The Untold Truth Of Gary Cole

Born in 1956 in the Chicago suburb of Park Ridge, Illinois, Gary Cole aspired to be an actor since his youth. As he revealed in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, he first realized he had a knack for acting when he took to the stage in a junior high production. "I got some laughs in a play, so I figured I was doing something right," he explained. "I had to do this routine twice, and got the same [positive] result. So at least it proved it wasn't an accident."

Indeed, it wasn't. After getting his start in the booming Chicago theater scene of the late 1970s, Cole headed west to Los Angeles, where his IMDb credits tell the rest of the story. After landing a key role in a high-profile TV miniseries in 1984, some supporting roles on TV series such as "Miami Vice" and "Moonlighting" led to his first starring role, as ex-cop radio host Jack "Nighthawk" Killian in "Midnight Caller." The roles kept coming, and over the course of his career, Cole has managed to deliver not one or two but several iconic performances.

By 2021, Cole was poised to reach his biggest audience yet after joining the cast of "NCIS" — in a role that some were predicting could see him take over the lead-actor duties from Mark Harmon. Still, fans probably don't know as much about him as they think — something that can be remedied by reading on to discover the untold truth of Gary Cole.

Gary Cole got his start in experimental theater

Gary Cole has been a fixture on film and television screens for so long, it's easy to forget that he got his start onstage in Chicago. In fact, as Cole told PBS affiliate WTTW, he first started acting in what the outlet called "experimental storefront theater" back in the late 1970s. "That was the beginning of my career," the actor recalled. 

From there, Cole and some fellow Chicago actors founded another storefront theatrical company, the Remains Theatre Ensemble, which placed Cole in some pretty distinguished company — even if they didn't realize it at the time. As Theatre in Chicago pointed out, Remains Theatre Ensemble's co-founders included William Petersen — who went on to massive fame as the star of "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" — and Amy Morton, whose TV credits include "Blue Bloods," "Chicago Fire," and "Chicago P.D."

Even when Cole headed for Hollywood, he maintained his relationship with the company he founded. In 1991, while starring in TV's "Midnight Caller," he returned to Chicago to star in a Remains production of David Mamet's "American Buffalo." As Cole told the Chicago Tribune at the time, he found returning to theater to be akin to "a vacation" compared to the grueling schedule of a television drama. "That's one reason I'm glad to be back here, to work for a couple of hours each night on the same part," he explained. 

He was part of a group of Chicago actors who took Hollywood by storm

In 1985, Gary Cole joined Chicago's acclaimed Steppenwolf Theatre Company, which had been founded by actors Gary Sinise, Terry Kinney, and Jeff Perry, who would go on to become known for their work in "Forrest Gump," "Billions," and "Scandal," respectively. As a member of Steppenwolf's ensemble, Cole acted alongside other future stars including Laurie Metcalf and John Malkovich. 

"I went to school with most of the people who founded Steppenwolf," Cole said in an interview with WTTC. In those days, he explained, he immersed himself in Chicago theater. "I worked at some other off-Loop theaters: some still exist, some don't," he recalled.

As he transitioned from stage to screen, one of his earliest screen appearances was an uncredited appearance in the 1985 film, "To Live and Die in L.A.," starring his fellow Remains Theatre Ensemble co-founder William Petersen. As Cole told The A.V. Club, his "old friend" Petersen "got me on that." He explained, "I was out here in Los Angeles. Billy was renting a big house while he was doing the movie, and there were other Chicago actors out here migrating, mooching off of him while we were out in L.A. auditioning for stuff. And there were some roles in it, and he mentioned me to [director] William Friedkin, so I just got this role as one of a bunch of bad guys that Billy hunted down."

Gary Cole's breakthrough role was playing a notorious accused murderer

When Gary Cole made the move from Chicago theatre to Hollywood, his big break came when he was cast in NBC's 1984 made-for-TV miniseries, "Fatal Vision." Based on the controversial book of the same name, the movie told the story of Jeffrey MacDonald, a respected doctor and former Green Beret accused of murdering his pregnant wife and their two daughters.

As Cole told NPR's "Fresh Air," he wound up being cast in "Fatal Vision" after a failed audition for the role in "Miami Vice" that ultimately went to Don Johnson. As he recalled, NBC had assembled a cast of veteran stars including Karl Malden, Andy Griffith, and Eva Marie Saint, but had been unable to cast the accused killer because actors kept turning it down. "I think they offered it to Christopher Reeve and Alec Baldwin and everybody said no," he explained, adding with a laugh, "Because, you know, it wasn't really ... a very heroic character certainly."

