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‘Dead Poets Society’ Cast Then and Now

Dead Poets Society
Touchstone Pictures

It’s the movie that taught us the phrase “Carpe Diem.” It’s the film that forged our long-lasting crush on Robert Sean Leonard and Ethan Hawke. It is the Oscar-winning coming-of-age drama that made boarding schools seem dreamy yet nightmarish. It is ‘Dead Poets Society.’

Based on the boyhood experiences of writer Tom Schulman, ‘Dead Poets Society’ told the story of a batch of bored boys who grew into bold men thanks to the inspiring lessons and passionate poetry taught to them by an eccentric teacher. The drama was a box office smash that earned more than $235 million worldwide, garnered praise from critics and was nominated for four Academy Awards including Best Original Screenplay, Best Actor in a Leading Role, Best Director and Best Picture. In the end, it won the first, and went on to become a touchstone for many who came of age in the late 1980s/early 1990s.

It’s been nearly 24 years since the boys of Welton Academy stole our hearts, then recklessly broke them. And with the Oscars coming up, we wondered what happened to these preppy boys with poetic souls? So, we took a look, then and now.


John Keating, Robin Williams

 
 
 
Touchstone Pictures/Disney
Touchstone Pictures/Disney

Then: A television star thanks to the spacey sitcom 'Mork & Mindy,' Williams had recently proved his worth as a movie actor with the hit comedy 'Good Morning, Vietnam,' which earned him his first Oscar nod in 1988. His second came two years later, for playing the teacher lovingly addressed as "O Captain! My Captain" in 'Dead Poets Society.'

Now: To date, Williams has earned Oscar notice twice more, for the 1991 dramedy 'The Fisher King' and the Boston-set drama 'Good Will Hunting.' He finally won for the latter in 1998. Later this year, Williams will portray Dwight D. Eisenhower in the historical drama 'The Butler.'

Todd Anderson, Ethan Hawke

 
 
 
Touchstone Pictures/Pascal Le Segretain, Getty
Touchstone Pictures/Pascal Le Segretain, Getty

Then: Prior to playing 'Dead Poets Society's' reluctant hero, Hawke had appeared opposite a young River Phoenix in the family-friendly sci-fi adventure 'Explorers.'

Now: Hawke went on to become a bonafide movie star, fronting such unforgettable films as the Generation X drama 'Reality Bites,' the Oscar-winning crime thriller 'Training Day' and Richard Linkater's adored romance trilogy 'Before Sunrise,' 'Before Sunset' and 'Before Midnight.' The last of these recently earned raves at the Sundance Film Festival, and is expected to come to theaters this spring.

Neil Perry, Robert Sean Leonard

 
 
 
Touchstone Pictures/Fox
Touchstone Pictures/Fox

Then:  Before he played aspiring actor Neil, Leonard had already appeared in two feature films, the sci-fi thriller 'The Manhattan Project' and the outlandish comedy 'My Best Friend Is a Vampire.'

Now: The talented young ingen-dude went on to star in such memorable movies as the World War II drama 'Swing Kids,' Kenneth Branagh's 'Much Ado About Nothing' and Richard Linklater's 'Tape,' where he reunited with 'Dead Poets Society' co-star Ethan Hawke. But nowadays, Leonard is best known as Dr. James Wilson, the dedicated but often exasperated best friend of the genius but tortured title character of 'House M.D.' The popular and critically-acclaimed show ran for eight seasons, drawing its final curtain last summer.

Knox Overstreet, Josh Charles

 
 
 
Touchstone Pictures/Jamie McCarthy, Getty
Touchstone Pictures/Jamie McCarthy, Getty

Then: Before he was romancing girls onscreen (and off), Charles made his screen debut in 1988 with a minor role in the John Waters cult classic 'Hairspray.'

Now: Post-'Dead Poets Society,' he went on to appear in such outrageous '90s movies as the kooky comedy 'Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead' and the salacious ménage à trois drama 'Threesome.' In the late '90s, he memorably co-starred in the celebrated Aaron Sorkin comedy 'Sports Night.' And Charles recently won acclaim on television -- as well as an Emmy nomination -- for his work as a series regular on the Julianna Margulies-fronted drama 'The Good Wife.'

