Sam Waterston is an award-winning American actor known for his extensive work in theater, film, and television. Some of his most famous roles include Jack McCoy on “Law & Order,” Sydney Schanberg in “The Killing Fields,” and Frank Capra in “Grace and Frankie.”
While Waterston has had a long and acclaimed acting career spanning over 50 years, he has also faced some criticism and disliked by certain groups over the years.
Acting Style and Demeanor
One of the most common reasons people dislike Sam Waterston relates to his acting style and on-screen persona.
Stern and Serious Nature
Waterston is often typecast in serious, stern roles as straight-laced authority figures like lawyers, police officers, government officials and doctors. His tendency to intensely furrow his brow while speaking in a deliberate, gravely voice can come across as aggressive or intimidating to some viewers.
|Intense, dramatic roles
|Law & Order’s Jack McCoy, The Killing Fields’ Sydney Schanberg
|Stern facial expressions
|Frequently furrowed brow, piercing stares
|Low, gravelly voice
|Deep, serious vocal delivery
This intense acting style has led some people to find Waterston boring, depressing, even scary or unlikable as a performer. The serious nature of many of his characters can make him difficult to warm up to for more casual audiences.
Lack of Variety in Roles
In addition to the stern demeanor of many of his roles, some dislike that Waterston has lacked diversity in his acting portfolio. Outside of some earlier roles in films like “Rancho Deluxe” and “The Great Gatsby,” he is primarily known for dramatic, humorless roles in procedurals and historical dramas.
This can cause some resentment from audiences who want to see more range from a performer. The tendency for Waterston to be typecast is not entirely his own fault, but it nonetheless fuels a dislike from those tired of the actor playing what they see as largely the same character across various shows and movies over several decades.
Political Views and Activism
Another contributor to dislike for the actor comes from those who take issue with his political views and social activism.
Outspoken Liberal Views
Waterston is openly politically liberal. He frequently advocates for and donates to Democratic candidates and liberal causes. This includes environmentalism, reversing climate change, human rights, civil liberties, and more.
|Democratic Party support
|Donated to and publicly supported Obama, Kerry, Clinton campaigns
|Environmentalism, climate change activism, ACLU
|Public criticism of Republicans
|Spoken against Bush, Trump policies
Such open and uncompromising political stances rub conservative viewers the wrong way. Outrage and boycotts from right-leaning audiences have led studios and networks to sever relationships with left-leaning public figures before. This has fueled some calls from conservatives for Waterston to face repercussions for his beliefs.
In addition to the liberal perspective itself, the way Waterston advocates these views has struck some as elitist. As a classically trained Yale actor and son of a former high-ranking State Department member, some see Waterston as out-of-touch with average American values when he criticizes policies or lifestyle choices. This further fuels resentment from those who feel talked down to by privileged celebrities.
While much of the animosity towards Waterston stems from his on-screen work and political takes, some Personal criticisms also contribute to his dislike from portions of the public.
Certain stories painting Waterston as rude or difficult to work with have made the rounds over the years. Rumors of angry tirades, refusing pictures with fans, and other unpleasant interactions add to his severe on-screen image for some.
However, most accounts indicate positive working relationships with colleagues and interviewers. So while anecdotal criticisms of his off-screen behavior exist, consistent or verified reports of poor behavior remain questionable.
Overexposure in Later Years
After starring on “Law & Order” for 16 years through 2010, some believe Waterston has simply stayed in the public eye too long. Continuing to take on similar authoritative roles into his later years strikes some viewers are tiresome, wishing the actor had stepped back after his iconic decade-plus run as Jack McCoy.
From this perspective, overexposure to those fatigued by his ubiquity on NBC for years has bred contempt for seeing him still taking high-profile dramatic TV and film roles.
Ongoing starring vehicles in prominent projects can make veteran actors’ presence feel stale, driving dislike not necessarily for the performer personally but for creative decision-makers allowing persistent prominence.
Why So Much Dislike?
Sam Waterston’s stern persona and ubiquitous presence over the years clearly rub some viewers the wrong way. However, the question remains why an actor with relatively little scandal or personal controversy draws such intense criticism specifically.
Types Draw Dislike
Serious, severe character types triggering visceral responses is far from uncommon historically. Actors like Alec Guinness’ harsh Obi-Wan Kenobi provoked anger from young Star Wars fans. Waterston’s tendency towards similar archetypes echoes the phenomena.
Furthermore, current politically tribal climates drive resentments towards opposing ideological celebrities once viewed more moderately. As critic James Wolcott assessed, Waterston’s “liberal beliefs once seemed innocuous [but] now seem aggressive to conservative viewers.”
In summation, the combination of raw nerves towards perceived elitist political pontificators and visceral dislike for dour fictional authority figures drive much present animosity towards Waterston.
Do People Actually Hate Sam Waterston?
While the actor’s stern persona and openly liberal views fuel criticisms from portions of the population, assessing wide-ranging actual hatred merits examination.
Characters vs Performer
First, distinguishing audiences’ perspectives between Waterston’s oft-severe characters themselves versus the man and actor remains key. Viewers frequently mistake fictional personas for accurate reflections of actors’ real personalities.
So recalling criticisms of Jack McCoy’s uncompromising harshness or Sydney Schanberg’s rigidity as the characters themselves, not the performer, helps introduce nuance.
Industry and Peer Respect Endures
Furthermore, despite some negative audience responses, Waterston maintains admiration and respect from the entertainment industry. His nominations and wins for numerous Emmys and Golden Globe awards stand as testaments to high professional regard even today.
Likewise, collaborators ranging from co-stars to directors continually praise his talents and work ethic through the years.
Waterston’s Personal Reserve the Issue?
In fact, the actor’s general professionalism and tendency to avoid publicly sharing extensive personal details likely contributes to audience misinterpretations. As a private, reserved persona in an era of social media oversharing, the real man remains largely obscured to audiences.
So while pockets of movie and TV viewers certainly criticize Sam Waterston’s most visible qualities, the severity and scale of actual personal hatred appear overstated. As critic Rainer Gamble summarized, with the actor “dislike stems from not really knowing the man beyond his most stoic roles.”
What Roles Has Sam Waterston Been Known For?
While still taking on the occasional role today, Waterston’s peak fame stemmed from some key film and television projects between the 1970s and early 2000s:
Law & Order’s Jack McCoy
Undoubtedly, Waterston’s career-defining role came as District Attorney Jack McCoy through 16 seasons on NBC’s hit crime procedural Law & Order. As the by-the-books, unrelenting prosecutor, Waterston cemented his fame into American households each week with McCoy’s stern pursuit of justice.
The Killing Fields
Prior to his iconic TV role, Waterston earned his first Oscar nomination as war correspondent Sydney Schanberg in 1984’s harrowing The Killing Fields. Detailing the repressive Khmer Rouge regime’s takeover of Cambodia, the film further established Waterston’s ability to intensely portray driven, dead-serious personalities.
I’ll Fly Away
Waterston found success on a less famous but critically acclaimed NBC drama as well. In I’ll Fly Away from 1991 to 1993, he played an attorney working on civil rights cases in the American South during the late 1950s/early 1960s. The performance demonstrated depth beyond stern prosecutors while still adhering to Waterston’s preferences for social issue-oriented material.