Sam Waterston, currently starring in Grace and Frankie on Netflix, has a rich body of work on stage, screen, and television. While at Groton, however, he acted but never landed a lead role—and that, he believes, contributed to his success.
"For a kid who was already bitten by acting, frustration and encouragement combined turned out to be the best thing. That's what I got at Groton: the thrill of performing in front of the whole community, the excitement of being around girls (Concord Academy girls played the women's parts in those days), the encouragement of masters like Mr. Hawkes, and the frustrations—that, in the eyes of the school, the theater was a bit of a sideline, that there was only one play put on a year.
“Most important and beneficial of all, I never got the best part in any play we did. Rejection is a great motivator—“I'll show them"—a terrific substitute on dark nights for a raison d'être.”
And “show them” he did. Sam’s 16 years on the popular Law & Order resulted in three Emmy nominations for Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series, the 1999 Screen Actors Guild Award, a Screen Actors Guild nomination in 1998, and a Golden Globe nomination in 1995. His other television work includes Q.E.D., I’ll Fly Away (for which he won a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series), Gore Vidal’s Lincoln, and Oppenheimer. Waterston won a 1996 Emmy for the documentary series Lost Civilizations.
Oscar-nominated for his starring role in The Killing Fields, Waterston’s film credits include Interiors, Hannah and Her Sisters, September, Crimes and Misdemeanors, The Great Gatsby, Capricorn One, Heaven’s Gate, and The Man in the Moon. The classically trained Waterston has amassed numerous stage credits including King Lear, Abe Lincoln in Illinois (for which he received a Tony nomination), Hamlet, Much Ado About Nothing, Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Benefactors, and Lunch Hour, among others.
Through all the years of success, and more importantly, before fame found him, Groton stood by him and buoyed his ambitions. “Show business gives everyone in it an advanced education in rejection, even the lucky ones. That [former Headmaster] Jack Crocker and a very surprisingly large number of teachers and students from school steadily came to see what I was doing for years and years after graduation and right on down to today has over and over refueled my courage to keep on keeping on,” he says.
“I'm not sure they knew or know how much it has meant to me and lots of others like me to find out you didn't just have teachers and schoolmates for a while, Groton put people at your side for the duration. What a boon! It's nice to have this chance to say thank you.”