After auditioning, Cole admitted, his naivety about Hollywood was such that he "didn't even realize" he'd been hired. "People were measuring me for coats and stuff and I'm going, do I have the job?" Looking back, Cole told The A.V. Club, landing such a high-profile role as a total unknown was a total fluke. "It wasn't a question of getting someone that was known, although nowadays I don't know that they'd cast an unknown in that role," he admitted. 

The animated characters most people don't know he's voiced

It's a testament to Gary Cole's ability as an actor to disappear into his characters that he's carved out a significant sideline as a voice actor in animated fare — something his fans may not even have realized.

As his IMDb credits illustrate, some of his many animated roles include: Black Adam (portrayed by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson in a 2022 live-action movie) in the animated "Justice League" TV series; Edward MacDell in Netflix comedy "Big Mouth;" FBI Special Agent Hawley in "Archer;" Dr. James Timothy Possible in Disney Channel's "Kim Possible;" Sgt. Bosco in "Bob's Burgers;" the recurring role of Principal Shepherd in "Family Guy;" the unseen narrator in "The Tom and Jerry Show;" and the titular superhero lawyer in "Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law."

As Cole told The A.V. Club, he landed the role of Harvey Birdman with an audition over the phone. "I just read this and thought it was a great idea and it was funny," he recalled, admitting he lifted a bit of his take on Mike Brady from "The Brady Bunch Movie" for the voice he devised for the animated attorney, "in that I thought Harvey was just as vacant in his head as Mike Brady." Cole explained, "I pictured a little more of a superhero/game-show-host voice, and that's how I read for it. And they seemed to like that, so that's how it stuck."

This actor is passionate about support for parents of children with autism

As the father of a child on the autism spectrum, promoting autism awareness is a cause that's close to Gary Cole's heart. As he told WebMD, his daughter, Mary, was diagnosed in 1995, a time when autism awareness was all but nonexistent, and "all I had to go on was 'Rain Man.'" According to Cole, his daughter's diagnosis came after he and her mother realized that "Mary didn't process information like you or I do, and did not pick up on social cues."

When discovering a child is on the autism spectrum, he explained, "Your original agenda as a parent is set aside." The best advice Cole could offer a parent who suspects their child may be on the spectrum is to "seek answers, and the earlier the better."

One autism organization that Cole has been associated with is the Help Group, and in 2016 he appeared in a PSA for the organization to further share that advice. "Today we know that the symptoms of autism can be detected as early as 18 months," Cole says in the PSA. "If you think that your child is developing differently, don't delay — ask for help. We did, and it made a significant difference for our daughter."

Gary Cole's wife died before their divorce was finalized

Gary Cole and wife Theodora "Teddi" Siddall had been married for a quarter-century when TMZ reported in June 2017 that she had filed for divorce. According to the divorce filing, the couple had been living apart for some time, with Siddall listing the date of separation as being more than two years earlier, in February 2015. "Siddall's asking for spousal support from Cole, as well as adult child support for their daughter, Mary, who has autism," TMZ reported at the time.

Like her husband, Siddall was an actor, whose extensive list of credits on IMDb spanned decades, ranging from portraying a recurring character on hit 1970s sitcom "Happy Days" to a 2006 role in the popular medical drama, "Grey's Anatomy." 

Sadly, Siddall died before the divorce could be finalized. She was 64 years old. Siddall is buried in Los Angeles cemetery Forest Lawn, with her IMDb bio listing her date of death as February 4, 2018. A cause of death was not revealed.

This star has been the secret weapon in some of Hollywood's top comedies

Gary Cole excelled in dramatic roles until showcasing his comedy chops when he was cast as polyester-clad patriarch Mike Brady in 1995's "The Brady Bunch Movie," reprising the role for "A Very Brady Sequel." His flair for comedy now public knowledge, ever since Cole has ping-ponged between dramatic and comedic roles, delivering iconically hilarious performances as deadpan office manager Bill Lumbergh in the cult classic, "Office Space," goofball sports commentator Cotton McKnight in "Dodgeball," Reese Bobby in Will Ferrell's NASCAR comedy, "Talladega Nights," and, perhaps most memorably, robotic political strategist Kent Davidson (aka "the Pol Pot of pie charts") on "Veep."

