkin, who had been impressed with "August: Osage County" as well but declined to direct it, drawn more to Letts' brash earlier efforts in "Killer Joe." Letts wrote the screenplay for the 2012 film and Matthew McConaughey stepped into the starring role alongside Gina Gershon and Thomas Haden Church. An unsuccessful battle with the MPAA led to the film receiving an NC-17 rating, possibly hurting its box office despite some strong critical reviews. In 2013, Letts' performance in a Broadway revival of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" won him a Tony for Best Actor in a Play. The same year, an all-star cast that included Benedict Cumberbatch, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor and Meryl Streep appeared in the film version of "August: Osage County," which was also written by Letts. 2013 was also the year he became a regular on the political drama "Homeland" (Showtime, 2011-), playing the role of Senator Andrew Lockhart, the Chairman of Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.