Courtney B. Vance Biography

Actor (1960–)
Courtney B. Vance is a Tony Award-winning American actor known for roles in such TV shows as 'State of Affairs' and 'Revenge' and the TV movie 'American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson.'


Courtney B. Vance was born in March 1960, in Detroit, Michigan. He got his bachelor's degree at Harvard University and later graduated from the Yale School of Drama. His big break in the TV world came when he landed a recurring role on Law & Order: Criminal Intent, which lasted six seasons. His most recent role is that of attorney Johnnie Cochran in the TV anthology series, The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, for which he received a Golden Globe nomination for lead actor in 2016.

Early Years

Courtney B. Vance was born on March 12, 1960, in Detroit, Michigan. He headed to the East Coast for college, matriculating at Harvard University, where he first took an interest in acting. Vance made his first stage appearances while an undergraduate student but soon performed off campus when he joined the Boston Shakespeare Company. After graduating in 1982, he moved to New Haven, Connecticut to attend the Yale School of Drama where he continued to hone his acting skills.

Besides making strides in his craft, Vance met fellow acting student Angela Bassett while at Yale. The pair got married more than a decade later (1997) and in 2006, they welcomed twins: daughter Bronwyn Golden and son Slater Josiah.

Professional Debut and Career Highlights

Upon graduation, Vance moved to New York and soon found himself under the bright lights of Broadway. He made a splash right away, landing a role in August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Fences (1987) and inspiring widespread acclaim. For his work, Vance received a Tony Award nomination and won both the Theater World Award and the Clarence Derwent Award. That same year, Vance made his feature film debut in the gritty war drama Hamburger Hill.

Other screen roles would come in, such as on TV’s Thirtysomething (1989) and in the film The Hunt for Red October (1990), but this period found Vance focusing on stage performances. In 1990, he won an Obie Award for My Children! My Africa!, and in 1991, Vance received his second Tony nomination, for his work in Six Degrees of Separation. In the wake of those successes, Vance headed back to the big screen with roles in movies such as The Adventures of Huck Finn (1993), Panther, Dangerous Minds and The Last Supper, all in 1995. The Preacher’s Wife followed in 1996, and for that one Vance hit the big screen with Denzel Washington and Whitney Houston. Cookie's Fortune (1999) rounded out the decade for Vance, and then television beckoned.

Later Roles

Vance notably portrayed Martin Luther King Jr. in the miniseries Parting the Waters (2000) before landing the role that would prove to be a career breakthrough: Law & Order: Criminal Intent’s Assistant District Attorney (ADA) Ron Carver, which Vance would portray for six seasons and more than 100 episodes. Vance appeared in several other TV series over the coming years, from the medical drama ER to the legal drama The Closer to the suspense drama Revenge. Most recently, Vance made repeat appearances on the TV series Masters of Sex and State of Affairs while also appearing in the latest iteration in the Terminator film series, Terminator: Genisys. And, with his love of theater intact, Vance continued to make waves on Broadway, notably in Lucky Guy, for which he took home his first Tony Award in 2013.

In 2016, Vance took on the high-profile role of famed defense lawyer Johnnie Cochran in the anthology TV series The People v. O.J. SimpsonAmerican Crime StoryThis inaugural season focused on the “trial of the century” and the real-life players in its proceedings. In September 2016 Vance won an Emmy for his portrayal and later that winter, also received a Golden Globe nomination.

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