John Victor Shea, III was born April 14, 1949 in North Conway, New Hampshire, near where his father was teaching at Fryeburg Academy, Maine, and raised in Springfield, Massachusetts in a family of five. His parents were Elizabeth Mary (née Fuller) and Dr. John Victor Shea, Jr., who served in the U.S. Army in World War II, fought in the Battle of the Bulge, and was a teacher, coach and later assistant Superintendent of Schools.
Shea attended Catholic schools, graduating from Cathedral High School where he captained the varsity debate team and played varsity football and track. Shea received his early theatre training at Bates College under Lavinia Schaffer and Bill Beard. He also performed on the varsity debating and football teams and co-edited the college literary magazine, Puffed Wheat, before graduating with a BA in 1970. He studied acting and directing at the Yale School of Drama under Dean Robert Brustein, gaining an MFA in Directing in 1973. During his time at the School of Drama, he also performed at the Yale Repertory Theatre, in the Yale cabaret with schoolmates Joe Grifasi and Meryl Streep, and studied film with Arthur Penn and Sidney Lumet at the Film School.
After a directing apprenticeship at both the Chelsea Theatre under Robert Kalfin and the Public Theatre (with Joseph Papp he made his Broadway debut at the age of 26 in Kalfin's production of Isaac B. Singer's "Yentl" opposite Tovah Feldshuh, for which he received the Theatre World Award.
After guest starring roles in such TV series as Eight Is Enough and Man from Atlantis, Shea made his television film debut playing Joseph in The Nativity (1978) opposite Madeleine Stowe, and his feature-film debut in Matthew Chapman's English film noir Hussy (1980) opposite Helen Mirren. His American film debut was in Costa-Gavras' Academy Award-winning "Missing" (1982) with Jack Lemmon and Sissy Spacek. Based on a true story, Shea played Charles Horman, an American journalist who was kidnapped, tortured, and executed by the Pinochet regime during the military coup that over threw the Allende government in Chile. The film also won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival and helped launch Shea's international acting career.
Since Missing, Shea has starred in many films, including "Windy City" (opposite Kate Capshaw for which he won a "Best Actor" award at the Montreal Film Festival in 1984), "Stealing Home", "Lune de Miel" (France; Also known as "Honeymoon" shot in both French and English with French actress Nathalie Baye), "Unsettled Land" (Israel, 1987) with Kelly McGillis, "A New Life" with Alan Alda and Ann-Margaret, The Impossible Spy with Eli Wallach (winning a "Best Actor" Golden Panda Award in China); Freejack (1992); and Honey, I Blew Up the Kid.
Shea made his debut into Indian cinema with the 2009 Tamil drama "Achchamundu! Achchamundu!", directed by Indo-American film director Arun Vaidyanathan, becoming the first American actor to work in a Tamil film.
Shea has also starred in a number of independent films, including "The Adventures of Sebastian Cole" (1998) and "The Insurgents" (2007) and "An Invisible Sign" (2011) and "The Trouble With the Truth" with Lea Thompson. In addition, he co-wrote and directed the independent film "Southie" (1998) starring Amanda Peet, Donnie Wahlberg, Rose McGowan, Anne Meara, Will Arnet, Jimmy Cummings and Lawrence Tierney. Southie won the Seattle International Film Festival award for Best Film, represented the United States at the Montreal International Festival, and was distributed by Lions Gate Films. He has served on the Board of Advisors of the Nantucket Film Festival since its inception, a festival dedicated to the art of screenwriting.
Since his Broadway debut in "Yentl" Shea has continued to work in Off-Broadway and Broadway theatre productions, starring in Arthur Kopit's "End of the World", directed by Hal Prince, Paula Vogel's "How I Learned to Drive", Anne Meara's "Down the Garden Paths", Eugene O'Neill's "Long Day's Journey Into Night" for which he was nominated for the Joseph Jefferson Award, A. R. Gurney's The Dining Room, Peter Parnell's The Sorrows of Stephen, Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita, Stephen Poliakoff's American Days at Manhattan Theatre Club, for which he received a "Best Actor" nomination from the Drama Desk Awards, Romeo and Juliet, Philip Barry's "The Animal Kingdom" with Sigourney Weaver, Nancy Hasty's "The Director", and Israel Horowitz's "The Secret of Madame Bonnard's Bath" in 2007. He is currently the Artistic Director of the Theatre Workshop of Nantucket where he has starred in David Harrower's play "Blackbird" and the revival of "The Director"; Shea served an apprenticeship at this same theatre while a college student under the direction of an early mentor, Joseph "Mac" Dixon.
Shea made his Carnegie Hall debut playing "The Soldier" in Tom O'Horgan's production of Igor Stravinsky's L'Histoire du Soldat. In 1986, he made his London West End debut starring in Larry Kramer's "The Normal Heart" at the Albery Theatre.
Shea is also a regular reader on "Selected Shorts for Symphony Space", broadcast nationwide on Public Radio International. His reading of Truman Capote's "A Christmas Memory" won AudioFile Magazine's Earphones Award in 1999, as part of the anthology Selected Shorts: Classic Tales, Vol. XII. For his work reading Ted Bell's international thriller "Assassin," Shea received an Audie Award-nomination as "Best Male Narrator." He has also performed Bell's other novels: "Hawke", "Spy", "Pirate", "Czar" and "Nick of Time", among other audio books.
Besides his more high-profile starring roles as Lex Luthor in "Lois & Clark - The New Adventures of Superman" and Adam Kane in "Mutant X", Shea's diverse television work includes guest-appearances on TV series "Sex and the City", "Law & Order", and "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" as well as being a recurring character on "Gossip Girl."
Among other television films he has been featured in "Family Reunion" (with Bette Davis), "Small Sacrifices" (opposite Farrah Fawcett) which won a Peabody Award, "Kennedy" (with Martin Sheen, in which he co-starred as Robert F. Kennedy) which won a BAFTA Award, "A Will of Their Own" with Lea Thompson, "Hitler's S.S." (opposite Bill Nighy), "Do You Know the Muffin Man?" with Pam Dawber, "Coast to Coast" (with Lenny Henry and Pete Postlethwaite for the BBC) and an adaptation of A.R Gurney's play "The Dining Room for Great Performances." Shea received a Prime Time Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor for his role in the mini-series "Baby M" opposite JoBeth Williams.
John has been married twice. He and his first wife, the fine arts photographer Laura Pettibone, had one child together, Jake. He and his current wife, the artist Melissa MacLeod, a co-founder of the cooperative (X) Gallery on Nantucket, have two children, Miranda and Caiden.