Though actor Tom McCarthy began his career performing in front of the camera on notable features and television shows, he furthered his artistic ambitions as the director of acclaimed independent films like "The Station Agent" (2003) and "The Visitor" (2008), both of which earned considerable critical acclaim and award recognition. Prior to his turn to directing, McCarthy made a name for himself on stage, forming a noted comedy improv troupe in college before exploring the depths of Shakespeare in several productions. After cutting his teeth guest-starring on "Law & Order" (NBC, 1990- ), "Spin City" (ABC, 1996-2002), "Alley McBeal" (Fox, 1997-2002) and "The Practice" (ABC, 1997-2004), McCarthy had a memorable, but short-lived regular series role on "Boston Public" (Fox, 2000-04). But it was his first film, "The Station Agent," which starred the 4'5" actor Peter Dinklage, that propelled McCarthy's status, especially after the film was nominated for a number of critics and festival awards. By the time he directed his second film, "The Visitor," which earned equal amounts of critical praise and award nominations, McCarthy was well on his way to developing a reputation as a versatile and talented artist.
McCarthy was born into a Roman Catholic home on Jan. 30, 1969. After graduating high school in New Providence, NJ, he attended Boston College, where he helped form the comedy improv group, My Mother's Fleabag. Started in 1980, the group consisted exclusively of BC students, though it never had any official affiliation with the school. Self-funded and self-perpetuating, the troupe performed for fun or profit in and around Boston, borrowing heavily from a bootlegged copy of The Groundling's handbook. Once he graduated from Boston College, McCarthy attended the renowned School of Drama at Yale University. He made notable stage appearances in "Noises Off" on Broadway, regional productions of Arthur Schnitzler's "La Ronde," directed by actress Joanne Woodward, and "Virgil is Still the Frogboy," by dramatist Lanford Wilson. McCarthy also performed in numerous Shakespeare productions, including "Hamlet," "The Taming of the Shrew" and "Twelfth Night."
Making the jump to television, McCarthy had landed episodes of several top shows before being cast in a regular role on the acclaimed and sometimes controversial drama, "Boston Public." McCarthy played football coach Kevin Riley, of whom one critic noted was probably the least physically intimidating coach in television history. He also appeared in a few feature films, including the comedy hit, "Meet The Parents" (2000), starring Ben Stiller and Robert De Niro, and directed by Jay Roach. It was while driving through the New Jersey countryside that McCarthy was struck by inspiration - he discovered an abandoned train depot in Newfoundland and felt it was the perfect catalyst for a movie. After a bit of research, McCarthy discovered a true American subculture, railfans, a term for a group of people obsessed with the history and culture of the American railroad. Meanwhile, McCarthy commenced directing his own play, "The Killing Act," which co-starred diminutive actor Peter Dinklage, which led to a solid friendship between the two. During a night of drinks with the actor, McCarthy noticed the attention - both good and ill - Dinklage received because of his dwarfism. He immediately saw in Dinklage the perfect actor for a feature.
With Dinklage in mind for his main character, McCarthy wrote "The Station Agent" (2003), while also crafting two supporting characters in the images of Patricia Clarkson and Bobby Cannavale. The result was the story of Finbar McBride, a man born with dwarfism who sets out to find total isolation in an abandoned rail depot, but instead finds friendship with two townspeople (Clarkson and Cannavale) in desperate need of a connection. The film screened at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival, where it raked in the Audience Award, the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award and the Special Jury Prize for Outstanding Performance for Clarkson. The film went on to earn numerous other nominations and awards, including an Independent Spirit Award for Best New Screenplay. Though "The Station Agent" earned little by industry standards at the box office, the film nonetheless became a critical darling that year and elevated Dinklage's stature as an actor.
Back in front of the camera, McCarthy had a supporting role in Heather Graham's comedic dud "The Guru" (2003), then played an FBI agent assisting in an elaborate sting operation disguised as a movie set in order to arrest infamous mobster John Gotti in "The Last Shot" (2004). A very small role in the serpentine political thriller "Syriana" (2005) was followed by a meatier part in "The Great New Wonderful" (2006), an ensemble drama weaving five stories set in an anxious post-9/11 New York City. McCarthy played a husband struggling to keep his marriage together while coping with an increasingly difficult and strangely self-possessed 10-year-old son. In 2005, McCarthy began a streak of appearances in historical - and in some cases, Oscar-worthy - features that promised to raise the actor's profile and prestige. He appeared in George Clooney's excellent "Good Night, and Good Luck" (2005), a tense and unflinching look at CBS anchor Edward R. Murrow's lone fight against the fear-mongering of Senator Joseph McCarthy and his bullying tactics in ridding the government of supposed Communists.
After a small part as a newspaper editor in "All the King's Men" (2006), Steve Zaillian's poor attempt to readapt Robert Penn Warren's acclaimed novel, he appeared in "Flags of Our Fathers" (2006), director Clint Eastwood's World War II epic that focused on the three surviving U.S. servicemen (Ryan Phillippe, Adam Beach and Jesse Bradford) who were photographed raising the American flag during the nightmarish battle of Iwo Jima. McCarthy was the adult son of John "Doc" Bradley (Phillippe), who attempts years later to tell his father's true story; one that contradicts the heroic persona propagated by a government that used the famous picture and a sanitized storyline to sell war bonds.
Following supporting roles in "Year of the Dog" (2007) and "The Situation" (2007), McCarthy was memorable among an excellent ensemble cast during the last season of the gritty social drama, "The Wire" (HBO, 2002-08), playing a morally conflicted reporter for The Baltimore Sun who earns a Pulitzer Prize despite fabricating several stories. Back in the director's chair, he filmed his second directorial effort, "The Visitor" (2008), a comedic drama about a widower (Richard Jenkins) whose mundane existence is turned upside-down when he tries to help two illegal aliens (Haaz Sleiman and Danai Gurira) on the run from U.S. immigration authorities. After its premiere at the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival, "The Visitor" earned many enthusiastic reviews, as well as nominations at the 2008 Independent Spirit Awards, including for Best Director. He found himself in award contention once again after co-writing the story for the animated feature, "Up" (2009), with directors Pete Docter and Bob Peterson. The amusing tale of curmudgeonly elder widower, Carl Fredrickson (voiced by Edward Asner), who flies his house to South America with the aid of thousands of balloons and Russell, an unwanted stowaway (voiced by Jordan Nagai), earned widespread critical acclaim as well as almost $300 million in domestic box office, making "Up" yet another giant success for Pixar. Credited for contributing to the story, McCarthy shared an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay with Docter and Peterson.