From “The Shawshank Redemption” to “Die Hard 2,” Actor William Sadler ’72 has Starred in Some of Film’s Most Beloved Stories. Each Role is also a Self-exploration.
When William Sadler was acting in a high school play in Orchard Park, N.Y., the director asked him what he wanted to do with his life.
“I didn’t know what I wanted to be,” he recalled. “I was a newbie, and this was a brave new world. But acting was interesting.”
The play was about a young veteran who was confronting an alcoholic father. Sadler felt the complexity and the power of emotions and fragility of relationships that were brought to life on stage.
“A door got thrown open and I realized that that’s what theater and acting could be,” he says. “It was amazing.”
That director, Bob Schultz, was a 1965 Geneseo graduate. Schultz later introduced Sadler to the chair of Geneseo’s theater department.
Sadler enrolled as a theater major that fall.
Forty years into an acting career, Sadler has appeared in more than 160 films and TV shows — including major blockbusters, and award-winning and beloved television series and films. Sadler’s resume includes “Die Hard 2, ” “The Shawshank Redemption,” and “The Green Mile.”
Looking back, Sadler says he realizes how important his time at Geneseo has been for his career.
“Geneseo was this fertile, energetic, creative soup, full of teachers and students and plays and energy,” he says. “I had a chance to explore and find my voice and direction.”
Sadler acted in more than a dozen productions as an undergrad, in wildly diverse roles. “They threw new challenge after new challenge at me, and it became second nature to take it on,” he says.
In his career, Sadler found a niche outside the typical lead.
“If you can’t be Bruce Willis in the movie,” he says, “be the villain. They tend to be very interesting people — committed, brilliant and sinister. There are no rules. It’s fun to be the villain.”
Sadler is often recognized from playing the corrupt Col. Stuart in “Die Hard 2,” but he’s played all sorts of characters, some a lot less serious, like the Grim Reaper in “Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey,” which he says, may be his favorite.
“He starts out as this terrifying figure and immediately disintegrates into this insecure guy who wants to be part of the band,” he says. “It was a chance to be genuinely funny and silly.”
Last summer, Sadler returned to Geneseo to receive the SUNY Geneseo Alumni Association (SGAA) Professional Achievement Award at his 45th class reunion. In his honor, “The Shawshank Redemption,” was screened at the Riviera Theater by co-owners Don Livingston and Tawny Bondi Livingston ’91.
It was a great honor, he says, but he was most thankful for the chance to reunite with his former mentor, Professor Emeritus Bruce Klee. “I was able to say ‘thank you,’” he says.
“What was magic for me back then had to do with the chemistry of the time and the people,” says Sadler.
This fall, Sadler filmed another season of the Starz original series, “Power,” and several film roles.
Every part is an opportunity to focus on a particular character.
“They are all different and unexpected,” he says. “I get to put on someone else’s shoes, and sometimes it really isn’t somebody else you are portraying. It’s often a little piece of you. I get to explore other nooks and crannies of myself.”