He has the face you can’t place but you know you have seen him before. A solid character actor whose commitment to roles has sparked controversy, tears, laughter, and injury! Ladies and gentlemen – Lee Tergesen!
Lee Tergesen was born on July 8th 1965 in Ivoryton, Connecticut and following graduation moved to New York at the age of 18 to try to become an actor.
He graduated from the American Musical and Dramatic Academy’s two year program in Manhattan, where, from 1986 to 1989, he worked at the Empire Diner. “I wasn’t a great waiter. I was funny, but I gave a lot of attitude”, he told Rosie Magazine in March 2002. He added: “The place is like a vortex for me”. In 1989, the diner was where he met Tom Fontana, the future creator of Oz, who lived around the corner from the diner. The two became friends.
In 1987, Tergesen made his first film appearance as Crash Hopkins in Invasion of the Mind Benders. Further appearances followed in Session Man and The Killing Mind. He also spent his time on the stage:
“I was doing plays all the time, but there’s no money in it. After graduation, I thought I’d be making a living at it.”
When Tom Fontana moved to Los Angeles he called upon Tergesen to help him move and whilst dining at a restaurant on the day after arriving, a casting director and friend of Fontana’s asked Lee if he was an actor: “He told me there was a part in this movie and at that time, I couldn’t imagine what it could be.” The movie ended up being Point Break, starring Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze. “It was the beginning of me never having to do anything else but act.”
As well as Point Break, Tergesen’s role as Terry in Wayne’s World (and Wayne’s World 2) would bring him onto the Cult Faction radar and into the eyes of the public.
Appearances followed both in film and TV including in Darkness Before Dawn, Wild Palms, Philly heat, Jag, Hudson Street, George B, Duckman, and The Shot.
In 1993 Tergesen landed the role of Chris Thormann, a Baltimore police officer who is shot and blinded in Homicide: Life on the Street – a role he would continue to play on/off until 1997.
Other appearances included Honey, I Shrunk the Kids: The TV Show, Cracker: Mind Over Murder, Touched By An Angel, Inferno, The Hoop Life, Diamonds, and the role on Chett Donnelly in the TV remake of Weird Science.
“Before I did Weird Science I definitely wasn’t thinking, ‘Oh my God, I’d LOVE to do a series for four years where I got to be a loud, obnoxious, militaristic asshole!’ And certainly when I finished that, I didn’t think, ‘Oh man, if I could play a lawyer-turned-convict who gets anally raped and learns to love it…”
Then in 1997 Tergesen reunited with Tom Fontana when he was cast as Tobias Beecher in HBO’s show which changed television: Oz – a show which gave a no-holds-barred account of prison life, and also a show where no actor was safe from being killed off.
It is because of Oz that Tergesen has no feeling in one of his index fingers. He lost it while banging his hands on the prisons bars in his first scene as Tobias Beecher.
Since Oz, he has appeared mostly on TV with recurring or starring roles on Rescue Me, Wanted, Desperate Housewives, Generation Kill, Army Wives, The Big C, Red Widow, Longmire, The 4400, The Americans, Alpha House, American Horror Story, Castle, Defiance, NCIS: New Orleans, Outcast, Hawaii Five-0, The Following, House, and The Get Down.
That’s not to say Tergesen has stopped appearing in film either Shaft, Monster, The Forgotten, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, Silver Tongues, Red Tails, Pineapple, The Collection, The Yellow Birds, Equity, Tooken, and No One Lives are all contain his character brilliance.