The handsome, easy-going son of famed actors Jason Robards and Lauren Bacall, Sam Robards studied acting and appeared in several plays Off-Broadway before making an impressive screen debut as a suitor to Molly Ringwald in Paul Mazursky's "Tempest" (1982), a savvy adaptation of Shakespeare's deserted island fantasy. He next drunkenly avoided commitment in the coming-of-age drama "Fandango", featuring a then unknown Kevin Costner and Robards' wife-to-be Suzy Amis, before Lewis Gilbert's "Not Quite Jerusalem" (both 1985) saw him play a happy-go-lucky American volunteer for kibbutz life romantically involved with Joanna Pacula. The film adaptation of Jay McInerney's "Bright Lights, Big City" (1988) marked his first association with actor Michael J Fox and the only time to date he has acted in a movie with his father. That same year, he had a supporting role in "Bird", Clint Eastwood's heartfelt biopic of famed jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker. He also portrayed Chaplain Kirk in Brian De Palma's flawed yet majestic Vietnam film, "Casualties of War" (1989), which reteamed him with Fox.
Robards returned to features in a Western starring Amis, "The Ballad of Little Jo" (1993), and landed roles in two 1994 movies, Alan Rudolph's "Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle", portraying The New Yorker magazine founder Harold Ross, and Robert Altman's sharp satire of the French fashion industry, "Ready-to-Wear (Pret-a-Porter)" (which also featured Bacall), playing the efficient assistant to an influential fashion editor. After joining the fine ensemble of young talent for Ted Demme's "Beautiful Girls" (1996), Robards provided the voice of Henry in Steven Grynberg's "Love from Ground Zero" (1998) and then appeared in the successful dark comedy "American Beauty" (1999), delivering one of his more memorable feature turns as one of the two Jims (with Scott Bakula), the gay neighbors of the Burnham family.
Robards has enjoyed his best exposure on the small screen. He made his debut as the son of the title character, an imprisoned Argentinean newspaperman, in "Jacobo Timerman: Prisoner Without a Name, Cell without a Number" (NBC, 1983). He went on to play the brother of young man who seemingly disappeared in the fact-based "Into Thin Air" (CBS, 1985) and supported Valerie Bertinelli as "Pancho Barnes" (CBS, 1988) before headlining the short-lived drama series "TV 101" (CBS, 1988-89) as a TV news photographer who returns to his high school to instill some of his passion for journalism into a new generation of students. Robards also co-starred on Fox's wacky sitcom "Get a Life!" its first season (1990-91), playing straight man to series star Chris Elliott.
The 1995 USA movie "Donor Unknown" cast him against type as an ambitious, amoral transplant surgeon willing to stoop to nefarious means to obtain organs for his work. He contributed to two projects dealing with the notorious Nazi Adolph Eichmann, acting in TNT's superb "The Man Who Captured Eichmann" (1996) and voicing Avrahim Aviel for the following year's PBS documentary, "The Trial of Adolph Eichmann. Robards' Sheriff in "Maximum Bob" (ABC, 1998), Barry Sonnenfeld's critically-acclaimed summer series loosely based on the Elmore Leonard novel, was a compassionate sort given to ballroom dancing to compensate for the death of his wife. Cut from the same cloth was his sensitive portrayal of Bobby Riordan, the Florida gym teacher who befriends the battered Fran Benedetto and her son in the CBS-movie "Black and Blue" (1999), adapted from the Anna Quindlen novel. His recurring part as Arthur on ABC's "Spin City" during the 1998-99 season reunited him with series star Michael J. Fox, as they both vied for the affections of the same woman. Robards was back on the big screen playing the adoptive father of a robotic child programmed to love in a futuristic society in "A.I.: Artificial Intelligence" (2001).