James Tolkan

Actor, Cattle truck driver, Railroad hand
An immediately recognizable if not always identifiable character actor for over a half-century, James Tolkan provided volume and venom as hot-wired authority figures in such popular films as "Serpico" (1973), "WarGames" ... Read more »
Born: 06/20/1931 in Calumet, Michigan, USA


Actor (58)

Back In Time 2015 (Movie)


Bone Tomahawk 2015 (Movie)

Pianist (Actor)

Phil Spector 2012 - 2013 (TV Show)


Leverage 2011 (Tv Show)


Heaven's Fall 2005 (Movie)

Thomas Knight, Sr. (Actor)

Seven Times Lucky 2003 (Movie)

Dutch (Actor)

Nero Wolfe 2000 - 2002 (TV Show)


Early Edition 1996 - 1997 (Tv Show)


River of Stone 1996 (Movie)


Sketch Artist II: Hands That See 1994 - 1995 (TV Show)


Cobra 1993 - 1994 (TV Show)


Boiling Point 1993 (Movie)

Levitt (Actor)

The Hat Squad 1992 - 1993 (TV Show)


Bloodfist IV: Die Trying 1992 (Movie)


The Sketch Artist 1991 - 1992 (TV Show)


Driving Me Crazy 1991 (Movie)

Vince (Actor)

Hangfire 1991 (Movie)

Patch (Actor)

Problem Child 2 1991 (Movie)

Mr Thorn (Actor)

Back to the Future III 1990 (Movie)

Marshal Strickland (Actor)

Convicts on the Street: One Year on Parole 1989 - 1990 (TV Show)


Dick Tracy 1990 (Movie)

Numbers (Actor)

Opportunity Knocks 1990 (Movie)

Sal (Actor)

Back to the Future II 1989 (Movie)

Strickland (Actor)

Leap of Faith 1988 - 1989 (TV Show)


Ministry of Vengeance 1989 (Movie)

Colonel Freeman (Actor)

Second Sight 1989 (Movie)

Captain Coolidge (Actor)

True Blood 1989 (Movie)

Lieutenant Joe Hanley (Actor)

Do the Guilty Go Free? 1987 - 1988 (TV Show)


Split Decisions 1988 (Movie)

Benny Pistone (Actor)

Viper 1988 (Movie)

Colonel Tanzer (Actor)

Made in Heaven 1987 (Movie)

Mr Bjornstead (Actor)

Masters of the Universe 1987 (Movie)

Detective Lubic (Actor)

Flanagan 1986 (Movie)

Turner (Actor)

Mary 1985 - 1986 (TV Show)


Off Beat 1986 (Movie)

Harry (Actor)

Top Gun 1986 (Movie)

Stinger (Actor)

Back to the Future 1985 (Movie)

Mr Strickland (Actor)

Turk 182 1985 (Movie)

Hanley (Actor)

Iceman 1984 (Movie)

Maynard (Actor)

Nightmares 1983 (Movie)

Bishop's Voice (Actor)

Wargames 1983 (Movie)

Wigan (Actor)

Wings 1982 - 1983 (TV Show)


Author! Author! 1982 (Movie)

St Glass (Actor)

Hanky Panky 1982 (Movie)

Conferee (Actor)

Prince of the City 1981 (Movie)

DA Polito (Actor)

Wolfen 1981 (Movie)

Baldy (Actor)

The Amityville Horror 1979 (Movie)

Coroner (Actor)

Love and Death 1975 (Movie)

Napoleon (Actor)

The Friends of Eddie Coyle 1973 (Movie)

Contact Man (Actor)

They Might Be Giants 1971 (Movie)

Mr Brown (Actor)

Stiletto 1969 (Movie)

Edwards (Actor)

Beyond Betrayal (TV Show)


Little Spies (TV Show)


Love in Ambush (TV Show)


Sunset Beat (TV Show)


Weekend War (TV Show)



An immediately recognizable if not always identifiable character actor for over a half-century, James Tolkan provided volume and venom as hot-wired authority figures in such popular films as "Serpico" (1973), "WarGames" (1983), "Top Gun" (1986) and the "Back to the Future" trilogy (1985, 1989, 1990). Though frequently billed far down on the cast list, Tolkan immediately captured audiences' attention through his fire-breathing delivery and demeanor; actors ranging from Al Pacino and Tom Cruise to Joe Mantegna and J.T. Walsh did their best to stand toe-to-toe with him in a scene and not get singed. The 1980s were Tolkan's most prolific period, with "Top Gun" and the first two "Future" films introducing him to the widest audience. In subsequent years, he worked largely in television, though the small screen did little to reduce his outsized energy. One of Hollywood's busiest supporting players, James Tolkan was also one of its most formidable, and in turn, one of its most memorable.


Parmelee Tolkan



Coe College

Cedar Rapids , Iowa
became interested in acting and transferred to the University of Iowa

Actors Studio

New York , New York
studied with Lee Strasberg for three years

studied with Stella Adler, first as a paying student, then on a two-year scholarship

Eastern Arizona College

Thatcher , Arizona
attended on a football scholarship; left to join the Navy

University of Iowa

Iowa City , Iowa



Portrayed Marshal Strickland in "Back to the Future III"


Cast as a regular on the short-lived (two episodes) series, "Sunset Beat", about a special team of cops who pose as bikers


Reprised the role of Strickland for Zemeckis's "Back to the Future II"


Widely seen as Stinger, a tough Naval commander who chastises Tom Cruise in "Top Gun"


Debut as a TV series regular, "Mary", a failed sitcom vehicle for Mary Tyler Moore (eliminated after three months when the show's format and time slot changed)


First played the role of Mr. Strickland in Robert Zemeckis' "Back to the Future"


Portrayed Dave Moss in the Broadway production of David Mamet's play, "Glengarry Glen Ross"


Recreated his role from the Broadway production of "Wings" for PBS's "American Playhouse" presentation


Feature debut, "Stiletto", a gangster drama


Replaced Robert Duvall in Arthur Miller's "A View From the Bridge" on the New York stage


Was working as a railroad hand by age 15 (date approximate)


Moved to Chicago with his family at age 14 (date approximate)


Born in near poverty in northern Michigan

Acted on stage with Al Pacino in "The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel" and "Jungle in the Cities"

Moved with his mother to Tucson, Arizona

Replaced Duvall in the Arthur Penn-directed Broadway production of "Wait Until Dark" when the actor broke his hip; continued in the role for two years

Worked as a cattle truck driver before deciding to continue his higher education

Played the recurring role of insurance investigator Norman Keyes, the nemesis of "Remington Steele", on the popular detective detective series

Left Eastern Arizona College to serve in the US Navy

Provided narration for several installments of "America Undercover" documentary specials on HBO

Began studying with Stella Adler and won a two-year scholarship

Cast as a regular on "The Hat Squad", an eccentric crime series from executive producer/creator Stephen J Cannell

Moved to NYC with $75 in his pocket after after graduating from the University of Iowa

Worked with the Actors Studio for three years