Richard Cameron, Dylan Kussman

 
 
 
Touchstone Pictures/IMDB
Touchstone Pictures/IMDB

Then: While 'Dead Poets Society' marked Kussman's film debut, his acting career began three years earlier with a one-off role on 'Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color.'

Now: Kussman has gone on to earn supporting roles in films like the family drama 'Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken', the crime actioner 'The Way of the Gun' and the George Clooney-directed comedy 'Leatherheads.' Last year, he appeared in the Tom Cruise vehicle 'Jack Reacher.'

Steven Meeks, Allelon Ruggiero

 
 
 
Touchstone Pictures/IMDB
Touchstone Pictures/IMDB

Then: 'Dead Poets Society' marked the screen debut for young Ruggiero, who was studying acting at the Performing Arts School of Philadelphia at the time.

Now: Inspired by making the movie, he went on to study film at University of the Arts. He has gone on to perform in several more features, including the Stephen King thriller 'Thinner,' and the detective drama 'Fallen,' which starred Denzel Washington. His most recent screen credit came in 2010, when he played the title character on the web series 'Binky.' You can check it out here.

Gerard Pitts, James Waterston

 
 
 
Touchstone Pictures/Peter Kramer, Getty
Touchstone Pictures/Peter Kramer, Getty

Then: 'Dead Poets Society' was also Waterson's first film role, though he had made his screen debut nine years earlier on the biographical TV miniseries 'Oppenheimer.'

Now: Since then, he's gone on to to earn a string of one-off roles on television dramas from 'ER' to 'The Good Wife' and 'Treme.' In 1991, he formed the Malaparte theater company alongside his former co-stars Ethan Hawke and Robert Sean Leonard. Performing on stage has been his passion. He has appeared in many off-Broadway productions in New York, and even tried his hand at directing.

Charlie "Nuwanda" Dalton, Gale Hansen

 
 
 
Touchstone Pictures/Twitter
Touchstone Pictures/Twitter

Then: Before he cemented his place in film history with the line, "Damn it, Neil, the name is Nuwanda," Hansen made his screen debut with a bit part in the Oscar-nominated Woody Allen mockumentary 'Zelig.'

Now: Following a string of little known features, Hansen moved into television as a cast member of the Ivy League-set drama series 'Class of '96.' The show only lasted one season, and Hansen eventually moved behind the camera. Today, he is a proud father of two and VP of Creative Affairs for Relativity Media, which recently co-produced the Oscar-nominated musical drama 'Les Miserables.' You can keep up with him on Twitter.

Headmaster Gale Nolan, Norman Lloyd

 
 
 
Touchstone Pictures/Valerie Macon, Getty
Touchstone Pictures/Valerie Macon, Getty

Then: By 1989, Lloyd had already built a storied career that reached back to the 1930s, and included parts in such noteworthy films as Alfred Hitchcock's 'Spellbound,' and Charlie Chaplin's 'Limelight,' as well as the series regular role of Dr. Daniel Auschlander on the critically heralded TV drama 'St. Elsewhere.'

Now: Since 'Dead Poets Society,' much of Lloyd's work has been in television. Most recently, he scored a one-off role on the Emmy-winning sitcom 'Modern Family.'

Mr. Perry, Kurtwood Smith

 
 
 
Touchstone Pictures/Jason Merritt, Getty
Touchstone Pictures/Jason Merritt, Getty

Then: Before he played a menacing father in 'Dead Poets Society,' Smith's best-known role was Clarence J. Boddicker, the villain of the 1987 action movie 'RoboCop.'

Now: The actor we love to see scowl has proved prolific, appearing in more than 130 film and television productions. But nowadays he is undoubtedly most recognized as the ever-agitated dad Red Forman on the sitcom 'That '70s Show,' which ran for eight seasons. His fans can look forward to hearing his familiar growling tone in the DreamWorks animated feature 'Turbo,' which opens July 19th, 2013.

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