By the time actor Thomas Haden Church earned an Oscar nomination for his unforgettable supporting role as a womanizing, has-been actor heading out on one last fling before tying the knot in director Alexander Payne's critically acclaimed road drama Sideways (2004), many film and television viewers may have assumed (and not without merit) that the former Wings star had all but abandoned his career in front of the cameras. It had, after all, been nearly a decade since Church had endeared himself to television viewers as lovably dunderheaded mechanic Lowell Mather on the aforementioned hit television series, and though he did remain fairly active onscreen after Wings went off the air in 1995, his career took something of a back seat to his familial commitments and life on his Texas cattle ranch. Coupled with a conscious decision to move away from acting and try his talents behind the camera, Church's fading devotion to acting still made his nomination at the 2005 Oscars feel like something of a comeback even though he had remained fairly active in show business all along.
A Texas native whose early career included a stint as a radio disc jockey and voice-over announcer, Church first got a taste for acting with an appearance in the independent feature Gypsy Angels, and a move to Los Angeles followed shortly thereafter. It didn't take long for the handsome, young aspiring actor to land his defining role in Wings, and aside from supporting roles in the features Tombstone and Tales From the Crypt: Demon Knight, it was his role in Wings and the subsequent television series Ned and Stacey for which he was best remembered for some time. Following the cancellation of Ned and Stacey, Church turned his attention primarily to feature films with supporting roles in One Night Stand, 3000 Miles to Graceland, Monkeybone, and Lone Star State of Mind serving to at least pay the bills. Dejected by a somewhat stifled acting career and determined to spend more time with his wife and children, Church opted to step behind the scenes to write and direct the independent comedy Rolling Kansas. A lighthearted road movie concerning a trio of brothers' quest to find a seemingly-mythical marijuana field in the sprawling plains of Kansas, Rolling Kansas made a brief appearance at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival before making its debut on Comedy Central the following year.
Just when it seemed that the rest of Church's onscreen career may have been relegated to appearances in George of the Jungle sequels, acclaimed independent filmmaker Payne had recalled his auditions for his previous two films, Election and About Schmidt. Though Church hadn't quite made the cut on either of those films, Payne had taken note of his talent and thought the former Wings star the perfect candidate to play a formerly popular television star and down-on-his-luck actor having trouble adjusting to the prospect of marriage in Payne's upcoming comedy drama Sideways. Cast opposite American Splendor's Paul Giamatti, Church's alternately desperate and sad performance proved the heart of the film many considered to be the year's -- not to mention director Payne's -- best. The movie earned Church an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. He followed up that success with appearances in the comedy Idiocracy and the western Broken Trail opposite Robert Duvall. In 2007 he was cast as one of the two-villains in Spider-Man 3, and the year after that he starred in the biting drama Smart People. His deep, recognizable voice led him to voiceover work in a variety of projects such as Aliens in the Attic, Charlotte's Web, and Over the Hedge. In 2010 he had a part in the sleeper hit Easy A, and he played Matt Damon's brother in Cameron Crowe's We Bought a Zoo. In 2012 he was cast in the Disney flop John Carter. ~ Jason Buchanan, Rovi