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James Rebhorn: Popular character actor whose credits included 'The Talented Mr Ripley' and the hit TV series 'Homeland'


James Rebhorn was one of the busiest character actors in New York and Hollywood, specialising in flawed authority figures – most recently including the bipolar father of the CIA agent Carrie Mathison in the hit television series Homeland. An instantly recognisable face on stage and screen for more than three decades, Rebhorn was often typecast as WASPish businessmen, lawyers and cabinet ministers – powerful men whose dignified appearance often hid eccentricities, menace or even insanity.

On television, he had a recurring part in the HBO show White Collar, and as a district attorney he memorably prosecuted the Seinfeld cast in the 1998 finale. His film roles, though small, were often pivotal to the plot. In The Talented Mr Ripley (1999) he played the wealthy shipbuilder whose spoiled son, played by Jude Law, disappeared, killed by the sociopath Tom Ripley (Matt Damon), who has taken the son's identity. As the headmaster, Mr Trask, in Scent of a Woman (1992), he faced off against a blind and argumentative Vietnam vet played by Al Pacino defending one of Trask's students accused of cheating. Other notable film appearances included Silkwood (1983), Independence Day (1996) – as the secretary of defence – Meet The Parents (2000) and Carlito's Way (1993).

In New York he was a member of the Ensemble Studio and Roundabout theatre companies, appearing in the original 1985 stage production of Herb Gardner's comedy I'm Not Rappaport and in stage revivals of Our Town and Twelve Angry Men. For Roundabout Rebhorn portrayed a man grappling with dementia in the 2013 production Too Much, Too Much, Too Many by Meghan Kennedy.

Of that performance, Charles Isherwood wrote in the New York Times, "Mr Rebhorn gives a beautiful portrait of a man struggling to come to terms with his faltering mind. Hale and frankly refusing to believe the doctor's news at first, James becomes more scattered (if not more resigned) with each succeeding scene, culminating in a heartbreaking final moment in which he simply stares into the distance, as if searching for something, while Emma [the wife] tries wordlessly to comfort him."

He was born in 1948 in Philadelphia; his father was a tool and die maker and later a salesman. Before acting he worked as a theatrical technician. He had a bachelor's degree in political science and theatre from Wittenberg University in Ohio and a master's in fine arts from Columbia.

James Robert Rebhorn, actor: born Philadelphia 1 September 1948; married Rebecca Linn (two daughters); died South Orange, New Jersey 21 March 2014.

© The Washington Post