Image of James Tolkan

James Tolkan

1931-06-20 Calumet, Michigan, USA

Image of James Tolkan


Fiery, forceful and intimidating character actor James Tolkan has carved out a nice little niche for himself in both movies and television alike as a formidable portrayer of fierce and flinty hard-boiled tough guy types. James Stewart Tolkan was born on June 20, 1931 in Calumet, Michigan. His father, Ralph M. Tolkan, was a cattle dealer. James attended the University of Iowa, Coe College and Eastern Arizona College. After serving a year-long stint in the United States Navy, Tolkan went to New York and studied acting with both Lee Strasberg and Stella Adler at the Actors Studio. Short and bald, with beady, intense eyes, a wiry, compact, muscular build, a gruff, jarring, high-decibel voice, and an aggressive, confrontational, blunt-as-a-battle-ax, rough-around-the-edges demeanor, Tolkan has been often cast as rugged, cynical no-nonsense cops, mean, domineering authority figures, and various ruthless and dangerous criminals. Tolkan first began acting in movies in the late 1960s and was highly effective in two pictures for Sidney Lumet: He was a rabidly homophobic police lieutenant in the superbly gritty Serpico (1973) and a sneaky district attorney in the equally excellent Prince of the City (1981). Best known as the obnoxiously overzealous high school principal Gerard Strickland in the Back to the Future films, Tolkan's other most memorable roles include Napolean in Woody Allen's Love and Death (1975), a ramrod army officer in WarGames (1983), mayor Robert Culp's mordant, wisecracking assistant in Turk 182 (1985), the hard-nosed Stinger in Top Gun (1986), the choleric Detective Lubric in Masters of the Universe (1987), meek mob accountant Numbers in Dick Tracy (1990), and Wesley Snipes' bullish superior in Boiling Point (1993).


Cine Docs: Back to the Future Mr. Strickland (archive footage) 2024-01-23
Val Self (archive footage) 2021-07-23
Back in Time Self 2015-10-20
Bone Tomahawk Pianist 2015-10-23
Phil Spector Judge Fidler 2013-03-24
Tales from the Future Self 2010-10-26
Looking Back to the Future Self 2009-02-10
Heavens Fall Thomas Knight, Sr. 2006-07-20
Seven Times Lucky Dutch 2004-01-17
Robo Warriors Quon 1997-01-15
Underworld Dan 'Iceberg' Eagan 1996-06-01
Sketch Artist II: Hands That See Tonelli 1995-01-28
Boiling Point Levitt 1993-04-16
Bloodfist IV: Die Trying Agent Sterling 1992-11-18
Sketch Artist Tonelli 1992-04-26
Hangfire Patch 1991-01-11
Driving Me Crazy Vince 1991-05-16
Problem Child 2 Mr. Thron 1991-07-03
Opportunity Knocks Sal 1990-03-30
Dick Tracy Numbers 1990-04-05
Back to the Future Part III Marshal Strickland 1990-05-25
Second Sight Coolidge 1989-11-03
Back to the Future Part II Strickland 1989-11-22
The Case of the Hillside Stranglers Lt. Ed Henderson 1989-04-02
Family Business Judge 1989-12-06
True Blood Det. Joseph Hanley 1989-04-28
Ministry of Vengeance Colonel Freeman 1989-11-03
Viper William Tansey 1988-01-01
Question of Faith Doctor Siegel 1988-10-06
Split Decisions Benny Pistone 1988-06-11
Weekend War Dr. Alex Thompson 1988-02-01
Made in Heaven Mr. Bjornstead 1987-11-06
Masters of the Universe Detective Lubic 1987-08-07
Top Gun Stinger 1986-05-16
Off Beat Harry 1986-04-10
Armed and Dangerous Lou Brackman 1986-08-15
Little Spies Kennel Master 1986-10-05
Flanagan Turner 1985-10-30
Turk 182! Hanley 1985-02-15
Back to the Future Mr. Strickland 1985-07-03
Iceman Maynard 1984-04-13
The River Howard Simpson 1984-12-01
WarGames Wigan 1983-06-03
Hanky Panky Conferee 1982-06-04
Author! Author! Lt. Glass 1982-06-18
Wolfen Baldy 1981-07-24
Prince of the City George Polito 1981-08-19
The Amityville Horror Coroner 1979-07-27
Love and Death Napoleon 1975-06-10
Serpico Steiger 1973-12-18
The Werewolf of Washington Dark Glasses 1973-10-01
The Friends of Eddie Coyle The Man's contact man 1973-06-26
They Might Be Giants Mr. Brown 1971-06-09
Stiletto Edwards 1969-07-30
The Three Sisters 1966-01-01