After 10 years of guest TV roles, Willie Garson's big break came in 1998 when he was cast as the gay best friend of Carrie Bradshaw on the hit Sex and the City. The show was nominated for more than 50 Emmys and 24 Golden Globes over the course of its 6-year run, elevating Garson from character actor to veritable Hollywood star. He has followed that role up with a long string of TV and film roles.
Actor. Born William Garson Paszamant on February 20, 1964, in Highland Park, New Jersey. Interested in acting from a very young age, Garson started training at the Actor's Institute in New York City at the age of 13. Garson attended Highland Park High School, and after graduating in 1982 he continued on to Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut—the alma mater of such fellow actors as Dana Delany, Frank Wood and Jordan Belfi. Still unsure as to whether or not he wanted to pursue acting as a career, Garson hedged his bets by majoring in both theater and psychology. However, upon graduating from Wesleyan in 1985, Garson realized his love of acting far outweighed his love of psychology, and he decided to further his training at the prestigious Yale School of Drama.
With a decade of acting study under his belt, Garson finally felt ready to begin auditioning for professional roles in 1986. He landed five different television roles that year, including guest spots on the popular series Family Ties and Cheers. After that breakthrough year, Garson continued to build his acting resume through the late 1980s and early 1990s with roles on shows like Coach and Mr. Belvedere. Garson also carved out a bizarre niche as Hollywood's go-to actor to portray John F. Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald. He played Oswald in three entirely unrelated productions: Quantum Leap (1989), Ruby (1992) and MADtv (1995).
Success As a Charactor Actor
Despite playing only minor roles early in his career, Willie Garson gained a reputation as a talented character actor—someone who could transform a show's smallest part into its most memorable one. He gradually landed increasingly prominent roles, appearing on the hit shows Friends (1994), Ally McBeal (1997) and Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1998), and taking on a seven-episode stint on NYPD Blue (1996-1999). Garson's breakthrough to stardom came in 1998 when he was cast as Stanford Blatch, the gay best friend of Carrie Bradshaw (played by Sarah Jessica Parker) on the HBO hit Sex and the City. Garson and Parker were real-life best friends long before Sex and the City, and Garson says their longtime friendship helped their on-screen chemistry. "People who've been friends for 20 years," he said, "it really reads on the screen." Sex and the City was nominated for more than 50 Emmy Awards and 24 Golden Globes over the course of its six-year run, elevating Garson from talented character actor to veritable Hollywood star.
High-Profile Film and TV Roles
Since gaining fame through Sex and the City, Garson has starred in numerous high-profile film and television roles. He teamed up with the screenwriting and directing duo, the Farrelly brothers, for three films: Kingpin (1996), There's Something About Mary (1998) and Fever Pitch (2005). Garson's other notable film credits include Being John Malkovich (1999), Freaky Friday (2003) and the film adaptations Sex and the City (2008) and Sex and the City 2 (2010). On television, Garson has starred in HBO's John From Cincinnati (2007) and USA's White Collar (2009-2010).
Balding, bespectacled and slightly pudgy, Garson looks like anyone you might pass on the street. However, within the world of ultra-thin and beautiful Hollywood stars, Garson stands out for his everyman appearance. In fact, Garson credits his "Average Joe" looks with helping him land roles and connect with audiences. "Not everyone looks like Brad Pitt," he says. "There are people in the world that look like me. I think people feel that I could be living next door to them."
In addition to acting, Garson works with the youth mentoring organizations Big Brothers Big Sisters and Young Artists United and gives weekly readings to first graders through the Screen Actors Guild's "Bookpals" program. Garson is also an expert poker player. He competed on the 2003 Bravo show Celebrity Poker Showdown, where his ruthless card playing earned him the nickname "Evil Willie."
In 2008, Garson began turning his attention to another challenge: parenting. While Garson says that he always dreamed of getting married and starting a family, at age 44 and unmarried in 2008, he decided to adopt. Garson enrolled in parenting classes and attended an adoption fair in Los Angeles, where he spotted an energetic 7-year-old named Nathan. "He was balancing himself on a curb, and I was like, 'That's my kid,'" Garson says. "I knew it right then." Since finalizing the adoption process in 2010, Garson has been enjoying the pleasures of parenthood. "He is the best dad ever," Nathan says of his adopted father. Nathan has also begun following in his father's footsteps as an actor, playing Doddy in his elementary school's production of Grease. "The finest production of Grease in history," Garson called it.
With a thriving acting career and happy home life, Garson knows that he is living a dream. Things "couldn't have gone any better," he says. The only thing Garson dreads is the day his son grows up and no longer wants to spend time with him. Nathan, however, reassures his dad that day is not coming any time soon. "Dad, I'm always going to want to hug and kiss you," he says.
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