jamie mcshane as the sheriff

A winding path led to alum’s starring role in Netflix hit

February 3, 2023


Jamie McShane, a UR alum and star of the new Netflix hit Wednesday, always knew he wanted to be an actor and hoped his love for sports would help him get there.

He dreamed of playing in the Olympics. “I pictured some guy yelling over the glass at the end of the game, ‘Hey kid, we need you in a movie,’” McShane said. “That's how I had it planned out.” A tough, scrappy athlete, he played hockey, soccer, baseball, and basketball, but his hopes to excel in those sports were soon dashed.

When he was just 10, McShane slipped on some sawdust in wood shop class, cracked his skull, and a resulting brain bleed nearly killed him. He survived two operations, but had to wear a helmet to school for the next four years. And he was banned from playing any contact sports.

“I wound up going to a different school the next year,” McShane said. “I was bullied, and I couldn't fight back. So those were really dark years for me.”

However, he was allowed to play an individual sport, so he dedicated himself to tennis in middle and high school. He came to the University of Richmond because he loved the beautiful campus, and made lifelong friends through his fraternity and intramural sports. He studied English, and, as he read the literary greats, returned to his dream of becoming an actor.

After graduation, he decided to go all in on his dream. He spent the next 25 years performing in small plays, independent films, commercials, and small roles in TV shows and movies in New York, then Los Angeles. In 2013, he got a role as a series regular on the Netflix show, Bloodline. He played the show’s antagonist, a parolee called Eric O’Bannon.

“I play a lot of damaged guys, and because of what I went through as a kid, I can bring believability to it,” McShane said.

That damaged mystique landed him the role of Sheriff Donovan Galpin on the Netflix show Wednesday. The series is based on the 1991 film and 1964 television program, The Addams Family. It follows the family’s daughter, Wednesday Addams, as she attends a new school for children with supernatural abilities and works to solve a local murder mystery.

McShane’s character becomes Wednesday’s unlikely crime-solving partner. The show is the third most streamed of all time on Netflix, with 1.2 billion hours in the first four weeks. Four of the eight episodes are directed by Tim Burton.

“Tim was wonderful,” McShane said. “I had assumed he knew me from my other shows, but he said, ‘No, I loved your [audition] tape. You scared me.’ Which, for me, was a really neat feeling.”

But he wants to remind others that it took a long road to get to where he is today, and especially to show young actors to never give up.

“I'm still climbing,” he said. “It took me 25 years to land a series regular role, but at this point, I still am like a kid in a candy store. I love what I do, and every time I get an opportunity, it's awesome.”

Wednesday was recently approved for a second season at Netflix. McShane is currently filming episodes of a prequel to the Paramount Network hit Yellowstone called 1923.