Interestingly enough, Cole told WTTW that he doesn't change his approach to a role depending on whether the project is serious or funny. "I never look at there being a big difference between comedy and drama," Cole said. "They're all stories to me, whether they're supposed to be laughed at or have some sort of dramatic impact. ... It doesn't change what I do. I let the comedy or drama take care of itself."

Cole elaborated in an interview with Desde Hollywood. "It's all just material to me," he explained. "But when comedy works, there's nothing like it. It has to work, because if it doesn't, then it's really deadly. In a drama, you can kind of get away with that. That doesn't work in comedy. If it's not working, you viscerally can tell."

Gary Cole had no idea what those Office Space 'TPS reports' were supposed to be

Of all Gary Cole's various screen roles, it's arguable that the one that's most stuck to him like glue over the years has been Bill Lumbergh of "Office Space," whose passive-aggressive approach to employee management and obsession with ensuring the new cover sheets are on those TPS reports continues to yield comedy gold. As Cole told The A.V. Club, "Office Space" was not a box-office hit when it was released in 1999. In fact, it wasn't until many months later, when he was working on a play in Chicago, that he realized the movie had begun its ascent to becoming a cult classic. 

"I was always walking up and down this big boulevard in Chicago, Halsted Street, and going to restaurants and just down the street a lot," Cole recalled. "And people started coming up to me, doing Lumbergh's dialogue. And this is a year and a half later, and I was really surprised, because I thought the movie was a flop. ... People would be like, 'Hey Lumbergh!' I went to the ballpark at Wrigley Field, people were shouting out Lumbergh's name."

In a 2019 interview with The Austin Chronicle, Cole admitted that all those years later he still had no idea what a TPS report was. "You got me! I never looked it up," he said. "I have no idea what it means; it might just be initials coming out of the air. Nobody's ever told me."

He continues to return to the stage

Despite his success in Hollywood, Gary Cole has never severed his ties with his roots in Chicago theater, and has continually performed onstage in the Windy City over the years. According to Cole's Steppenwolf Theatre bio, he's appeared in Steppenwolf productions of "Balm in Gilead," "Closer," "Sideman," "Bang," and "Tracers," in addition to starring in Steppenwolf-mounted London and Sydney productions of "August: Osage County" by acclaimed actor and playwright Tracy Letts. He's also appeared in an off-Broadway Steppenwolf production of "True West," directed by Steppenwolf co-founder Gary Sinise, and a 2012 off-Broadway production of "Heartless."

In 2011, Cole headed the cast of a Los Angeles production of Letts' "Superior Donuts" (which somewhat inexplicably morphed into a short-lived CBS sitcom a few years later). While promoting the play in an interview with Broadway World, Cole was asked to single out the favorite out of all the plays he's done. "'August: Osage County' was pretty special for me," said Cole, recalling the experience of co-starring with actors he'd come up with. As he said, "Sitting around that dinner table and looking around the table and realizing that most of the people at that table I've known over 30 years ... being able to share that and being onstage doing that and having audiences react to the play like they did ... also the fact that it's a brilliant play. I have to call that a highlight."

Why everyone assumed Gary Cole was replacing Mark Harmon on NCIS

In June 2021, Variety reported that Gary Cole was joining the cast of "NCIS" as FBI Special Agent Alden Parker. As The Hollywood Reporter noted, Cole's entrance coincided with star Mark Harmon having a diminished role on the show during the upcoming season, the show's 19th. When Harmon's character, Leroy Jethro Gibbs, seemingly bid farewell in October 2021, in what was billed as his final episode on the series, fans put two and two together and surmised that Cole had been brought in to replace Harmon. 

However, "NCIS" showrunner Steven D. Binder told TVLine that viewers should think of Cole's entry and Harmon's exit as more of a transition process than one of replacement. "I have been saying that we need to populate more characters in this show, in the vein of Joe Spano who plays Fornell, Muse Watson who plays Mike Franks," Binder said, adding, "The way you get those people who are really fantastic characters is you bring people in and you try them out and you see how it goes."

An intriguing fan theory, however, suggested assumptions that Cole would segue into a role as the NCIS team's new leader may be a red herring; as Express reported, fans were guessing that Parker would ultimately be revealed as the serial killer that Gibbs was trying to track down in the previous season. However, that rumor was seemingly scuttled when another character entirely was revealed to be the killer.

