The Untold Truth Of Aidan Quinn
For nearly 40 years, actor Aidan Quinn has been a thoughtful, compelling presence on screen. Following his breakout roles in 1980s classics “Desperately Seeking Susan” and “Stakeout,” he became an in-demand star of film and television. With his piercing blue eyes and deep voice, he proved to be an ideal scene partner and love interest for actresses such as Natasha Richardson (“The Handmaid’s Tale”), Madeline Stowe (“Blink”), and Sandra Bullock in the ’90s sleepover classic “Practical Magic.”
After a run of big studio films in the ’90s, Quinn returned to the world of independent cinema and television, earning award nominations for his work in “Cavedweller,” “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee,” and many others. He even played Paul McCartney in the 2000 VH1 original film “Two of Us.”
Whether in film or television, studios or indies, Aidan Quinn is a consummate artist and family man. Here are some things you might not have known about this Irish American actor and filmmaker.
Raised in the U.S. and Ireland
Aidan Quinn was born March 8, 1959 in Chicago, Illinois. As a teen, Aiden spent many years being moved back and forth between the U.S. and his family’s home in rural Ireland, often low on money and butting heads with his devout Catholic father Michael. This often-tumultuous upbringing left an impression on young Aidan, and instilled a love of Ireland and the Irish people for the rest of his life.
In 2012, he told the Toronto Star that he loves “The [Irish] humor, dark though it be, and what they call the craic, that wonderfully witty, poetic, gossipy, insightful conversation that keeps pouring out of everyone, regardless of age or education.”
Over the years, Aidan has returned to Ireland in his work, collaborating with Irish director Neil Jordan on “Michael Collins” and “In Dreams” in the 1990s. In 2009 he co-starred in playwright Conor McPherson’s supernatural drama “The Eclipse,” for which he won an Irish Film and Television Award.
A showbiz family
Though neither of Aidan’s parents were involved in the entertainment industry, all three of his siblings also became filmmakers. Older brother Declan Quinn is a celebrated cinematographer, working on music videos for rock stars like U2 and Neil Young, as well as filming the live stage productions of “The Lion King” and 2020’s Emmy-winning “Hamilton.” Younger brother Paul, who passed away in 2015, wrote and directed 1998’s “This is My Father,” an Ireland-set drama starring Aidan and James Caan, and had small roles in “Avalon,” “Bob Roberts,” and “Leaving Las Vegas.” Younger sister Marian is based in Ireland, where she wrote and directed the coming-of-age dramedy “32A” in 2007.
Aidan married into a showbiz family, as well. His wife Elizabeth Bracco is an actress known for indie hits “Mystery Train” and “Trees Lounge,” as well as “Analyze This” and a recurring part on “The Sopranos,” which also starred her sister Lorraine.
The Last Temptation of Christ
Hollywood is full of famous stories of actors who were almost cast in famous films or roles. Think Tom Selleck having to turn down the role of Indiana Jones due to his commitment to his TV show “Magnum P.I.” For Aidan Quinn, his most famous “what might have been” is an iconic role in an instantly controversial film: Jesus in “The Last Temptation of Christ.”
Based on the novel by Nikos Kazantzakis, Martin Scorsese’s film was beset by protests by religious organizations from the very start of production. This led to multiple delays in filming, and eventually Quinn, Scorsese’s first choice for the lead role, was unable to join the cast, which included Harvey Keitel, Barbara Hershey, and David Bowie. The film was released to controversy and acclaim in 1988, with Willem Dafoe as Jesus.
Years later, Quinn would tell The Guardian, “The more I researched [Jesus’] life, the more I saw him giggling and dancing — the more I saw a man able to drink wine, and be light-hearted. A lot of that stuff’s been stripped away, by translators and bishops, to suit their own purposes.”
The sexiest man alive's… brother?
During his run of studio films in the 1990s, Aidan Quinn had the (mis?)fortune of sharing the screen with two breakout stars who would soon be voted People Magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive” — twice each!
1993’s “Benny & Joon” is about the eponymous brother and sister, a fiercely protective mechanic (Quinn) and an intellectually disabled artist (Mary Stuart Masterson), and the eccentric man (Johnny Depp) who comes between them. While Depp was already a movie (and tabloid) star, his part here is a step toward the more serious roles that would soon win him acclaim, such as “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape” and “Ed Wood.” Depp was crowned Sexiest Man Alive in 2003 and again in 2009.
The next year Quinn worked with an up-and-comer named Brad Pitt in “Legends of the Fall.” Pitt had wowed audiences three years earlier with a small part in “Thelma and Louise,” but this was his first turn as a bona fide leading man, playing a rancher vying with his brother (Quinn) for the love of their slain brother’s widow (future “Walking Dead: World Beyond” star Julia Ormond) in 1900s Montana. The film was a hit and catapulted Pitt to the top of the A-list, as well as the top of People’s Sexiest Man Alive list in 1995 and again in 2000.
Aidan Quinn and autism
Quinn’s daughter Ava was born in 1989 and diagnosed with autism. Since then, he’s done philanthropic work on behalf of a number of autism-focused charities. In 2003 he appeared at the annual “Night of Too Many Stars” fundraiser for the Autism Coalition, and served as an honorary board member for the National Alliance for Autism Research, which in 2006 merged with the controversial organization Autism Speaks.
His work for autism extends to his acting as well. In 2004 he starred in the Lifetime movie “Miracle Run,” inspired by the true story of a mother raising twin boys with autism.
Over the years, Quinn has been candid about the challenges of balancing his family’s needs with maintaining a Hollywood career. “My career absolutely took a back seat right away and it still has to, to this day,” he told the Toronto Star in 2012. He added that “of course it’s all worth it. Life’s a grand f***ing joke sometimes, but it’s the only choice we’ve got, so we better learn to live it.” In that same interview, Quinn unfortunately repeated the debunked theory that vaccines can cause autism.
Aidan Quinn has moved freely between film and television for his entire career, starring in the 1985 TV movie “An Early Frost,” “Empire Falls” for HBO in 2005, and the short-lived NBC series “The Book of Daniel” in 2006. In 2021, he appeared on the 500th episode of “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit” as a figure from Olivia Benson’s (Mariska Hargitay) past.
But the television role he probably best known for today is Captain Tommy Gregson on “Elementary,” the modern-day Sherlock Holmes revival starring Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu. As Holmes’ tough-talking and long-suffering NYPD handler, Quinn was a fixture for the entire run of the series, from 2012 to 2019. In 2016 he stepped behind the camera for the first time to direct the episode “It Serves You Right to Suffer.” As the series ended, he took his impending job loss in stride. “Anyone that’s hiring in Chicago, come Jan. 1, I’m available,” he joked to the Chicago Tribune.