He used to get mistaken for Diff'rent Strokes star Gary Coleman

When Gary Cole first made the journey from Chicago to Los Angeles, he wasn't particularly well known, and was far from an established star. However, during that time, in the mid-1980s, another actor with a very similar name was

"Now, if you remember in 1984, that was, I think, like, the height of Gary Coleman on 'Diff'rent Strokes,' Cole told NPR's "Fresh Air," when recalling coming to Los Angeles and slogging away in auditions. "So for the first year I was in Hollywood, when a casting director opened the door to the director and the producer sitting there, I was invariably introduced as, gentlemen, I'd like you to meet Gary Coleman. ... It was a nice icebreaker for, you know, a few minutes talking about, oh, no, I'm Gary Cole. And then I would proceed to, you know, stink up the room."

Speaking with Entertainment Weekly, Cole reminisced about how he and Coleman used to "get mixed up all the time." He added, "In the early '80s, I got one of my first television jobs at NBC. I applied for an American Express card and they wrote back, saying 'Dear Mr. Coleman...' — because Gary Coleman was on NBC at the time, and he was, like, nine — denying my request because I wasn't old enough."

The one role Gary Cole would most like to revisit

In a 2021 interview with Entertainment Weekly, Gary Cole was asked if there was one role, of the many he's played over the years, that he'd like to have another shot at. "Sheriff Lucas Buck on 'American Gothic,'" he declared. "We only did one season of it in 1995. It took place in a small South Carolina town called Trinity. It was a little bit after 'Twin Peaks' came on, so it had that kind of flavor. There were demon elements and dark humor in a stylized way."

During the brief run of "American Gothic," Cole spoke with the Chicago Tribune about what appealed to him about portraying the murderous, manipulative, and just plain evil Lucas Buck. "It's a lot of fun to play, because sometimes the darker side has more interesting things to do as an actor," Cole said of playing an amoral antihero. However, he also came to realize "that sometimes playing a villain or a villain-like character is emotionally not as deep, because of lack of conscience, for one thing."

In one scene from the show, noted the Deseret News, Cole's sadistic sheriff is seen whistling the theme song from "The Andy Griffith Show," a TV series about a markedly different Southern sheriff. "I kind of look at it as kind of a tribute to him," quipped Cole of TV icon Andy Griffith, "albeit a rather twisted tribute."

The surprising habit he developed during the pandemic

When the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic caused film and TV production to screech to a halt for numerous months, while shutting down live stage performances, as well, it meant that actors were unable to do their jobs for a protracted period of time. For Gary Cole, arguably one of Hollywood's busiest and hardest-working thespians, months of enforced lockdown led him to develop a new hobby. "The pandemic introduced me to jigsaw puzzles. I got very deep into that," Cole told Entertainment Weekly. "I probably have 20 under my belt now."

As for his other hobbies, Cole did mention one during a 2017 sit-down with interviewer Larry King, who asked where Cole could likely be found during one of his rare days off. "Three-par golf course," he replied. In fact, back when Cole was appearing in HBO's "Entourage," which was loosely based on the life of the series' producer, Mark Wahlberg, he was photographed competing in the Mark Wahlberg Entourage Celebrity Golf Tournament at the Wilshire Country Club.

Gary Cole's net worth may prove surprising

Given the sheer volume of acting work that Gary Cole has taken on during a career that began in the 1980s, it would be reasonable to assume that he'd be sitting on a hefty Hollywood fortune by now. According to Celebrity Net Worth, that fortune is estimated at $5 million — certainly a considerable amount, but hardly the kind of sum one would associate with lavish Hollywood wealth.

Then again, Cole hasn't been the kind of actor to chase roles simply for the paycheck. Speaking with The A.V. Club, Cole was circumspect when asked whether he preferred the security of being in a long-running TV series or the excitement of continually embracing new roles and fresh challenges. "I don't know. The longer I work, I don't care one way or the other. I like both situations," he explained. "I like doing something, getting in and out, and I like hanging onto something for a while if it's something I like. But I haven't been in a situation where I was playing a character for a long time that I didn't enjoy doing, or I didn't think the show was good." However, Cole added with a laugh, "Maybe once or twice, but I'll leave it unsaid."